Saturday, June 23, 2007

Argentina squad for Copa America

As has been widely reported, Juan Roman Riquelme makes his return to the national team. Coach Alfio Basile has opted to bring along a formidable squad, mostly made up of Europe-based players. At this stage, questions have to be asked about how a seeming overabundance of creative players will be used. For example, there's absolutely no point in calling up Roman if he doesn't start. So does that mean that Aimar will be relegated to the bench? What about Veron? Can Messi and Tevez be played together? Which striking partnership will Basile choose? I suppose we'll have to wait for the first match against the United States for these questions to be answered. For now, it's certainly a very impressive squad on paper.

Goalkeepers

Roberto Abbondanzieri (Getafe, Spain)
Juan Pablo Carrizo (River Plate, Argentina)
Agustin Orion (San Lorenzo, Argentina)

Abbondanzieri should be the undisputed number one, despite his alarmingly poor performance against Algeria. He's had a great club season in Spain and his expertise with penalties should serve the team well. I have to confess I don't know as much about Carrizo and Orion as I should, beyond the fact that Carrizo has impressed observers at River and is rated by some above Independiente (and next season Villarreal)'s Oscar Ustari, who I'm very fond of. (He would have been in the squad but for a last minute injury.)

Defenders

Roberto Ayala (Valencia, Spain)
Javier Zanetti (Internazionale, Italy)
Hugo Ibarra (Boca Juniors, Argentina)
Gabriel Milito (Real Zaragoza, Spain)
Gabriel Heinze (Manchester United, England)
Daniel Diaz (Boca Juniors, Argentina)
Nicolas Burdisso (Internazionale, Italy)

An impressive roster of defenders, really. If they can play like they did against France rather than the shambles that was the Algeria game, we'd be set. Ayala and Milito are a solid defensive partnership, which Burdisso is a nice backup to. I get nervous everytime he's played as right-back, but he really is a fine centre-back who gets used out of position too often. Otherwise Heinze can also double as a centre-back, although I prefer him on the left. Zanetti can play right-back or midfield, but with the options we have in midfield, I'd much rather have him in the back. Ibarra's experience will be nice to have in the squad, especially since we have all these young players. Unfortunately, I don't know much about Diaz, but he's just won the Copa Libertadores with Boca, so hopefully he's coming in with some good form should he be needed.

By the way, Ayala is a fine captain of the team, and I really hope his last international tournament brings him some well-deserved glory.

Defensive Midfielders


Javier Mascherano (Liverpool, England)
Esteban Cambiasso (Internazionale, Italy)
Fernando Gago (Real Madrid, Spain)

Very pleased by the options we have here. Neither Gago nor Cambiasso are pure holding players, but I can see Cambiasso starting with one of Gago or Mascherano since the Inter player is more of a central midfielder, and he's been a consistent member of the starting line-up for Argentina. If it came down to a choice between Gago and Mascherano, my personal preference would be for Mascherano. Yes, he's not much older, but he has tons more international experience and a better understanding with many of the other players who are likely to start. Plus, his form coming into the tournament looks very impressive. Gago has had a decent season at Real and Basile rates him very highly, but his performances haven't impressed me as much as Masche's have.

Creative Midfielders

Luis 'Lucho' Gonzalez (Porto, Portugal)
Pablo Aimar (Real Zaragoza, Spain)
Juan Sebastian Veron (Estudiantes, Argentina)
Juan Roman Riquelme (Boca Juniors, Argentina)

Oh boy. An embarrassment of riches, anyone? Especially since Basile seems to count Messi as somewhat amongst this category instead of a wing-forward. The problem with this group of players is that barring Lucho - who I think has a high probability of starting - arguably all three of the others need the team to be built around them, which means that only one of them can start at any one time. Arguably both Veron and Aimar could be deployed on, say, the left side of midfield instead of in the playmaker role, but there's no point in playing Roman if he's not in the no.10 role. So we'll have to wait for Basile to make a decision, and hope that the reported antipathy between Roman and Veron doesn't rear its ugly head.

Form-wise, Lucho has had a great season at Porto, where he is now frequently dubbed the best player in the league, or at least close enough to it. Aimar has been plagued by injury problems as always, but when not laid up in dry dock he's done very well for Zaragoza, playing on the left side of midfield. Veron had a great first half of the season, but I haven't heard enough to judge how he did in the second half. Roman of course had a great second half of the season with Boca, playing some of his best football.

Forwards

Lionel Messi (Barcelona, Spain)
Hernan Crespo (Internazionale, Italy)
Diego Milito (Real Zaragoza, Spain)
Carlos Tevez (West Ham United, England)
Rodrigo Palacio (Boca Juniors, Argentina)

Continuing the 'embarrassment of riches' theme, Basile has taken along 5 strikers who barring one - Palacio, who's had a decent but not brilliant season - have all done very well for themselves in 06-07. Crespo is arguably still Argentina's best centre striker and this is probably his last international tournament, so he'll want to go out on a high. 14 goals in his 22 Serie A appearances this season is a pretty good return. Milito has had a brilliant season, scoring 23 goals and just being pipped to La Liga's golden boot by Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Leo Messi was out for 3 months with a serious injury but bounced back and played brilliantly for Barcelona during the latter half of the season. Last but not least, Carlos Tevez is widely credited with the survival of West Ham in the Premiership, carrying the team on his shoulders through his passion, hard work and sublime skill. Carlitos will also be keen to win the cup to erase the memory of the 2004 competition, in which he missed a penalty in the final shootout which Brazil ultimately won.

The mix is broadly similar to the '06 World Cup squad, actually, since Diego Milito is similar to Julio Cruz, except for the fact that Pekerman took 6 strikers. The one who has been left out this time around is Javier Saviola, whose lack of playing time this season probably counted against him in such a crowded field.

I would expect Basile to play one of the 'target men' - Crespo or Milito - and pair him with either Tevez or Messi. Palacio will probably only have an outside chance of starting, unfortunately.


So a good mix overall, but I'm still concerned about tactical arrangements. If supporting Barca for all these years has taught me anything, it's that just having a bunch of brilliant players won't help if there's no coherent tactical plan for how they're going to play together.

3 comments:

Derek said...

Again... the head spins. Great overview of the squad, Linda. Considering that Bradley is fielding such a lackluster squad against Argentina on Thursday should make for a painful experience for the team and for Sam's Army. I don't mean that arrogantly. It's just difficult to compare the two sides as equals when you compare lineups. I understand why Bradley decided to rest his A squad (MLS duties, etc.) but it's disappointing to see the US treat the Copa America as a lesser tournament because it has no real significance for them, unlike the Gold Cup. True, I guess, but if the US never whole-heartedly commits to tournaments like this--which is obviously such a great and important learning experience for its players--they'll never gain that added advantage to compete. Weird. If we play miserably and don't make it out of the group, which could realistically happen, we can always sit back smugly and say well, we didn't field a world class team. What did you expect?

Anyway... it'll sure be a trial by fire for the US team but a good opportunity for someone to shine too. I'm an Argentina fan, so I'm going to be happy that night. But I hope that the US puts up a good fight.

linda said...

Derek: Thanks! I'm quite wary of underestimating the Americans, actually. It's the first game, and perhaps the squad won't have jelled yet, and overconfidence is always bad.

(I think a lot of it is me remembering the U20 World Cup in 2005 when Argentina played their first group game against the US and lost. Ouch.)

I can see the argument against taking a young team, but these players will benefit from the experience, and the fact that no one expects them to do anything means that they might surprise some people. I'm very wary of our tag as favourites. Look at how well that served Brazil in the World Cup.

Derek said...

Absolutely. I think I've just been disappointed by the reactions of some US supporters who could care less about the tournament. I think it's a wonderful stage for the US to compete on and hope that they do well. For some of those players, this may be the biggest international competition that they ever play in. Perfect time to make a name for themselves.