Friday, June 29, 2007

Argentina vs US: full-time


[The US team] aren't underdogs, they're under-puppies. - Ray Hudson in the pre-game analysis
The under-puppies did pretty well. But even the most adamant US supporter would have to admit that there was a gulf of class on display here, and that eventually told against them.

Argentina 4 - 1 USA

Goals: Eddie Johnson (8, pen), Hernan Crespo (12, 64), Pablo Aimar (78), Carlos Tevez (85)

I was reading some US-centric blogs, and just being astounded by the pounding some of their players were getting. This is not meant to be patronising in any way, but I thought they were impressive in the first half. They were disciplined and sticking to what was fairly obviously a packed defence and counter attacking game plan well. In other words, tactically they played a perfect game, at least in the first half. Then they got tired.

The US team's low fitness level did surprise me. I actually thought at the end of the first half, 'maybe they'll tire', and followed by 'nah, it's the US, fitness is one of their great assets'. Well. Sure, they played hard in the first half and that tires one out, but that was a young US squad out there. The Argentinean team is much older, and managed to grow in strength as the game went on. What's going on there?

That question will be for the US-supporting bloggers to dissect, so I'll just end my brief analysis of their performance by repeating that they did about as well as they could be expected to in the circumstances. The solidity of the team is unquestionable, but they really need to look into where the goals are going to come from. Although, having said that, they won't have to worry against Columbia if the game against Paraguay was any indication.

Argentina: as a whole

"We knew it was going to be hard and that they would defend all the time," said Riquelme.

"But we played with patience. We knew we had 90 minutes and we were always sure we would win the game."

To be honest, I was quite worried before the game that the team wouldn't have the right mentality going into this match. Given all the hype, I was afraid that they would be caught up in it and underestimate their opponent. I was pleased to be proved wrong on this point, as Argentina clearly went into the game with confidence and patience, which proved to be crucial as the goal that gave us the advantage took a while to arrive.

(A quick note on formations: I thought it was going to be more of a 4-3-1-2, but it looked more like a 4-2-3-1, with Mascherano and Cambiasso on defensive duties and Veron and Messi on either side of midfield supporting Crespo.)

It was clear in the first half that this was a starting line-up who had never played a match together before. The defence took a while to gel together, as did the attack. Once they did, though, this began to look like a proper team who could play their way through the most determinedly massed defence through a patient passing game. On the whole, I was pleased with this performance. They got the job done, and they did it in some style.

Argentina: player by player

Defence

There were far too many hairy moments in the first half for my liking, despite the number of actual shots by the US (2 shots on goal for the whole game). At times Ayala and Milito looked flustered by the opponents' pace, especially when Zanetti and Heinze were caught up field on breaks. A lot of that seemed to be communication issues, though, and once they got those sorted out, the whole defence looked much better in the second half. Benefitted hugely from Mascherano's help.

Keeper Abbondanzieri was hardly tested, so it's difficult to say what kind of form he's in. Did well catching that volley at the end of the first half and looked alright on the few crosses the USA managed to put into the box. Good decision-making overall.

Javier Zanetti's legs are clearly not as fast as they used to be, and he had trouble linking with Messi in attack. However, his defensive performance was very impressive, letting little past him. A reassuring presence to have guarding the right flank.

Captain Roberto Ayala continues to amaze me. He's not particularly tall or big, but somehow manages to dominate in the air and boss forwards around all the time. Led by example and gave everything for the team, as usual. His partnership with Milito has yet to convince me, as they don't always seem to be on the same page.

Gabriel Milito has been named as the worst of the defenders in several discussions I've seen. In my opinion, this is probably fair, but not as bad as it sounds. He did have several slip-ups, including the one which led to the US penalty, which really shouldn't have happened, but it wasn't a horror show by any means. (Then again, my club is Barcelona. I don't even wince at terrible defending anymore.)

Gabriel Heinze was also partially responsible for the US penalty. Compared to Zanetti, his forays forward were more successful - most notably the lovely cross that provided the assist for Aimar's diving header - but he didn't reassure me as much in defence. Still, his absolute commitment as ever cannot be faulted. Not to mention that he also had a hand in Argentina's first goal, challenging for the ball in characteristic fashion to flick it on to Crespo who scored.

Midfield

Took a while to gel, but looked better as the game went on. Initially smothered by the US's tight marking and lacked ideas until Aimar came on.

Javier Mascherano was immense. I've seen him named as Man of the Match by some commentators, and it's a fair pick. Bailed the defence out of trouble countless times, made many brilliant clean tackles and was generally everywhere at once, winning the ball off an opponent and then passing it with unerring accuracy to one of the attacking players. How any team couldn't find a place for him in their starting line-up I cannot understand. I'd have him start over almost any other defensive midfielder in the world, and he's just 23 years old. Great stuff.

Juan Sebastian Veron returned to the national team after a 4 year absence and played...well, I'm not sure, really. He seemed to have trouble combining effectively with the other attacking players and most of his passes forward did not result in threatening moves. On the other hand, he was industrious, especially in defence, and one of Argentina's best chances in the first half came from his well-struck shot from outside the box. I'm still not convinced that him and Riquelme work well together.

Fernando Gago didn't play long enough for me to make an informed comment. Having said that, I will note that he will have a very hard time winning a starting place, given Mascherano's form so far.

Esteban Cambiasso worked quite hard in defence but didn't link up well with the other midfielders in attack. He should probably be given another chance, though, given his previously consistent performances for the NT. As Seba over at Mundo Albiceleste pointed out, the way the US played may have simply not suited his style. The problem is, his replacement Aimar was simply brilliant and that substitution was the catalyst for a huge improvement by the team. Leaving aside Aimar, there's still Lucho Gonzalez waiting in the wings for his position.

Speaking of which, Albiceleste supporters, doesn't the sight of Pablo Aimar playing beautifully again warm your heart? He's had a hard time with frequent injuries and being overshadowed by other players but when he's playing well it's a real joy to watch. And he certainly was playing well from the moment he came on, connecting well with both Messi and Riquelme and scoring a great header. The thing about Aimar is that he brings a certain dynamism to the attack that - with the exception of Messi, and Tevez when he came on - Argentina lack. That energy and those combinations were great to see. If he doesn't start the next game, he should certainly get more minutes. Having said that, Aimar does have a tendency to blow hot and cold at times, dependent on his fitness. So fingers crossed that won't be an issue.

As for the big one, the guy everyone has an opinion on, one Juan Roman Riquelme, well, opinion will probably be divided on his performance as usual. He was involved in setting up 3 of the 4 goals Argentina scored, and for me that is enough. The pass for Tevez's goal was especially brilliant. Like I said above, I don't think Roman and Veron have gelled, although to my pleasant surprise he did combine well with Messi. Not the best performance I've seen from him, but he was given very little space in which to operate and did his best. Dangerous as ever from freekicks and corners. (For my money, still one of the best freekick takers in the world.)

Strikers

(Messi and Tevez could also be classified as midfielders, but I thought it looked silly having Crespo in this section on his own.)

Frequently isolated in the first half, and benefitted in the second half from better service.

Lionel Messi only showed flashes of his best form but still produced some of Argentina's better chances. I'll be honest, I've seen Messi play so many times now, and this wasn't one of his best performances. Being double marked by the US in the first half stifled most of his forays forward. When Aimar came on it sparked him to life. Two factors were involved in this: 1) the switch to the left and 2) Messi's natural understanding with Aimar. Messi also showed a good understanding with Riquelme as in the great move that led up to Crespo's goal. Additionally, he also tried to help the defence out by tracking back, although his tackling leaves something to be desired. Decent display from the 20 year old, who also showed signs of an increased understanding with Crespo.

Carlos Tevez only played for 10 minutes, so I won't assess his performance in detail. He looked very lively and I suspect would have done very well against the USA's physical, tight-marking style if he'd had more time on the pitch. Great finish from Roman's pass for the goal.

Last but certainly not least, our number one striker Hernan Crespo. Who is only 31, article writers, so please stop writing about him like he's about to retire. Crespo's not really my type of striker - I prefer the type that participates more in build-up play - but that's by no means a criticism. Jeez, how do you criticize a guy who puts away 2 of the 4 chances he's given? That's not bad, is it. Besides, he also tracked back and helped out in defence. A great performance from one of the deadliest strikers in the world. Much as I like Diego Milito, Crespo deserves to be first choice.

other comments
  • the spectators really love Messi and Tevez.
  • GolTV shouldn't turn down the crowd noise so much.
  • From looking around the US-supporting blogs, I really feel sorry for some of their players. These guys are young and inexperienced, people. The youngest guy amongst their opponent's starting line-up, the one with the least caps has 14 of them and has won the Champions League. There's no need to be so criticial given that difference.
  • Our bench is awesome. And by that I don't mean the seats.
  • I cannot understand why Riquelme and Aimar didn't get more playing time together in the past.
  • The US have a decent shot at qualifying for the next round.

5 comments:

Lynda said...

Linda, I agree with your assessment of the US team--and yes, they were quite good in the first half--and I, too, was rather surprised to hear that fans were so disappointed in them. Granted, I've never followed the US team that closely, so I'm no expert, but I was really hoping this young squad wouldn't just be an embarrassment and I thought they acquitted themselves quite well.

I do think that US fans and the US players have a tendency to overrate the team's abilities. This may be because we so rarely step outside CONCACAF--perhaps it comes as a shock to those who don't follow other nations/competitions closely to see how the US really measures up. At any rate, it's all the more reason why we need to participate more in tournaments like this one.

Copa America Blog said...

Well said. Great recap of the game!

Here are my observations from an American perspective
http://venezuela07.wordpress.com/2007/06/29/barra-argentina/

Rio said...

I saw a post on bigsoccer today which brought up a good point. It was hot and humid, look how the US team ran out of gas in just 45 minutes.

So when evaluating the players we can't ignore how these condition factors affect them.

Also Messi and Veron not doing the right things didnt help to develop our right wing in first half. Messi improved but veron no. Basile better cut the string and start someone other than veron. Especially against these 2 other crappy teams in our group. I say start Aimar-Messi pair, and unleash the tevez fury.

linda said...

Lynda: I've read a lot of US fan reactions in the last 24 hours, and it's interesting the mixture of people slamming the young players' performance and claiming that they could have won the game if they had the full squad. And then there are the ones saying they were the better team against Argentina, but I'm not even going to deal with those people.

It's like they overrate and underrate the US team at the same time. The young players aren't that bad, and the seniors aren't that great, IMHO. Considering that the outfield line-up of the US had 140 caps total, which is about the number of caps that one of Argentina's veterans have, they're not bad at all.

copa american blog: thanks! And thank you for the link.

linda said...

Rio: Good point about the weather, although that would affect the Argentineans too.

I'm wary of criticizing Veron lest I be accused by bias, but you're right, I'd like to see either Aimar in place of Veron, or Veron to move to DM like he did in the second half and Aimar in place of Cambiasso.