Perhaps because the stakes had began to weigh more heavily on the players involved, the second round featured quite a lot of exaggerated rolling around, diving, dirty fouls and some really dire games. Sadly, this trend is only likely to continue as the knockout stages begin and the stakes get even higher, going from recent international tournaments.
Following the results of today's games, we now know which teams will be in the knockout round, with two match-ups yet to be decided. They are: Venezuela, Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Argentina and Paraguay. We'll know tomorrow whether Argentina and Paraguay will be playing Mexico or Peru respectively.
Argentina 4 - 2 Columbia
Goals: Edixon Perea (10), Crespo (19, pen), Juan Roman Riquelme (34, 45), Jaime Alberto Castrillon (73), Diego Milito (90)
I can't say I'm particularly satisfied with Argentina's performance, and there are still issues that persist from the first game, but at least we're through to the next round.
First the news items, then my evaluation.
- the big news is that Hernan Crespo will unfortunately miss the rest of the tournament, having torn a muscle taking the penalty that equalised the score for Argentina.
- at the same time, congratulations are due to Crespo for beating Diego Maradona's scoring record for Argentina and becoming the second highest scorer ever for the national team. The first is of course the great Gabriel Batistuta.
- Riquelme and Messi comment on the game, urging caution in general.
- Argentina supporter and Guardian writer Marcela Mora y Araujo writes about Argentina's progress. I think she's being a tad too optimistic, given the latest news, but then it's always nice to be feeling good about the national team again.
No formation diagram since it's the same starting line-up as the game against the United States. I will note though that Cambiasso played less like a second defensive midfielder this time around, so the team looked more like the 4-3-1-2 people had assumed they'd line up in rather than a wingless 4-2-3-1. Then again, Zanetti's frequent forays forward and Messi's constant tracking back meant that we spent much of the match with 6 men in midfield, which is a bit much, especially when at least 3 of those 6 are trying to run the game at their own pace. The midfield and attack still hasn't quite clicked together.
Another issue of concern is how exhausted many of our players looked at the end. I know it was really, really hot at the ground, and hopefully that's all it was. Personally, though I trust that Basile knows what he's doing, I was getting really antsy as some of the players (Veron and Messi, to name just two) looked really tired and he still wouldn't make any substitutions.
Last general comment: the referee made quite a few dodgy calls. One of them was the penalty, which was as soft as - well, as soft the one Robinho just won against Ecuador. Additionally, I felt his standards for what constituted a yellow card were somewhat inconsistent. The Columbians are well within their rights to complain, and as Argentina won I will refrain from pointing out that Arizala should have been sent off for that horror challenge on Mascherano, et cetera.
(Luis Gonzales and Carlos Tevez didn't play long enough for me to judge their performances. They should probably both have come in earlier, in my opinion, to relieve the players they replaced who both looked absolutely spent.)
- Abbondanzieri worries me. I know we can't blame him for all our defensive problems, but he's at least partially responsible for the two goals we conceded, through sheer sloppiness if nothing else.
- Great game from Zanetti, both in defense and in attack. Lovely assist for Roman's first goal.
- Ayala was as solid as ever, although I still think him and Gaby Milito don't have a fully working understanding. Speaking of which, a much improved game from the younger Milito, although he still had far too many wobbly moments.
- Solid game from Heinze, who played on despite biting his tongue quite badly and through subsequent bleeding. I hope he's okay.
- Better from Veron, although him and Roman still aren't really clicking. He was obviously running on nothing by about 75 minutes in, though, which is a bit worrying.
- Mascherano shares my MOTM award along with Roman. Another brilliant performance from the tireless Liverpool man. But Masche, just one thing - other than Arizala's challenge, which was truly terrible and deserved your 'rolling around in pain' reaction, the others just look embarrassing.
- Cambiasso was much improved from the first game, involving himself more in the attack and giving the midfield some much needed width at times. Not bad.
- Roman showed up big time when we needed him to. That's the highest praise I can give to the fulcrum of our team. What a wonderful freekick as well. Unfortunately he was another one of the players who simply looked to be running out of stream by the end.
- As the Argentinean papers like to say, Argentina Messi still doesn't look quite like Barcelona Messi, but in this match he got to use his trademark dribbling runs straight through the opposition defence to better effect, most notably in the run that resulted in the freekick which Riquelme converted. Went down too easily for the penalty, although he was viciously fouled away from the box for much of the match.
- Hernan Crespo played an important part in Argentina's progress, here as in the first game, and his work rate and intelligent movement will be much missed. Good penalty, and I'm truly heartbroken for him, having gotten injured at what is probably the last international tournament of his career.
- Diego Milito had a difficult task, coming on at such short notice to replace a striker of Crespo's caliber, having not had much significant playing time with the NT before. His lack of pace was readily apparent, but so was his striker's instinct and ability to dominate in the air despite not being all that tall. A bit lucky with the goal, but he worked hard for it. Hopefully his understanding with the rest of the team will improve with more practice.