A Complete Match and Player Analysis and Commentary of Argentina’s Copa America 2019 campaign
Copa America is a quadrennial international men’s association football championship which is organized by CONMEBOL (South America’s football ruling body).
Copa America 2019 is the 46th edition of the tournament being hosted by Brazil.
As a tradition, CONMEBOL invites two national teams from outside the South American continent to take part in the tournament as guests. This year the two invited teams are 2019 AFC Asia Cup winners and 2022 World Cup hosts, Qatar and Asian football powerhouse Japan.
Group match 1 – Argentina vs Colombia
A prologue to Argentina’s recent performances in international tournaments
The previous two editions of Copa America were won by Chile back to back in 2015 and 2016 defeating Lionel Messi’s Argentina on each occasion via penalty shootout.
The defeat in 2016 completed Argentina’s streak of continuous heartbreaks in the finals of international tournaments. Lionel Messi and Argentina had to suffer final defeats in three continuous years of 2014 World Cup, 2015 Copa America, and 2016 Special Centenary Edition of Copa America.
These continuous heartbreaks and constant pressure from Argentinean people were so much that right after the 2016 final defeat, Messi decided to retire from international football only to reverse his decision after the whole of Argentina and major part of the world begged him to come back and lead Argentina once more.
Read more about the complex relationship between Argentinean people and its national team, especially Messi.
Since 2016, Argentina Football Association or AFA has appointed 3 different managers to guide the Albicelestes to international glory. Until November 2018, current manager Lionel Scaloni was working on an interim basis with fellow compatriot and player, Pablo Aimar, after the disastrous spells of his predecessors in Eduardo Bauza and Jorge Sampaoli.
AFA still trusted Lionel Scaloni with full time job only until June 2019 when Copa America will take place. Only time will tell how successful he can be in taking the team back to its glory days.
This maybe the first time in the history of Copa America when Argentina did not enter the tournament among the favourites.
As publicly told by Messi and Lionel Scaloni in various media interviews, the Selecciōn is still in transition phase and it will take a miracle for this team to come together and win the tournament.
However, ready or not, the tournament started on June 14th and Brazil made their claim to the trophy clear with a comfortable 3-0 win against Bolivia in the opening game followed by a 1-1 draw played out by Venezuela and Peru. But the match which almost half of the world was waiting to watch was the group B opener, Argentina vs Colombia. The teams may not be in their prime but fireworks were expected out of the game.
The following is a complete analysis of the match from Argentina’s perspective.
Match analysis and key events
Argentina had 53% of possession compared to Colombia’s 47% but most of it was inside their own half with very little penetrative passes to disrupt the Colombian defense. The entire first half was played out in the midfield with barely any shot on goal.
Argentina started strongly and had most of the possession in the first 15-20 minutes. They even had an exciting moment inside the first 10 minutes as a beautiful Messi lobbed pass found Aguero through on goal with only Ospina to beat.
However, Ospina had other ideas and he was quick to sprint out of his line and the box to intercept the pass. Ospina nearly misjudged the flight and weight of the pass as his flying leg merely got the slightest of touches and the ball bounced back sideways to Aguero with no one guarding the goal. But Ospina did enough to delay the inevitable as Colombian defenders were able to recover and block off Aguero’s effort.
A sigh of relief from the Colombian camp!
Argentina took heart from this event and tried to control the game with possession of the ball. But all this possession lacked any creative display in the opposition half as the rigid 4-4-2 structure of Argentina and little or no press higher up the pitch let the Colombian midfielders to tuck inside and make a compact 4-5-1 system in the middle of the pitch.
For the entire first half these two cancelling structures and lack of adventure by any team made the game very dull to watch. Argentina were provided width in the Colombian areas but lack of a proper playmaker higher up the pitch or a tall striker effectively meant no danger for Colombian defense and they looked for quick turnovers to hurt Argentina on the counter.
A clash between Pezzela and Muriel forced the Colombian winger to go off the pitch and was substituted by Martinez in the 14th minute. Although the clash wasn’t the fault of any of the two players, but it ended the night for Muriel and marked a key event for Colombian fate as they would have it.
Martinez almost immediately made an impact as Falcao delicately lays off the ball onto the path of onrushing Martinez. But Martinez couldn’t guide the ball into the net and his shot was blasted wide.
Argentina survives a scare!
For Argentina, Lo Celso was deployed wide right where he proved ineffective to provide any creativity or sense of adventure in the Albiceleste attack. Paredes and Guido Rodriguez were playing as a double pivot from inside the Argentina half and on top of the Colombian midfield blanket.
Due to the huge gap between their midfield and attackers, Messi regularly had to drop deep to get the ball (Wait! we have seen this before somewhere).
This movement away from the goal made the Argentine attack less and less dangerous as both the attackers were isolated. Messi was marked very tight throughout the game by the Colombian players as he always found a “cage” of opposition players around him and no teammate to play off the ball.
For Colombia, Cuadrado was deployed as a wide midfielder but he was given the freedom to drop inside and create an overload in the middle of the park.
Due to the presence of this extra man in the midfield, Barrios was effective free to shadow Messi, cut supply lines to him and break any Argentina advancement done through Messi.
Since Cuadrado was doing a double duty, it made James Rodriguez free to venture in between the lines of Argentina’s midfield and defense. Still both the defense and midfield always cancelled each other out in the first half and a passing accuracy of below 75% in the opposition half for both the teams helped neither of them.
Argentina substituted a largely ineffective Di Maria with Rodrigo De Paul while managing to start even stronger than the first half and took control of the midfield.
Leandro Paredes in particular was impressive with his decisive passes and snap shots on the goal. Two of his long-range shots force two good saves out of Ospina.
It was a period of clear dominance from Argentine midfield and they look most likely to score. However, the best chances for Argentina came through two corners with the first being a venomous effort on the goal from the edge of the area by Paredes.
The interplay was quick and left Paredes with acres of space at the edge of the box to deliver his shot. But Ospina was up for the task and his dived quickly to his right to parry the effort.
The second chance came to Ottamendi who jumped higher than his marker and made a strong connection with the ball directing it towards the bottom corner of Ospina’s right post.
Here again Ospina was quick to react, but his save made the ball to bounce back inside the box and Messi was the first one to react to the loose ball. However, he managed to put his heading effort wide of the target with the goal at his mercy, and Colombia survived.
In between these two chances in the 60th minute, there was a moment of heated argument and flared tempers as Cuadrado caught Messi with a cynical foul and goes into the book. The whistle wasn’t clear the first time of contact there are another silght collision which boiled over and prompted a massive crowd near the referee as everyone got into the faces of each other.
The match was slipping away from Colombia and yellow card to Cuadrado didn’t helped either. Carlos Quieroz had seen enough and he made his second change of the night by replacing Cuadrado with a more defensive minded Jefferson Lerma in the 64th minute.
Almost immediately Lionel Scaloni too made his second change of the night with a straight swap in the midfield by replacing Guido Rodriguez, on a yellow, with Guido Pizzaro.
These changes, if not directly, made an immediate impact on the dynamics of the game as James Rodriguez showed the danger of not pressing high inside the opposition half by delivering a pin point long cross field pass to the first half substitute Martinez.
All throughout the match Saravia on the right was too slow to react to the second balls and almost always found himself out of position.
This long ball by James Rodriguez was no exception as he found himself out of position to intercept the cross to Martinez who coolly controlled the ball, cut inside Saravia like a hot knife to a chunk of butter and before Pizzaro could close him down, delivered a world class strike to the far post of the Argentina goal against the outstretched hands of a diving Armani who also could be blamed for his poor positioning before the shot.
The assist came from James Rodriguez, but it was all down to the individual brilliance of Martinez and lazy defending from Saravia and Pizzaro.
The goal was huge blow to Argentina’s chances and it took the stuffing out of them. Now with less than 20 minutes of play remaining, Argentina found their backs against the wall with all to do.
With the likes of Lautaro Martinez and Dybala on the bench, it was very likely a change was expected from Scaloni. But despite these two and others on the bench, it was all too puzzling to see when he decided to bring on Matias Suarez to replace Aguero and save Argentina’s blushes.
The 31-year-old Suarez never had an international goal to his name for Argentina prior to this match.
Maybe this change had a positive effect on Queiroz as he still had an ace up his sleeve in the form of Duvan Zapata who had a brilliant season for Atlanta in Serie A.
Zapata came in for Falcao in the 81st minute for a straight swap and he almost immediately made a huge impact on the game.
In the 86th minute Zapata held off two Argentina midfielders and drove forward with the ball. He found an overlapping Jefferson Lerma on the left and played a neat one-two with him for the 2nd goal of the match.
Here also Pizzaro was at guilty for not closing his man down quickly as he just stopped running and let Zapata run ahead of him and dive with an outstretched right leg to connect the low hard cross from Lerma into the net.
This goal all but ensured the victory for Colombia who held until the dying minutes through an Argentine lash-back in the form a snap shot from Paredes and a free kick from far away by Messi.
Positives and Negatives for Argentina from the game
While the results were not as expected, we could still see a few positives despite the obvious negatives for Argentina.
If we talk about the negatives first then we should start with the rigid 4-4-2 system being deployed by Scaloni which clearly didn’t work and the manager showed his inexperience in the top level by not adapting a different strategy with all his changes being straight swaps.
On a player level, Argentina at least had some control of the midfield until the arrival of Guido Rodriguez. He immediately made a mistake on arrival as his loose pass initiated a counter attack for Colombia. His pressing was also poor as the opposition players were able to come into a good position before his press. His lazy press and slow movement indirectly resulted both the goals for Colombia.
Armani too never looked comfortable in the goal and it was evident from a nervous pass inside the box to Ottamendi to evade the high press of Falcao. This pass let the Colombian attackers close down Ottamendi very quickly and Colombia nearly had the lead if not for quick recovery and clearance by Guido Rodriguez.
Saravia too is very slow to react and almost plays out of position. A pacey winger or full back can easily exploit this weakness in his game as evident by the yellow card collected by him for his last-ditch tackle from behind. Also due to his poor positioning, Martinez had all the freedom and space to collect James Rodriguez’s pass and turn Saravia inside out.
Now for the positives.
Paredes was excellent in the midfield and managed the game well until the arrival of Pizzaro as a partner in the midfield. His long-range shots also could be an extra benefit for Argentina if they want to go further in this tournament. Playing Roberto Pereyra along with Paredes may strenghten the Argentina midfield and free up the attackers up front. But its all too speculations only.
Lo Celso had quite a buzz around him before the game due to his superb displays for Real Betis this season, earning him a well-deserved speculation of move to a bigger club, say Tottenham.
However, more was expected of him in this game and his positioning on the right didn’t help his cause. He was effective in bits and pieces but was unable to largely impact the game. This being his first major tournament with Argentina, expect him to grow in confidence and perform better in the later stages.
Maybe for the first time in his international career Aguero played as the main striker alongside Messi. They both are very close friends off the pitch from their U-20 days and it had been a surprise why these two weren’t played together more often by the Argentina managers.
Aguero may have solidified the doubts with his immobility in the third half but he had a few nice one-twos with Messi which could be a good sign for the future.
Another senior player who had been playing along these two is Di Maria. But surprisingly(?) he was largely ineffective and offered very little from the left.
He was rightly substituted in the half time by Scaloni and his replacement did marginally better than him. Rodrigo De Paul was creating chances on the left after coming on, but he ultimately was a right footed playmaker deployed on the left wing of Argentina.
If Scaloni can find a system to fit him in and let him play off his potential then Argentina can have more outlets of goal threats apart from Messi and Aguero.
In the defence, Pezzela and Ottamendi did all they could and saved Argentina’s blushes with some last-ditch blocks and clearances.
Tagliafico had an excellent season with Ajax on the left and here too he looked solid. If Scaloni manages to free up the left flank for Tagliafico’s overlaps, it would very clearly suit Messi as seen from his Barcelona connection with Jordi Alba on the left.
Finally lets talk about the player you have been waiting for!
Messi was very subdued in the first half apart from that one moment of genius to free Aguero with a lovely chip towards the goal. For most of the match he was marked tightly by Barrios who was made free of his other defensive duties due to the presence of an extra midfielder in Cuadrado.
Colombian defenders and midfielders were always on top of Messi and never allowed him to turn freely after receiving the ball with his back towards the Colombian goal.
A lack of passing options due to the deep U-shaped 4-4-2 formation of Argentina meant he had to lose the ball in his attempt to play towards the goal or pass it back to the midfielders.
Still it is Messi we are talking about and he has been used to this kind of pressure. We saw him come alive in the second half and almost hit the net with his header on the rebound from an Ospina save.
Colombia were clever not to give away free kicks near their penalty box and all the free kicks Messi got were very far away from the goal. Still his shots demanded smart saves from Ospina who had to be very careful to not spill the ball to the onrushing Argentina players ready to pounce on a rebound.
If Scaloni can quickly find a system which lets Messi be on the receiving end of passes near the opposition goal, almost 75% of Argentina’s worries would be over. Until then Argentina has been suffering, and will continue to suffer in the future.
Group match 2 – Argentina vs Paraguay
A prologue to the match
There is an old Latin phrase which goes by “Quinon proficit deficit”.
It means if you are not advancing, you are actually going backwards.
The same can be said of the Argentina national football team. After their final appearance in the Copa America 2016 Centenario edition, their journey up until now has been in only direction.
AFA has changed 4 managers since that final defeat to Chile and each of these managers have failed to build any kind of team that looked capable of qualifying from the group stages of big tournaments, forget about winning it.
Since 2016 Argentina always tend to make life difficult for themselves and leave it until the very last moment to “qualify”. Since that year Argentina never looked like a team progressing further and looked to have stalled to a place.
Their 2017-18 World Cup Qualifiers was a disaster to put it gently. Lionel Messi came back from brief retirement after the demands and pleas of the whole nation to help it qualify for the World Cup. However, he only had just returned when he got himself banned for 5 games for pushing the linesman in their initial qualifying game against Chile which they won courtesy of a Messi penalty.
After that it was all downhill for Argentina.
Argentina struggled to win games without Messi and managed to get only 8 points from the 7 games Messi didn’t play. It was until the last do-or-die match against Ecuador when Messi had to drag Argentina’s almost sunk ship and its members onboard to the plane for the World Cup in Russia with his outrageous hattrick.
This feat only “managed” to book a place for Argentina in the World Cup as they look very unconvincing throughout the group stage with opening match 1-1 draw with World Cup first timers, Iceland, and a 3-0 hammering in the hands of eventual finalist, Croatia. Prior to the World Cup, Argentina suffered a humiliating 6-1 defeat in a warm up match against Spain without Messi in the team.
Everything was again going against them and they again faced a similar do-or-die situation against Nigeria in their last World Cup group game. And again, it was Messi who breathed life back into the Argentine hopes with his goal in the first quarter of the match.
Argentina managed to win the game courtesy of a late goal from Marcos Rojo and qualified for the Round of 16 where they played an enthralling match and lost 4-3 to the eventual champions, France. The French team exposed all the defensive frailties of Argentina which was ageing, very slow, and error prone.
This group exit sparked a number of changes in the Argentina squad with a few senior players retiring from the game which includes the long servant of Argentina’s backline and midfield general, Javier Mascherano. The coach was sacked and the AFA hired a new interim manager in Lionel Scaloni who was until then worked as an assistant coach to the previous coach, Jorge Sampaoli.
Scaloni did a complete overhaul of the squad and included many fresh and young faces to the team in the hope of a turn in fortunes.
But the same problems persist even with this new group of players.
The whole team look very out of shape and lack any sort of cohesion in between. The players look out of position all the time and clueless as what to do in any situation, let’s say what formation to apply while defending and how to occupy spaces while attacking.
Scaloni also seem to experiment heavily with the squad rotation like his predecessor which just increases the confusion among players and stop the progression abruptly in bonding and teamplay if there was any.
Argentina entered Copa America 2019 looking like a pale shadow of themselves when they last played this competition.
The first match was a disaster and should have served as wake-up call for the Seleccion, but it seemed to have no effect on the players as evident from their next match against Paraguay.
Read further for the match analysis and key events as they happened for Argentina and Paraguay in their round 2 group match in Copa America 2019.
Match analysis and key events
Argentina and Paraguay came into this match with four and six changes respectively from their opening matches. Paraguay defence conceded two late goals against guest team Qatar to draw at 2-2 and Argentina was coming off a demoralising 2-0 defeat against Colombia.
Argentina majorly held the upper hand whenever these two sides met with the undefeated streak stretching to 7 matches with 5 wins and 2 draws for Argentina. However, the times have changed and as mentioned by Maradona himself prior to this match, even Tongo can beat Argentina if they play now.
Argentine players started out desperately trying to prove otherwise and dominated the first 10 minutes of the game with Messi pouncing on a small careless mistake by the Paraguayan left back and sent a cross to the centre of the goal with his right foot. The cross was easily cleared by the central defender, but it set out a warning to the Paraguayan team that Argentina meant business.
Soon Paraguay players started to find their feet and strung together a few passes to gain in confidence. They found the left channel their best option to attack as Paraguay piled on attack after attack from the left through the electric Almiron of Newcastle United.
Almiron and his marauding high speed runs were too much for the Argentina midfielders and defenders and just managed to keep him from directly effecting the game.
On the other hand, Messi dropped deeper and deeper to try to take control and effect the game from deep. One of his mesmerising run wrong footed the onrushing defender and as he was about to enter the box, he was bullied of the ball. This set the tone for the whole match on how to defend Messi when he is on the ball. Every time he touched the ball, there were at least two Paraguayan players closing him down with one blocking his direction towards goal, other bullying him off the ball.
Scaloni started Casco on the right back position ahead of unimpressive Saravia in the hope of getting more out of that flank in terms of attack. On the left there was Tagliafico who was instructed to venture forward whenever possible.
In pure attacking situation, it made sense. But the flaws of an underprepared and inexperienced team and manager showed here as at some times both the full-backs were in a very high position leaving the two central defenders exposed from a quick turnover. All Paraguay players had to do was steal the ball in their midfield or defense and launch a counter attack via a long ball to their wide players. And this exactly what happened throughout the game.
Almiron was given too much freedom and he was bound to affect the game sometime. And finally, it occurred in the 37th minute when Almiron managed to run until the Argentinean byline and pulled a cutback to find onrushing Richard Sanchez. His strike wasn’t properly connected but he managed enough to guide the ball towards the far-right corner beyond the reach of Armani.
Prior to this goal Paraguay had two very good chances to affect the scoreline in a dull first half. First was on 29th minute when Gonzalez burst down the right flank and hit a shot towards the far post which was narrowly blocked by Tagliafico and the ball sailed across the goal posts. The second real threat from Paraguay came in 30th minute from the resulting corner as Gomez managed to flick the ball towards the far post where Alonso mishit the shot wide despite being in the correct position to bury it home.
Argentina had to respond and they managed to gain some momentum back and the Paraguayan captain found himself in the referee’s book for fouling Martinez just outside the penalty area. There was no doubt Messi was going to take it but his shot surprisingly had no power in it and was easily caught by Fernandez.
The first half remained uneventful after the goal until the 44th minute and Armani found himself trying to be a sweeper keeper and clear out a long ball from the defense of Paraguay. His first touch was very poor and bounced right off to Gonzalez. In a haste to clear his mistake he appeared to kick the attacker and was duly booked yellow for the offense despite the demand of red card by the Paraguayan players.
Right before the ending of the first half the Paraguayan captain suffered a heavy areal clash with both Ottamendi and Tagliafico and had to be stretchered off after falling awkwardly.
This marked the end of the first half where Argentina had the better possession and passing accuracy but Paraguay had better chances and looked far more dangerous on the counter courtesy of a very lively Almiron.
Scaloni continued with his change in personnel at the half time tradition by replacing a huge ineffective Pereyra with Sergio Aguero. This meant Lautaro Martinez, Aguero and Messi made a front three trying to create something out of nothing and bring Argentina back into this game and the tournament.
Paraguay started brightly with Almiron picking up from where he left in the first half, but the change made by Scaloni started to show some danger from Argentinean attacks.
On the 50th minute Aguero found himself on the right byline and squared a pass back to Martinez who hit the cross first time with the outside of his left foot and the ball hit the crossbar. Messi was the quickest on the rebound to collect it with two defenders on his back, turned and shoot fiercely on the volley towards the goal. But Fernandez was up for the task and managed to put a strong hand to block the shot away.
But before Messi could take the resulting corner, the referee paused the game momentarily as VAR officials picked up something from the events just happened earlier. After a long pause and recheck with VAR, it appeared that Martinez shot was deflected towards the crossbar from the outstretched arm of Piris. The referee duly pointed towards the spot and Argentina finally managed to catch a break.
Lionel Messi appeared to have the weight of the world and hopes of a million Argentines on his back when stepped up to take the penalty. It was too much for Paredes to see as he turned around praying to God.
For this moment God really smiled upon Argentina as Messi struck fiercely towards the goalkeeper’s left to bury it home.
The whole stadium came alive and everyone started shouting “Messi”, “Messi”, “Messi”.
With this newfound energy and sense of purpose, Argentina started to tighten the screw and right then the old habits kicked in. After 10 minutes had passed away from the goal, Ottamendi horribly mistimed a sliding challenge on Gonzalez INSIDE HIS OWN PENALTY AREA!!!
You would be wrong to call this a school boy mistake as even they tend to do better in such situation. Ottamendi somehow with all his experience and exploits for Manchester City had managed to drag Argentina right back to the dungeon pit from where they managed to escape.
Gonzalez got up and prepared to take the resulting penalty and doom Argentina hopes forever. He rushed intently and strongly shot low and left of Armani and set the ball on its way towards the net.
Everyone was prepared for the downfall of Argentina but a miracle happened!
Armani somehow guessed the right direction and showed the quickness in jumping low to his left to save the penalty. He celebrated this feat with a “shut up” gesture probably towards all his doubters who didn’t wanted him to start this match.
Argentina players recovered from the events and held the ball more tightly to prevent such events from happening anymore. In the 65th minute Messi released Lo Celso on the left and his rising cross found the head of Lautaro Martinez. The connection was strong but very difficult to direct towards the ground as Martinez missed the open chance from 4 yards out.
Argentina continued to probe and on 75th minute De Paul raced to the byline and delivered a cut back for Messi. The ball was a bit behind his right and he just managed to scoop the shot over the bar with his right foot while falling down.
Meanwhile Scaloni made the second change of the night for Argentina by bringing on Di Maria for Lautaro Martinez in a straight swap on the left. Paraguay too made their first change in the 72nd minute as Santander made way for Oscar Romero for another straight swap.
The play was slowed down considerably by Paraguay by then as they looked content with a point and didn’t want to lose. However, Argentina looked determined for a win and probed forward whenever the opportunity arised.
Still it was Almiron who found some space to run at the Argentinean defense and Ottamendi had to make a sliding tackle to stop him and go into the referee’s book.
Matias Rojas took the resulting free kick and found an open Romero at the far post who brought two fantastic save out of Armani. However, any of these two wouldn’t have counted as he was adjusted offside by the linesman.
Scaloni brought on Suarez as his final throw of the dice for a win and Paraguay coach responded by bringing in a defensive change by taking off outstanding Almiron and putting in Berizzo.
There was an extra time of seven minutes played where neither of the teams managed to launch a solid attack on the opposition goal and finished the game at 1-1. This result meant Paraguay climbed to second position in the group with 2 points from 2 matches ahead of Qatar on 1 point and -1 goal difference and a bottom Argentina with 1 point and -2 goal difference.
Positives and negatives for Argentina from the game
Argentina doesn’t seem to learn anything from their mistakes. The four changes made in the starting line up by Scaloni looked more out of panic than tactical.
If any team continues to play every match with different set of players, they are bound to fail. The same has been happening to Argentina who don’t seem to come out of their experimental phase since the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers.
This clearly does not look like a team capable of challenging for any trophy in the current situation. It will take a miracle for Argentina to come out of the group with this squad and poor state of affairs.
The only positives from the game were Messi finding the back of the net from the penalty kick and Armani’s penalty save on the other end.
Apart from this Argentina midfield looked in turmoil and midfield pair of Paredes and Pereyra clearly don’t seem to work. The absence of another defensive midfielder meant Paredes was pegged back in his own half and struggled to affect the game unlike the previous game.
Rodrigo De Paul had some bright moments but throughout he too looks like another cog in the derailed Argentinean train.
The appearance of Aguero alongside Messi brought some positive changes in the attack but the midfield found it difficult to cope up with the risky turnovers with the pace of Almiron.
Argentina still has a long way to go before re-establishing themselves as a footballing powerhouse. Until then Messi is going to save them again and again until one day he gets fed up doing it every year and still getting all the criticism of carrying an impotent team on his back.
Up next, Qatar!