Daniel Edwards runs the rule over a poor Albiceleste performance in San Jose, and looks at what the mostly second-string team taught us about Sergio Batista's squadThe absence of Messi leaves a big hole in the Seleccion
It is, as they say, logical; which is why even coach Sergio Batista doesn't try to deny it when he talks about his side's chances. When Lionel Messi isn't on the pitch Argentina look a much poorer side, and the Albiceleste will be praying that he negotiates the last part of the season without injury and arrives in peak condition for the Copa America.
'La Pulga' was expected to play last night against Costa Rica, but amid a myriad of rumours of intervention from Barcelona, mysterious injuries and lawsuits against the AFA, he was withdrawn shortly before kick off. The team in his absence lacked that magical spark the little Rosarino can give to any team, and the closest player to the star, Jose Sosa, looked a pale imitation as he toiled to provide something for his team.
Of course it works both ways, and just as in Barcelona the presence of so many talented, like-minded players around helps to bring out the best in Messi's natural game. All the same, the evidence of last night suggests Argentina miss Messi more than the reverse.
Argentina should keep looking for Zanetti's understudy
Because it probably won't be Sunderland reserve and former Estudiantes star Marcos Angeleri. It would be unfair to say that the 27-year-old did much wrong; on the contrary, he defended solidly, got forward at times well and all in all had a decent game.
However, what appeared clear is that Angeleri is not in the same class as the Argentina and Inter titan, and worse did not appear compatible with the game plan 'Checho' Batista is trying to impose on his charges and especially the laterales. For this coach a full-back's job does not stop at going up and down the wings: they must also interact flawlessly with the midfield and attack, and even be available in the box if the situation calls for it.
The Sunderland man did not appear on the same wavelength as his team mates, unlike young Marco Rojo who is looking more and more at ease on the left hand side. For this writer at least, Marcos is not a viable option on the right flank for Argentina.
A poacher is needed like water in the desert
There were very few parallels between a sparkling yet frustrating performance by 'Checho's first choice men on Saturday and a rather scrappy display by the second-stringers last night, but one is as clear as day: no matter if it's an Argentina A, B, C or D team they need someone to get on the end of all the intricate play and slick passing and score goals.
Too often in both games the Albiceleste were guilty of trying to walk the ball in the net, with some impressive approach play ultimately going to waste for lack of a natural scorer. The difference was immediately seen last night with the entry of Eduardo Salvio. The 20-year-old was as close as either team could boast to a natural centre forward, and he immediately provided an outlet for the through balls and flicks which, although it didn't yield a goal, troubled the Tico rather more than previously.
Banega should be an automatic choice for the Copa America opener
The Valencia midfielder was one of the few bright points on an otherwise grey day for the Seleccion. Given a little more attacking freedom 'El Tanguito' combined well with former Boca teammate Nicolas Gaitan in the first half, and released a couple of long shots that represented some of Argentina's best chances on the night.
The 22-year-old looks more assured every time he puts on the famous Albiceleste colours, and despite having yet to reach double figures in international caps has become an almost undisputed choice under Batista. Cute, cultured and effective on the ball, he provides an effective medium between the defensive solidity of a Mascherano and the more all-action, dynamic play of a Cambiasso or Pastore, and will give balance to any Argentina team.
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