Saturday, September 26, 2020

SPORTS | 22-06-2019 09:55

Argentina on the brink as Qatar looms

The Albiceleste have once again disappointed, yet Messi’s side still has one more chance to make it through.

Two games. No wins. One goal. One point. And little hope for improvement. Argentina’s Copa America campaign kicked off last week in predictably underwhelming fashion, leaving the nation on the verge of what would be a humiliating, disastrous first round exit.

Last Saturday’s 2-0 reverse at the hands of Colombia was followed on Wednesday by another disappointment, even if VAR and Lionel Messi prevented catastrophe. The Albiceleste nevertheless found no way past a Paraguay side which is also in the process of rebuilding under a coach that has attracted fierce criticism during his short time in the post.

Eduardo Berizzo, like his opposite number, Argentina’s Lionel Scaloni, started his professional playing career with Newell’s Old Boys; perhaps for that reason he decided to go easy on the beleaguered rookie. Paraguay certainly seemed to have the game in the palm of their hand after Miguel Almirón’s brilliant dash down the left wing culminated in the side’s opening goal, but lowered the tempo and allowed Argentina to work their way back into contention.

The introduction of Sergio Agüero alongside forward pair Lionel Messi and Lautaro Martínez at half time added menace in attack, but even so Argentina were left depending on a rather fortunate stroke of fate to get back into the game. Martínez’s rasping shot took a deflection off a Paraguayan hand as it clattered against the crossbar, and upon further review a penalty was awarded and converted with customary calm by the Albiceleste captain.

Scaloni’s men were now even on top, but having made the breakthrough with the addition of an extra striker the coach left an entire nation scratching its head by promptly removing Lautaro from the action. “I was fine to continue but that is the coach’s decision,” the Inter youngster fumed after the game, contradicting Scaloni’s assertions that the substitution owed to a physical complaint. Argentina were then extremely fortunate not to fall behind for a second time, Franco Armani coming up big to save a penalty and Nicolás Otamendi’s blushes after the defender gave away the kick with a hideously clumsy challenge from behind in the area.

Just when Paraguay were poised to go on and take all three points, Berizzo shut up shop, adding an extra defender to his line-up to play out for a draw. It gave Argentina a certain respite, but not much: fail to win against Qatar tomorrow and their Copa America campaign is almost certainly over, and to judge b y t h e perfor - mances shown in those first t wo games that is far from a foregone conclusion.

The men, of course, were not the only Argentina team in action. Results may not have been much better, but the commitment and drive shown by the Albiceleste Women’s squad in the World Cup have put their more illustrious colleagues to shame.

Just hours before Messi and Co. were held to that tedious draw, in Paris there was not a dry eye left in the house as a last-minute penalty sealed Argentina’s famous comeback from three goals down to take a point against Scotland.

This group of amateurs, with goalkeeper Vanina Correa the only survivor from their last World Cup appearance in 2007, may have ultimately missed out on the last 16 despite that memorable draw, but they caused a sensation among football fans, many of whom tuned into women’s football for the first time to watch their exploits.

One thing is for sure. The team coached by Carlos Borello has so far left a far more positive image than Scaloni’s stragglers, who nevertheless have one more chance to redeem themselves. Judging by their prev ious ef for ts, though, it would be no surprise to see another elimin a t i o n t h a t would cons - t it ute humi - liation for a side who reached the final in the l a s t t w o Copas.

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Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards


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