May 20, 2013
Argentina should increase their lead
Qualifying for soccer’s World Cup finals starts again this evening when Argentina play Venezuela and then they face Bolivia in La Paz on Tuesday. After that Argentina should have added to their lead at the top of the South American qualifying group, which is presently three points after nine of 16 games. We always say this group is a better, and fairer, continental championship than the Copa América. As the top four teams qualify directly for the World Cup finals and Argentina is presently eight points ahead of fifth-placed Uruguay, their position should be even better after Tuesday.
But coach Alejandro Sabella is afraid of overconfidence. If, for example, they lead 2-0 at half-time, he will tell them in the dressing room that they must believe it is
0-0 and go out in the second half to win. It has been a common failing of Argentine teams that when they are two goals — or even one — ahead, they tend to drop back to hang on to their advantage. Sabella admits there are failings and the players know it, but they do not talk about them — less so to the press — because they know that rivals have them under the microscope.
Argentina’s strong point lately has been the three-men attack of Agüero, Higuaín and Messi (with Di María making it practically four up top) and 20 goals have been scored — which is not bad. A coach must make use of his players using the tactics to which they are most suited and Argentina presently has better attackers than defenders.
But these are not Sabella’s favourite tactics. There have been defensive failings and Sabella often has doubts between attack and equilibrium. Yet this column has mentioned before that a team going all out in attack can rarely have a tight defence at the same time.
Sabella was once asked how many matches the Agüero-Higuaín-Messi trio can play together? He said that it depends on how they are (naturally) and he intends to make use of the team’s strong point, but one also has to take into account a rival’s strong points. This column has mentioned that if they play together too often, rivals will be able to study them and how to stop them more closely. In any case, with so many injuries in soccer nowadays, the aforementioned attackers may not be able to play together all that often. At the moment, Agüero (injured) and Di María (suspended) are not available, so the fearsome foursome will not appear this evening.
ALTITUDE. Tuesday’s match against Bolivia is another story. La Paz is 3,600 metres above sea level and fresh in the mind is Argentina’s 6-1 defeat the last time they played a World Cup qualifying match there under coach Diego Maradona, who obviously used the wrong tactics. But the idea used by several coaches to pick a different team to play in Bolivia is not right unless they feel they can throw one match away. Playing at altitude, even with the right tactics, takes a lot out of you, especially if you have to play again a short time later and Argentina are lucky that it is the second of the two games they are playing in five days.
I have never played soccer at such high altitude, but I feel that the best way to play is to make the ball do more running and the player less which may sound easy, but needs a sharp tactical brain. Most players inhale a lot of oxygen at half-time and whenever they can during the game. In the past, a number of countries have complained that it was unhealthy to play in La Paz — mainly Brazil after they lost there — and for a short time FIFA actually banned tournament play under their jurisdiction there while medical studies were made. The Bolivians claimed that these were inconclusive.
When I went to the 1955 Pan-American Games in Mexico — also well above sea level, but not as high as La Paz — we were sent at least a couple of weeks before the start to get acclimatized. It was during the Perón presidency and there were plenty of funds for sports. This is of course impossible for professional soccer teams. What they do instead in some places is to enclose the players in rooms with the same type of rarefied air they would have to endure during the match.
Former soccer player Claudio Borghi said that when he was playing (for years in Chile) and they had to play at high altitude, they were given two glasses of whisky before the match. In Chile, they joked about it, saying they would do their preparation at a bar. Borghi said they did not win, but they had a good time. It is not known if Borghi, who coached the Chilean national team a short time ago, used the same whisky method. When Chile played Bolivia in La Paz in the qualifying tournament last June, they won 2-0. Chile are currently outside the direct qualifying positions.
As for Sabella, it seems he intends to change a few players in the team to play in Bolivia and change the lineup to either 3-5-2 or 4-4-2. While Di María will be available, it also depends on any injuries sustained against Venezuela or yellow cards received in this evening’s match by Federico Fernández, Palacio, Higuaín, Clemente Rodríguez, Campagnaro or Banega which would earn them a one-match suspension.
TICKET SCAM? Venezuelan fans who have arrived for tonight’s match are apparently complaining that they have to pay for match tickets in dollars (US$60) here. The Argentine FA (AFA) say that they sent 1,000 tickets to the Venezuela FA to pass onto travel agencies. The fans say that this is not true because there were no tickets on sale in Venezuela.
Obviously somebody is not telling the truth... or has somebody made good business out of the affair?