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Bad start for new Argentina coach

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Tim Vickery | 14:04 UK time, Monday, 17 October 2011

Last Tuesday when Venezuela beat Argentina in the second round of South America's World Cup qualifiers it was historic, but hardly surprising.

Venezuela have been making dramatic strides, had home advantage and were taking on an especially vulnerable Argentina side - whose 4-1 win at home to Chile the previous Friday may have disguised the fact.

As highly influential former national team coach Cesar Luis Menotti commented, "against Chile we didn't play well, against an opponent that went out to commit suicide" - a reference to the absurdly attacking line up of the Chileans (largely rectified in the following match where coach Claudio Borghi reverted to his customary 3-4-1-2 as Chile beat Peru 4-2 in a magnificent game in Lima).

Against Venezuela, then, came the moment of truth for Argentina, and as all self-belief drained out of the side in the second half it was clear that Menotti had a point when he complained about the absence of any coherent central idea.

"If we don't define the idea," he continued, "we won't take advantage of the abilities of the players. I don't know what Rojo is playing at, I didn't understand the position of Di Maria, Mascherano was neither a midfielder nor a centre-back and the back three were disorganised."

These were typically astute observations. At left-back or wing-back, Marcos Rojo provides more evidence of Argentina's problems down the flanks, making it all the more surprising that Angel Di Maria started off in a central role.

And unlike Barcelona's high line, Argentina's defence dropped deep to protect the lack of pace of Martin De Michelis being exposed, leaving Javier Mascherano floating in front of a porous back three.

The Argentina players trudged off the pitch after their shock defeat against Venezuela. Photo: Reuters

Menotti is not seeking to put the boot into Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella. His words are more a recognition that Sabella has been thrown in the deep end and, rich in resources in some positions but struggling elsewhere, had little time to find a blend before the kick off of the World Cup qualifiers.

It was not supposed to be this way. The idea was that July's Copa America would serve as a testing ground, preparing the continent's teams for the long journey to Brazil 2014.
But instead of consolidating a project, in the case of Argentina the Copa ended up destroying one.

Sergio Batista was sacked and in came Sabella - assistant for many years to Daniel Passarella but with only one coaching job to his name. Big changes are made in little time - not since the early days of the Diego Maradona regime had Argentina gone into a competitive game with a back three, for example. It is hardly surprising that Sabella has run into early problems.

Argentina were not the only team to change coaches after the Copa. It happened to Paraguay, too. The Argentine Gerardo Martino resigned even though his team reached the final, a decision founded on the feeling that he had taken his men as far as they could go.

Replacement Francisco Arce was a top player, but he too has little on his coaching CV. And he has already made his mark, cutting out of his squad the Argentina-born players of Paraguayan descent that Martino had introduced.

With little time to bed in his changes, Paraguay have made a poor start to the qualifying campaign. Only a last gasp equaliser at home to Uruguay saved them from getting underway with successive defeats.

Of course, part of the beauty of South America's qualifiers is that there is plenty of time for teams to click. Argentina and Paraguay will be striving to do this over the next two years. On the other hand, this campaign is likely to be so tight that points dropped now may well be regretted come the end of the competition.

There is one country, though, that changed coaches after the Copa and as yet have no grounds for regret.

In the eight games of the campaign's opening two rounds, Colombia are the only team to have managed an away win - all the more laudable since it came against Bolivia at the extreme altitude of La Paz, the venue visitors dread.

True, Colombia have altitude experience of their own, with their capital city Bogota up in the Andes, and the fact they sat out the first round of fixtures gave them more time to prepare, but all the same, the three points came as a wonderful start to the campaign, and for Lionel Alvarez in his first competitive match in charge.

The story of Colombia's change at the top is different from that of Argentina or Paraguay. Hernan Dario Gomez did not leave for footballing reasons. Instead he was forced out after a scandal - he was seen hitting a woman outside a Bogota bar.

Initially the Colombian FA approached Martino, who had just walked out on Paraguay. He turned them down, in large part due to the lack of time to prepare for the qualifiers. So the eminently sensible decision was taken to promote Alvarez, the holding midfielder in the great late 80s and early 90s side, who had been assistant to Gomez.

Though he may go with something more ambitious in the home matches, in La Paz Alvarez stuck with the 4-1-4-1 that Colombia employed in the Copa America.

This, then, was a case of continuity - but with the difference of added quality. On the left of midfield in came James Rodriguez of Porto, unavailable for the Copa because he had been with the Under-20s as Colombia hosted the World Youth Cup.

Rodriguez opened up the pitch with his left foot - Adrian Ramos, previous first choice in the position is very right-footed. He gave a performance of astonishing maturity, choosing his options well - including in the stoppage time counter attack that brought Colombia their winning goal.

In the Copa the side lacked a touch of inspiration in the final third. Rodriguez just might be the solution - perhaps Alejandro Sabella and Argentina will find out when they visit Colombia next month.

Comments on the piece in the space provided. Questions on South American football to, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag;

Q) I have always felt that Joffre Guerron could be a hit in the Premier League. He wouldn't be very expensive and surely his pace, power and reasonable eye for goal would suit him perfectly to the English game? Why do you think it is that an English club hasn't taken a chance on him?
Christian Yates

A) I think there's plenty of evidence to justify the fact that the Ecuadorian is not in England. At the moment he's in Brazil with Atletico Paranaense, who are in the relegation zone and have scored fewer goals than anyone else. He's never scored for his country and when he went over to Spain he had an unhappy time with Getafe. His compatriot Cristian Suarez might be a better bet.

Q) Could you comment on Alejandro Sabella's exclusion of Javier Pastore during the first round of qualifiers? He didn't even come on as a sub against Chile and doesn't appear to be in the line-up for tomorrow against Venezuela. I believe he and Jose Sosa fill a similar role but Pastore is a superior player who adds more of a direct threat when necessary. I know Sabella coached Sosa at Estudiantes and is probably comfortable with him but it seems like a waste to leave a talent like Pastore on the sidelines.
Andre Medrano

A) It didn't make much sense at the time, and makes even less looking back at the Venezuela game - when at least Pastore did come on for the last few minutes.
I think the explanation probably lies in some of the issues considered in this week's article. Thrown in the deep end without much experience, the temptation is for Sabella to go with players he knows and trusts. He did a superb job in his first year with Estudiantes - arguably not such a good job in his second Libertadores campaign. But the level he is working at now is much higher, and while I think he might get there in the end, it will take him a while to find his feet.


  • Comment number 1.


    Why arent Colombia a world power? Its amazes me they havent produced a decent team either side of the early 90 crop. They have a bigger population than Argentina, 4 large urban areas as opposed to Argentina's centralization, are football mad and are located in the only region that is a match for Europe.

  • Comment number 2.

    I can see why Sabella is trying with three central defenders as just thinking off the top of my head I can't think of any quality full-backs, an ageing Javier Zanetti or Cristian Ansaldi is all that springs to mind. I also believe Federico Fernandez has moved far too early to a large european club like Napoli and is not getting enough game time, he is going a similar way to Guillermo Burdisso last season at Roma, These young centre backs should think about their careers and maybe push for loan moves or stay a season or two longer.

  • Comment number 3.

    It might be worthwhile of Argentina to consider Fabricio Coloccini (Newcastle) and Matias Silvestre (Palermo) as possible defensive options, which is where I feel their weaknesses are. Coloccini is playing well for Newcastle here in England and Silvestre is threatening to change allegiance to Italy.

  • Comment number 4.

    Messi can't do anything for Argentina, what more proof do you want? Without Xavi and Iniesta he isn't much is he. I admit he scored a great goal for Barca at the weekend but it was the genius of Iniesta that made it possible, and i'm sorry you put Rooney in that Barca team and he'll do nearly all the things that Messi does.

    Sooner or later Xavi and Iniesta have to start getting more credit than they do because without them Barca win nothing.

  • Comment number 5.

    Tim, you have made two mistakes in this piece:

    1. This one is not so important but still: you wrote De Michelis when his name is Demichelis, just the one word there.

    2. This one is huge, especially because I'm Peruvian and not one who's happy to read about my country's defeat against Chile on an international website and even less happy to see that the author is telling other people that we lost at home against our age-old bitter rivals! In sum, please be so kind as to rectify the line where you say that Chile beat us 4-2 in Lima; they did it at home, in Santiago!

  • Comment number 6.

    Tim, Your blogs about South American football keep me very entertained & give me a good insight into Englishmens opinions on my continents football, However, There have been many petty mistakes in your blogs that have finally forced me to comment. The Chile 4 - 2 Peru match was in SANTIAGO, CHILE and not in LIMA, PERU. You wrote it the other way around near the beginning of your blog. I just felt that you should know as you are doing a professional blog about a great footballing continent , read by many many people, but you can't be having such mistakes. Thank you.

  • Comment number 7.

    lovely blog again tim

    as said above Fabricio Coloccini must be very close to at least a recall to the squad? i always liked him in spain and the championship spell really impressed me with his professionalism and he has continued and improved on it since stepping back up a league a real leader as well

  • Comment number 8.

    Completely agree with KR about Messi. He can't do anything great for Argentina without Iniesta and Xavi. The combination of these three guys is really great to watch.
    Goal by Messi at this weekend is proving my words.
    Sports news

  • Comment number 9.

    4 and 8 I dont agree, it's not about Iniesta and Xavi, its about the Barca team. Messi can't do anything with Argentina because Argentina basically don't have a clue of how they wanna achieve the aim of scoring and winning games. Pep knows what to do with Messi and how they go forward. You go up to Spain and they have a central idea that works despite of the personel. If Argentina had a plan and they could get partnerships with Aguero and Messi and Pastore they would do great in attack. Defensively they always gonne struggle so maybe they will have to focus on outscoring the opposition. Point is, Messi is a great player, one of the best I've seen. Barca would win without him but they wouldn't make it look as good.

  • Comment number 10.

    5 and 6 - sorry, Chile v Peru was of course in Santiago - wrote that part of the piece by hand on a train coming abck from a game, and wrote Santiago - when I came to type it up don't kow where my head was.

    Most important thing, though - it was a fantastic game, to which Peru made a terrific contribution, hitting the woodwork four times!

  • Comment number 11.

    Tim while I'm with you on the pressure managers are under I think you've fallen into the Paraguayan media's trap re Chiqui Arce not fielding nationalized players. He has always said he doesn't care where anybody is from and did give Jorge Mendoza (Arg-born midfielder) a game in friendlies. Certain papers wanted to make something out of nothing on that front.

    I think he dropped Santana & Ortigoza because they don't fit into his style of play, Lucas Barrios will surely be in the next squad if he is match fit.

    Chiqui Arce has made it his long term aim to improve the Paraguayan youth set up (already very good) which will undoubtedly favour local players over Arg-born but I don't subscribe to the idea that Chiqui Arce is anti-nationalised players, after all his son was born in Brazil and currently doesn't have a Paraguayan ID Card!

  • Comment number 12.

    Always enjoy the blog Tim but I agree with gunner_caot89 at 5. A loss at home to our old rivals would have been a blow to our prestige indeed! Can Peru qualify for the World Cup? Let's hope so.

  • Comment number 13.

    11 - perhaps, but I would have thought that Ortigoza would fit nicely into the philosophy of a coach who wants to attack, as Arce says he wants to. His range of passing from midfield is better than either Rievros or Caceres, players with other virtues who played centre mid v Uruguay.
    Calling up Pittoni to the squad but not Ortigoza? Pittoni is interesting, but I would have thought that Ortigoza is better.
    Anyway, whatever Arce's long term plans might be re nationalised players, the point made here is one of lack of continuity - that, for whatever reason, changes have been made quickly, possibly not in the best interests of results.

  • Comment number 14.

    Dear Tim, Nice blog,
    I just wanted to ask you, why all the Argentinian coach are acting foolishly that Messi alone will win them everything? Even though he is not scoring the goals, more than 75% of the Argentina goal come from Messi's pass. Why they just dont believe and demand more from the guys like Pastore and Banega so that Messi dont have to do everything by himself and play freely like in Barcelona. What do you think about the comeback of Aimar or Requelme to improve the team.

  • Comment number 15.

    Rajeev Sharma, exactly when they combine Barca are a force of nature that pretty much no defence can handle. Messi's performances from Argentina (i'm not saying they are bad, but they aren't great) is evidence of how influential Xavi and Iniesta are.

  • Comment number 16.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 17.

    Truth be told, Argentina haven't looked as good since Riquelme retired from international duty.

    He was the closet they had to a Xavi and they miss his on the ball mastery.

  • Comment number 18.

    I don't usually comment but KR-No more, no less comments were so ridiculous that I felt I needed to reply. Firstly, anyone who has played the game could recognise that ANY player would perform better in a team with better players, therefore to say that because messi doesn't perform as well for argentina as he does for barcelona means he 'isn't much' is ludicrous. Also, if you look at the majority of Messi's goals they are largely created by himself, usually dribbling past players or playing one two's, basically doing things which no other player is capable of. To say Rooney would be doing these things is outrageous, tell me a time when he's scored a goal remotely similar to Messi's goal against getafe, or villarreal, or zaragova, or valencia or in the champions league semi final against real madrid. Xavi really put that on a plate for him there didn't he? Why people try and play down the extraordinary talents of the greatest player i've ever seen is beyond me, surely we should just enjoy watching him do what he does best.

  • Comment number 19.

    Sabella, or any coach of Argentina's current group of players faces I think a dilemma. And that is whether to play with an enganche (playmaker) such as Pastore or a pure winger like DiMaria. I just do not think they are compatible which is why I think it is an either or situation.

    If you play Messi, DiMaria and a center forward, likely Higuain, with Pastore just behind them as an enganche then that leaves only two midfielders, likely Mascherano and Banega, to cover most of the midfield. Is that enough defensive balance or would Argentina, as happened on Tuesday in Venezuela, become overrun in midfield? I think the latter would occur.

    This is why I think the team need 3 midfielders behind Pastore with only Messi and Higuain up top. This gives the midfield more strength and while this formation freezes DiMaria out of the starting team, he could be a valuable change of pace substitute where his verticality would create danger.

    But if you want to play DiMaria then you need to either play he, Messi and Higuain at forward with three midfielders, but no enganche behind them or you play, as Argentina did versus Chile, DiMaria and another winger wide in midfield with two central midfielders and then Higuain and Messi at forward. But there simply is not in my mind room for both DiMaria and Pastore in the starting team.

    Soccer Futbol Forum

  • Comment number 20.

    I was totally shocked at how badly Argentina played against Venezuela. Apart from the first 15' when they looked mildly threatening they were generally outplayed thereafter and more importanly Messi was annonymous and resorted to fouling oppositon players which is a little unusual for him. Perhaps frustration got the better of him! As I wrote after the 1st round of games, and was castigated by one person, Argentina were lucky against Chile in that the Chileans bombarded their goal but were unlucky not score. 3-3 would have been a fair result and 4-1 flattered Argentina, and deceived many who did not watch the game, as I did. Venezuela just never gave the Argentines a chance and it could have been 3-0 for the 'Vino Tinto'.
    The Chile - Peru game was pure magic. Chile are so positive and exciting to watch but boy they had luck on their side as the poor Peruvians hit the post and bar 4 times. It was terrific end to end attacking football and a joy to watch and a credit to both sides. I can't wait for Uruguay v Chile in the next round. This is without doubt the most exciting qualifying section of the World Cup campaign.

  • Comment number 21.


    I thought the Chile vs Perú game was in Santiago???

    It was the best game I've seen for quite a while. Both teams went out to attack and go straight for the throat. Perú hit the woodwork 4 times... had two decent penalty shouts denied.. and Chile should have been down to 10 men for one of their players raising his hand to Guerrero. The game could easily have been 7-7.

  • Comment number 22.

    21 - I've already apologised once for an absent minded typing slip! In mitigation, can I remind people of some of the closing words of last week's piece

    "At home in Tuesday's second round Chile will doubtless look to attack - but then so will Peru, so impressive last Friday as they brushed Paraguay aside to win 2-0.

    This Pacific Ocean derby is seldom pacific, and Tuesday's version promises to be especially fiery."

    We got even more than I had bargained for.

  • Comment number 23.

    What was the final score? Cannot see it in the report.

  • Comment number 24.

    1.At 16:46 17th Oct 2011, weezer316 wrote:

    Why arent Colombia a world power? Its amazes me they havent produced a decent team either side of the early 90 crop. They have a bigger population than Argentina, 4 large urban areas as opposed to Argentina's centralization, are football mad and are located in the only region that is a match for Europe.


    A lot to do with history of European occupation and development of South America I reckon. Football developed around the industrial growth River Plate cities and the Sao Paulo-Rio-Belo Horizonte triangle in Brazil, and a lot of teams in these areas (which encompass the three S American superpowers of international football too of course) have a history linked to the ethnic group that worked in each particular city. Colombia is a politically divided nation, and links - both physical and cultural - between the major urban areas are only slowly growing (and often go backwards as internal disputes raise their head again). In the end it creates an environment not unlike Colombia's 1990s side - loads of potential and fascination, not much efficiency or organisation! Mexico remains, in my opinion, the most baffling under-achiever in world football - though increased exposure to the Copa has improved their sides.

  • Comment number 25.

    Guys guys guys we all are in "shock" as to why Argentina are quite frankly naff at football, but the harsh reality is, they have fielded no less than 82 players in the past 12 months for the national team. How on earth is the manager supposed to pick the best 11?! Despite having a lot of good players being a "good headache" to have for managers, I think this goes beyond that. Fact is, Argentina have too many good players to play. If they play Di Maria, Pastore, Aguero all on form & they end up underperforming, then the fans will question why they didn't play Tevez, Lavezzi, Guttierrez or Higuain. It's just not going to happen for them any time soon.

  • Comment number 26.

    People can say what they want about Mesi, but his talent is currently second to none, maybe when he's close to retirement, we'll view him as the 'best ever', but that's too subjective a phrase to mean much anyway.
    The thing is, Argentina have as many genuinely 'world class' players ATM as any other country, if they can click as a group and they can find a real leader in defence, Argentina will probably win the next world cup at a canter, but we've seen teams that boast great talent failing so often, that a 2014 win is just as likely as them continuing to flatter without achieving anything.

    Another great blog BTW, keep up the good work and maybe give some pointers to some of the other bloggers here on the BBC, they could do with as many tips as possible.

  • Comment number 27.


    I think the instability in Colombia has had a huge impact and is often underestimated.

    Even today, the State does not have full control of the country, a situation unique on the continent. For most of the previous 40 years almost half of Colombia was outside government occupation. The knock-on effects of decades of internal conflict have been huge: for a long time Colombia had the world's largest Internally displaced persons and highest kidnapping rates.

    Essentially, the country has been robbed of millions of potential footballers and the environment needed for development. Brazil may have high crime but it hasn't had an almost civil war and is pretty stable.

    A similar view is put forth for Africa to explain why nations from the North and West have dominated since the 1990s (East, Central and Southern Africa has been rocked by conflict and/or the AIDS/HIV epidemic, affecting 10s of millions).

  • Comment number 28.


    so you totally discount all the highest of quality individual goals he score's and the volume of goals he sets up for his team mates? you two are real idiot's who have no clue, messi still plays the same in an argentina shirt as he does for barca he just doesn't have the quality of xavi and iniesta there to finish wot he sets up and makes out of nothing. and to say rooney would be doing what messi does if he was in that barca team is enough reading for me to class you as a clueless lack of football knowledge numbskull. lol

  • Comment number 29.

    To 4.(KR - No More, No Less) and 8. (Rajeev Sharma), I urge you to watch Messi's expoits for Argentina and then maybe you'll have a defferent perspective of how football is a team game.

    Need i say that "Maradona is the only player to have almost single handedly won a WC for his country", no other player has ever achieved that feat, not Zidane and not even Pele. It pains me to say it but Messi will unfortunately never win a WC with Argentina. Their defence is in shambles and they lack creative midfielders.
    Do people really expect Messi to play as a midfielder, creative midfielder and forward when he wears the Argentina shirt?
    I think people underestimate what Messi offers to Barcelona. If Messi depends soo much on passes from Xavi and Aniesta to score his goals, how come then he provided more assists that both of them combined last season. If you read the stats, you'll find that Danie Alves provides more assists to Messi that either Xavi or Aniesta.

  • Comment number 30.

    To Ian SA22: Not sure which result you are asking about but for your information the results of the last round of qualifying games were:
    Bolivia 1 Colombia 2, Chile 4 Peru 2, Paraguay 1 Uruguay 1, Venezuela 1 Argentina 0.
    It is a pity that the BBC pay so little attention to these qualifying games and I could not find these results anywhere on their website, but having watched 3 of the 4 games live (The Chile and Paraguay games were played at the same time) I knew the outcome. Heck! on the much hyped BBC Radio 5 live the presenter did not even know that the qualfying games in South America had started. When someone mentioned Bolivia v Colombia he said thought it was a 'friendly' game.
    The next round takes place on 11 November and the top game appears to be Uruguay v Chile. Argentina have an 'easy' looking game at home to Bolivia but 4 days later face a tough away game in Colombia, while Chile are at home to Paraguay.
    Hope that helps Ian.

  • Comment number 31.

    29 tsivoman

    i should have included that essential stat too. nice 1

    like i said they're clue's are nowhere.

  • Comment number 32.

    Oh dear oh dear oh dear

    Comments on here only go to highlight why the English game is in the shambles it is - people really do not understand football.

    Lets start with Argentina, they have all the attacking talent that you need but they have no defensive qualities, no harmony, no stability, poor management (for some time now) and no tactics.

  • Comment number 33.

    Rooney - has not got the ability to do 10% of what Messi is capable of, I would suggest that this has come form English fans who typically over rate players like Rooney, Terry, Gerrard and Lampard. These types of comments are so disrespectful to a genius like Lionel Messi.

  • Comment number 34.

    Messi, Xavi & Iniesta - The 2 spaniards are probably the best midfielders in the world and make English midfielders look like pub players. Their vision, skill, strength, passing ability, technique and ability to retain a ball is matched by no one in world football. They play with messi and between the 3 of them the link up play is sublime (however ask most English fans if they watch the Spanish League and they do not) however to suggest he is nothing without them is shocking.

    Best player taht ever lived -

  • Comment number 35.

    Also many of the Argentinians including Maradonna will dispute the fact taht he single handedly won the WC by himself - yes he was awesome but he had some great players around him

  • Comment number 36.


    i know mate singlehandedly would be playing in goal, defence, midfield and striker all at once, he had a blinder of a world cup but it's a bit insulting to the team he had around him.

  • Comment number 37.

    Post number 4&8.

    What are you on about.
    Yes Messi does not perform for Argentina to the level he does at barca.
    Not many players perform well for club and country.
    Last to time I checked Rooney did so well for England, he decided he wanted to miss the euro 2012 group stage.
    C. Ronaldo not exactly stellar for Portugal too.
    They only made play-off in what should have been a winnable group with world beater Denmark winning it.
    (sorry about my sarcasm)

    My point is Messi is a great player.
    Yes he is an international underachiever.
    But football is not a one man show.
    Fans may buy a ticket or watch the match on tv because a superstar is playing.
    (I would pay to watch flair players like Messi and C. Ronaldo).
    But there are 10 other players in the team.
    This Argentina team is defensively weak, tactically poor, creativity in midfield missing.
    What country wouldn't want Aguerro, Tevez, Levezzi, Messi, Higuin, Pastore, Milito as their attacking options. Only problem is who to pick, how to get balance and also get a bit of team chemistry between the attackers.
    Best example is again the Barcelona team.

    Messi is, as an individual players the most talented footballer in the world at the moment. However Messi probably acknowledges the influence of the rest of his Barcelona teammates, not just the amazing duo of Xavi and Iniesta, but everybody.
    Playing for Argentina, it is difficult to see if Messi has the same affection for his teammates.

  • Comment number 38.

    as long as he keeps it up for barca not too bothered what he does at international level, im sure in time he will be sat on the throne patting the heads of pele and maradona sat each side of him like his lap-dogs.(no dis to pele and maradona)

    although as much as i think messi could become the best of all, at this moment in time ronaldo9 is the man to beat.

  • Comment number 39.

    I don't understand this debate about Messi.

    Last time I checked, football is a team game.

    You can have an attacking genius in your side but if you don't have a reliable defence and goalkeeper, you won't win matches. Barcelona are a great side with most of their team coming from world champions Spain, Argentina at the moment are not a great team. Messi is a great player and has shown that for Argentina too, but he can't turn Otamendi into Daniel Alves, or Burdisso and Demechelis into Puyol and Pique, or Cambiasso and Banega into Xavi and Iniesta.

    That surely, is obvious.

  • Comment number 40.

    @24.At 09:21 18th Oct 2011, Spaced Invader wrote:

    "Mexico remains, in my opinion, the most baffling under-achiever in world football"

    I have to agree with you there. They have a population of around 90 million and they are all football daft. My Nephew trained with the Pumitas in Mexico City and when I went along to watch him I was blown away by just how good the coaching and the facilities are.

    They should really have done it on the world stage by now.

  • Comment number 41.

    Tim, the BBC should pay you two columns per week. There is just too much going on in the entire South America, each week, for just one column.

  • Comment number 42.

    Yes Argentina were poor, but remember the 'weaker' teams in SA are getting stronger and more competitive. It's great for football not only in South America but the whole world. It is difficult to predict exactly who will occupy the top 4 positions come the end of the campaign. Unlike in previous qualification tournaments when it was almost guaranteed that Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile or Ecuador would take the qualification spots.
    As regards Messi, he is more at 'home' in the Camp nou in Barcelona with his Barca teammates than when is playing in 'foreign' South American campaigns. Even in his native Argentina he must feel a little out of place. He's happier at Barca hence he performs better surrounded by better team mates.

  • Comment number 43.

    I have only one thing to say: Why do people think Argentina lost past Tuesday only because they poorly played against…. No one?? Sometimes I feel Venezuela is the invisible national team. Even when the team played a remarkably good game, in which the only Argentinean player who deserves to be mentioned is the goalkeeper…. You keep talking the same stupid questions: why not Pastore? Lavezzi, Aguero, Maradona, Passarela, Di Stefano… C'mon guys? Do you really want to have a debate about football or you only want to talk about your (south Americans) idols?? Messi?? Did he played against that team that happen to defeat almighty Argentina.
    To my South Americans friends: Keep underestimating us…. We don't have names, or history in this game; but as Venezuela showed last week we will win each and everyone of your teams if you keep thinking we only knows about baseball. Save this post and read it in 3 years, we're no longer the Feroe Island of South America.

  • Comment number 44.

    argentina looked in a shambles the longer that game went on and they are going to have more struggles in barranquilla next month by the looks of things.

    colombia looked solid at the copa and with a bit more quality in the form of james and gio moreno i fancy them to do the business this time round.

    peru too have looked very impressive and if there is a more in form striker on the international scene than paolo guerrero i´ve yet to see him.

    my blog below will be tracking the qualifiers with a special focus on colombia for anyone interested, some of us are covering it...

  • Comment number 45.

    Anyone who says players have dragged a team to a competition win single handedly does not know football.

    Zidane in 98 was quality in the games he played in but if memory serves me right did he not miss 3 or 4 games as well?

    Gerrard in 2005 is credited with winning the CL on his own for Liverpool - however I remember Hamann was the man that changed the final.

    We could go on forever

  • Comment number 46.

    Tim, just to follow up on the Chiqui Arce point - you are spot on with the changes at the risk of bad results. I was lucky enough to spend an hour with him talking about his plans for Paraguay and he kept re-iterating the importance of instilling his style of play and only having players that will adapt to that. He also said "I'd prefer to lose having given everything than win with una pavada (a fluke)" so for now he probably is more focussed on change - as you right said - than results.

    The fixture list allows him time because 4 of Paraguay's last 5 qualifiers are at home so until then they can afford to nick points away, although pressure will be on to beat Ecuador in the next game they have 10 wins from 10 games against them in Asuncion.

  • Comment number 47.

    And so a comment about Argentina descends into a "Messi is overrated" debate. At leats that one hasn't been done before. Gerrard v Lampard anyone?

    And please - for comments such as #32 "Comments on here only go to highlight why the English game is in the shambles it is - people really do not understand football."

    This is not an English football blog - it is a well written blog about Argentinean football. Post #37 highlights the problem - Aguero has been outstanding in English football since his arrival, as was Tevez (when he played). Di Maria has blown hot and cold when I've seen him for Real but is obviously a talent. Higuain, Lavezzi and Milito I have seen less so cannot comment. However how do you build a team of players that complement each other (actually my belief that this is England's biggest problem) from a group that play in different leagues with different styles - asking them to switch to a confused formation in internationals is difficult for anyone.

    This to me is Spain's biggest strength - the undrstanding of roles is there as players like Xavi, Iniesta reprise their club approach and positions for their country. Whilst they are good individually in their areas, this is partially because the team allows them to do so. Using Rooney of an example of how this goes wrong for England - he plays an unnatural position and disrupts the England team by his wandering around the field - for Xavi and Iniesta, they know they don't need to do any different than they do week in week out for Barca.

    For the poster asking for a blog on Venezualan football - please Tim. I know next to nothing about them and would love too - I can then pretend that this is cultural reading.

  • Comment number 48.

    Good blog as usual. Can't pretend to know an awful lot about many of the SAmerican countries in terms of their footballing tradtions, so Tim's blogs are a great insight for me

    Good comment on the success of Spain, who draw a lot of the spine of their side from Barca. I'm sure familiarity has a lot of benefits in terms of their style of play and tactical approach to games.

    But clearly there are many other problems with the current Argentinian set-up and I'm surprised by their lack of defensive quality/ cohesion at thisd point given how many players they have exported in recent years to European leagues.

    No one player wins a tournament on his own. Its a team game. Although when winning teams become very closely associated with the impact of one player - Garrincha in '62 and Maradona in '86 for example - it just feels that way to a wider audience.

  • Comment number 49.

    So much ill informed comment. When Messi play's for Barcelona they score more goals and create more chances. Messi does not need Xavi or Iniesta to sparkle as he proved with two hat tricks last season inc. one against Zaragoza.

    All Sabella need's to do is to pick the right players , play them in their correct positions and instil some mental toughness.

    Venuzuela have improved but they are not that great. Messi has plenty of decent players around him in the seleccion that match those around at Barcelona.

    Sabella needs to introduce Pastore and Banega/Gago/Yacob in the midfield to control that and bring in natural fullbacks.

    They are there.Ansaldi and Tagliafico should be the choices at leftback. And there are better pacier defenders that must be selected. Federico Fernandez is one of the younger ones as is German Pezzella who oozes maturity beyond his years. Some of the older ones that have been very consistent in serie A such as Matias Silvestre must be considered or indeed others like Garay.

    Control the midfield and the attacking talent upfront can work it's own magic.

    Sabella needs to be given time though and hopefully he will work it out and stop relying on former Estudiantes players that are not good enough ie Sosa and Rojo.

  • Comment number 50.

    Rob04 too many of the young Argentines go to Europe far too early. At a critical point in their development they end up spending time warming benches and in many cases end up going back to Argentina. Some rebound like Bergessio others just flounder.

    And the age at which they are leaving seems to be getting younger. Lucas Ocampos is the latest to be targetted and he is not yet eighteen.

    Something needs to be done to make sure Argentine clubs receive a fair share of transfer fees not a select group of investors and agents and that the clubs are run not to cater for the barra bravas but for the best interests of the club and fans.

    For that you need a reform of the AFA run as it is by Blatter's second in command the distinctly unlikeable Julio Grondona. As it is the AFA is a shambolic organization that makes the FA look like a paragon of efficiency and forward thinking progress.

  • Comment number 51.

    Post 43 - Venelondoner: I can undertsand your frustration but you have to accept that (a) Venezuela had never previously beaten Argentina and (b) Venezuela is the only South American country in the region not to have qualified for a World Cup finals, hence our amazement at their victory in the last round. Yes, we all recognize that Venezuelan football has come on magnificently in recent years and yes they do have a fair chance of qualifying outright this time, as it would be quite an surprise if Argentina, Uruguay and Chile do not fill 3 of the top 4 places, and the battle for the 4th automatic place could well go to the last round of games.

  • Comment number 52.

    Thanks Balraj and i agree if you must lose young players the monies should be re-invested back in clubs. And Grondona yes, lovely guy!

  • Comment number 53.

    47, you're bang on. Look at Germany, one of the main reasons they've been so good for the last 5-6 years is that they instigated a plan from youth level up where every team in the league had to train to similar standards and employ similar tactics. That way any player is able to make the transition to the national squad and still know exactly what their role is. I think this is one of the things that the SFA are trying to set up in Scotland currently but knowing us it'll get lost amongst the usual politics and infighting.

    Like you say, the problem for Argentina etc is that most of their players are all at different clubs, in different leagues playing different styles. To try and bring all that together is fairly difficult at the best of times. I guess the key would be for them to come up with a set shape and stick to it. Whether that's with 3 at the back or 4 is another matter.

    Messi as pointed out in many of the comments seems to be being drawn all over the place and expected to perform miracles all by himself. He's looked at his best in the past for Argentina when he has at least one creative midfielder (Veron previously) to work with and feed from. He in turn can then turn provider to Aguero/Tevez/Higuain.

  • Comment number 54.

    Savva123 - I'd say that your comments show how insecure and small-minded some people are. Have you ever considered the possibility that the comments you refer to are by people who are not British? I didn't think so...

    In regards to Rooney, what is your point exactly? 1) We all know he isn't as good as Lionel Messi 2) Where was is even mentioned before you started talking this nonsense?

  • Comment number 55.

    Re Messi Barca v country argument - Can people stop talking nonsense? Messi IS the greatest player on the planet right now, but it is still a TEAM game. No player can do it all by himself and Argentina simply don't have the players to support Messi like Barcelona do. If you still don't think Messi is the greatest player in the world, just answer this question. Which other player not only has his natural technique, but also knows when to make the simple pass instead of going alone? C. Ronaldo? :D

  • Comment number 56.

    An interesting post Tim but i was in shock at the result!

    Venezuela beating Argentina!! It just doesn't sound right.

    I've always been a believer that Argentina are suspect at the back (especially the keeper) but going forward they have so much firepower!.

    All the lads at our office, [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator], had a bet that the Argies would win that one - a few heads held in shame the following day. How could they let us down??

    @SlovakIron - i agree with you that Messi is by far the worlds greatest player. He's showed this on so many occasions. I was at Wembley for the champions league final and the little lad ran the show. An amazing display. But football is a team game and one player can't carry the team.

    Argentina remind me of England in a way. So much expectation but they let themselves down when it matters most. Argentine WILL qualify for the world cup and i hope Alejandro Sabella gets a decent stint otherwise it'll be bring back Maradonna.

    Imagine that! Brilliant.

    No one gets close to Spain in my eyes at the moment in world football. They are a pleaseure to watch.

  • Comment number 57.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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