Argentina are into the quarterfinals of the 2015 Copa América as group winners after they beat Jamaica 1-0. Gonzalo Higuaín’s disguised shot just 10 minutes into the match was eventually enough for Tata Martino’s men to take maximum points in Viña del Mar. But once again it was an unimpressive performance that results in more questions than answers.
It’s pretty fair to say La Albiceleste haven’t really shown up during the group stage. The national team is brimful with world-class talent, certainly in the attacking quarter, yet they are struggling to produce the performances expected of them.
Within their ranks, Argentina arguably have the best players from several elite European clubs, including Manchester City, Barcelona, Napoli, Manchester United and Juventus.
And it’s not just the performances that have cast worrying looks in the direction of former Barca head coach Gerardo Martino, it’s the results too. Despite building a two-goal lead against world number 85 Paraguay, his side still managed to drop points, as they conceded a last-minute equaliser. That disappointing result was followed up by a drab 1-0 win over defending champions Uruguay (without Luis Suárez) and a unconvincing victory over Concacaf invitees Jamaica, also by a single goal. Not exactly inspiring stuff.
Before their match against the Reggae Boyz, Martino attributed his side’s slugglish start to the tournament to the number of domestic matches his players had been through this season. Perhaps a fair argument but with the strength in depth going forward, you would still expect the likes of Leo Messi, Sergio Agüero, Higuaín and Carlos Tevez, backed up by the guile and creativity of Ángel Di María to be engineering better openings – and putting them away.
Speaking of Juve’s front-man, ‘Apache’ Tevez, despite stating before the tournament that Messi and Tevez could complement each other in a front two, Martino has clearly been unconvinced by the pair’s on-pitch relationship and connection in training, with Tevez only coming off the bench in the 75th, 82nd and 72nd minute and putting in largely anonymous displays. The lethal forward, who has scored 39 times in his two Serie A campaigns, is floundering in this bit-part role and missed a good opportunity to get his first goal of the tournament after coming in the final group game.
Following the 1-0 win, in which Jamaica almost snatched a famous equaliser in added time, Martino admitted in a press conference that he was unhappy with his players’ display, labeling their performance as “boring”.
“We are lacking effectiveness,” the 2011 runner-up begun. “It is something we took out of the result against Paraguay, but you cannot legislate for players of the ability of ours missing so many chances.
“The fact we didn’t put the game to bed, coupled with the physical issues we are having towards the end of games, generated uneasiness.
“I thought we did alright in the first half, getting the early goal and then creating four or five chances to score. We also did well to control Jamaica’s chances to break.
“But the second half was boring, our ball control was tedious, the movement of the ball was too slow and we generally lacked speed in processing our play.”
Boring, slow and tedious; that’s not the description of champions. The team lacked ideas and invention against the group minnows and Martino’s eyebrows will have risen after watching Chile’s performance against Bolivia on Friday night.
La Roja’s pace on the counter is always a threat but it was the manner of their five goals which now makes Jorge Sampaoli’s men favourites for the title. The fourth goal, finished off by Inter Milan midfielder Gary Medel, was a delightful flowing move and perfectly showcased Chile’s fluid formation and positive options.
Argentina need to look at themselves – and the way their rivals play – if they are to lift a 15th Copa América title and make up for last summer’s World Cup heartbreak.