Monday, July 18, 2011

Football world shocker! Not what you are thinking...

No this is not a post about the Woman's World Cup finals, and yes that was a shocker. The US National team can only look at that result as a failure. They were the #1 team in the world. Had a 1 goal lead twice. Gave up said leads late in regulation and then in extra time. The first time on a terrible defensive mistake, you NEVER try to "clear" a ball in your team's penalty box when you down on a knee, facing your goal and then square the ball to the middle...the second Japanese goal was a well taken corner kick, tough to blame the US for that one. Um and missing your first 3 PKs? Unacceptable at this level. Okay that is it for my Woman's World Cup rant, not on to my real topic: Copa America.

What is wrong with this picture:

Uruguay v Peru
Venezuela v Paraguay

I hope things are better in 2014
These are the semi final pairings for this year's Copa America. Where are Argentina and Brazil??? Both South American power houses lost to Uruguay and Paraguay respectively, and both on PKs to boot. I was not able to see the Brazil v Paraguay match, but from what I could tell it was all about Brazil inability to finish their chances. I was able to see some of Brazil earlier in the tournament and what struck me was the apparent lack of a "boss" a player of the stature of Pele, Socrates, Zico, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Romario, Ronaldino or even Dunga to name few. Players that clearly took control when the team needed that kick in the pants, either through emotional leadership or by taking over a game physically. I could not help but think that player could have been Kaka, who instead was playing a meaningless match for Real Madrid against LA Galaxy. Bazil's World Cup is not far away, and there does not seem to be a player on the Copa America roster that can step up and take those reigns. Ganso was seen as the next great playmaker for Brazil, and he very well could be down the road. But can he live up to that pressure by the next world cup? What about Neymar? The next scoring wonder kid looked great at times, but not sure he will put his stamp on the Brazilian side as did the likes of Ronaldo or Romario.  These players have bags of talent and potential, but also expectations, sometimes these do not meet in a happy place! Makes me wonder how a player such as Kaka could have helped this squad. Kaka was once that player, the next great one. While he has not played, recently, at the lofty levels expected of him, he remains one of the world's best. He is a veteran of big club European football and could have been the guiding force for this Brazilian side. Alas that was not to be. Brazil will always have raw talent, but do they have the generation of players that can take them to a title when they play at home in 2014? Maybe not.

What about Argentina? Much like Brazil in 2014, they were hosting a big international tournament on their turf. Add to this the pressure of a soccer powerhouse that has not won silverware since 1993, an eternity! They were playing at home and had the world's best player - Messi - as well as an embarrassing pool of talent - Tevez, Aguero, Higuian, Zanetti, Mascherano etc. Granted, next to drawing Brazil, pairing up against Uruguay at this stage was tough draw, least we forget Uruguay was the highest finisher at the World Cup. Now Argentina also ran into Muslera who made some ridiculous saves to keep Uruguay in the game, most noticeably his double save on a Tevez deflection, of a free kick where somehow the keeper kicked out the deflection and then had the reaction to make himself "big" on the Higuain follow up...

Save of the game no doubt! He made another fantastic reflect save on another Higuian shot when the Real Madrid man took a silky pass from Messi, controlled, turned and rifled a shot that called for a fantastic reflect save from the Uruguayan keeper. But the keeper notwithstanding, Argentina spent most of the game with a man advantage (after a silly second yellow by Perez) and had chances. They had a goal disallowed (so did Uruguay) granted, but Messi - Aguero - Di Maria - Higuain seemed out of sorts, they were able to put pressure on the Uruguayan defense but were not able to be clinical in front of goal. Argentina were even getting good width at times from their fullbacks - mainly because with Zanetti and Zabaleta they had NATURAL wide fullbacks, Hey Diego were you paying attention? Uruguay seemed to look to foul high up the pitch, slow down any breaks and if that did not work would just slide deep to protect their 18 yard box - always shadowing Messi. Argentina seemed frustrated by this, noticeable when the likes of Higuain dropped way back to get the ball. Add to this the unexplainable fouling by Milito, that lead to a host of Uruguay free kicks - the only time Uruguay looked very dangerous of scoring. In the end, the game went to penalty kicks, and in that lottery the Albicelestes lost. 

And to think...could have played for Spain
Another tournament lost for Argentina. Another tournament where players such as Messi, Tevez, Mascherano et al did not live up to their expectations. After what happened in South Africa, Argentina is clearly a team in turmoil. They have the talent, almost a ridiculous level of talent, but they still seem to be struggling with formations and how to use Messi in particular. Could it be that the pressure of Barcelona is too much to over come? Everyone expects Messi to be able to replicate his play at the club level with Argentina...unfortunately there is no Xavi or Iniesta wearing the blue and white stripe kit. Then again Barcelona might be challenged to produce the other offensive options Argentina currently have. Argentina must decide how to best leverage Messi within THEIR system, not try to replicate the Barcelona system. Maybe Messi should be allowed to play wide with Di Maria on the other wing, potentially a 4-2-1-3? Three high offensive players, slot Higuain or Aguero in the middle of the top of the formation, question is who slots behind them as the true #10? Lean on Mascherano and Gago to hold. With real full backs, you can leverage their runs to support the high wingers...of course that would mean putting players such as Tevez on the bench, but at the international level that is the name of the game! Maybe the Barcelona expectations are too heavy a curse for Messi...

Both Argentina and Brazil have some retooling to do, at least Argentina have qualifiers to ensure they get a run of serious games to work out their kinks. Brazil will have a host of friendlies, not sure that will allow a true test. Should be interesting 2 years for these South American powers.

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