ERIC WEIL in BUENOS AIRES: Argentina are one of the favourites to win the World Cup. But that popular view may need revision on the evidence of the 0-0 draw against Romania which served as the last ‘test match’ before Alejandro Sabella picks his squad.
Main focus of contention is Carlos Tevez. As ever, a national coach is bombarded with names of players he should pick and the former Manchester City and United striker was by far the most popular suggestion. All to no avail.
It is generally assumed that he remains an outcast because of previous problems with the national team though even Argentine football association chief Julio Grondona has told Sabella there is nothing to stop Tevez being included.
Tevez, 15-goal top scorer in Italy’s Serie , has a practised response to a persistent question, saying: “I am concentrating on doing as well as I can for Juventus. If I’m picked for the Selección or not is entirely a matter for the coach.”
Then again, every coach has his own ideas and the most common criticism levelled at Sabella is his preference for players he coached during his day with Estudiantes de La Plata.
Like all the rest Argentina’s 23-man squad has to be registered before the next warmup game. Hence it was disappointing that Argentina’s main strength – the three-man attack – failed to score against rivals who did not even qualify for the finals.
One must take into account that no player wants to risk injury so close to the World Cup and perhaps did not go all out. Also, as Sabella said, they had all played for their clubs the previous weekend and had only one ‘serious’ training session before the match.
One plus was that regular goalkeeper Sergio Romero played well. There had been doubts about his status since he receives few first-team opportunities in the French league with Monaco.
First reserve Mariano Andujar has the same problem at Catania and only home-based Agustin Orion from Boca Juniors sees much action. These are the three set to go to Brazil.
Sabella has tried out over around 100 players, most of them in defence which is the team’s weakest department. He says he has 19 names in mind – including probably no more than three home-based players – and will pick two more for defence and two in midfield.
Clearly that means no Tevez anywhere near is favoured 4-3-3 line-up.
One questionmark concerns Fernando Gago. He returned to Argentinian football to improve his World Cup chances but he hardly looks the part at Boca Juniors. Maybe that was the wrong choice of club for his purpose.
The AFA had floated the idea of encouraging a return home for players – and there are many – who see little first-team action in Europe.
Unfortunately the idea, which might also have raised standards locally. never got off the ground.
Against Romania, defenders Pablo Zabaleta and Federico Fernández played well but there remain problems on the flanks. Sergio Aguero thinks the strikers should fall back when they do not have the ball to ese pressure on the defence.
As for Leonel Messi – on whom the team and Sabella rely too
much – he appeared again to be play too deep which means players he outwits still have time to regroup by the time he reaches a shooting
If he spent his time further forward he would also improve the prospects of Argentina winning free kicks in dangerous situations.
But Sabella does not try to build castles in the air. He says he does not think Argentina are among the main favourites such as Spain, Germany and Brazil.
It should be remembered, however, that when Argentina were champions in 1978 and 1986, the team did not look like champions in matches before and there were calls for the coaches, Cesar Menotti and Carlos Bilardo to be dismissed.
Argentina are an attack-minded team – more out of necessity than intention – so trouble starts when goals do not arrive early. Sabella’s team should not have too much trouble progressing from the group stage – not one of the strongest with Bosnia, Iran and Nigeria – but what happens then is another story.
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