Our football scribe previews the 2018 CONMEBOL World Cup qualifier between Argentina and Colombia.
Argentina’s frankly embarrassing capitulation at the hands of arch-rivals Brazil last week has sent the media into a frenzy over the possibility of a World Cup sans Argentina. Diego Maradona’s legendary exploits have long become part of the DNA of the completion, as has Lionel Messi’s inabilities to win one.
This could be a defining match for Argentina as they take on Jose Pekerman’s quietly impressive Colombia side. The South American qualifying schedule is the most unremittingly difficult. It is a tough grind with very little in terms of gimmes. Colombia have built their success on a solid foundation and will travel to Argentina full of confidence, hoping to feed off of the mas anti-Argentine hysteria.
2018 World Cup qualifier | Wednesday 16 November | San Juan | 01:30
To Win (90 Mins)
Argentina 11/20 | Draw 28/10 | Colombia 11/2
Edgardo Bauza really showed a complete lack of aptitude in the last match. The manager made a slew of outrageous decisions. His decision to start red-hot Sergio Aguero on the bench was one thing, having Enzo Perez ply off the right was something else. He admitted himself to having never played there in his career. Mas had a poor game at centre-back and will likely be replaced by the more experienced Marcos Rojo. The saddest thing about the game was the figure cut by Messi.
In Bauza’s defense, his first five games in charge he never had the sublime talent that is Lionel Messi. But to see the way he was utilized last week. He was playing far too deep, receiving the ball at the halfway line. The Argentine side will need to allow him more freedom to drift in the manner that has seen him ghost past defenses before.
Colombia are a formidable powerhouse side that need to be surgically dissected. I think that Gonzalo Higuain may have to settle for a place on the bench as Bauza should revert to a more traditional 4-3-3 system. Angel Di Maria will provide natural width on the left, while Messi hugs that left-hand touchline in predatory fashion. This will free up Aguero to do what he does best through the middle. Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia will have a huge contest in the heart of the midfield as Colombia have enough quality to frighten any side.
Sitting two points ahead of Argentina in the standings, Colombia will feel justifiably confident going into this huge fixture. Jose Pekerman’s side picked up a valuable goalless draw with Chile and know that Argentina are a vulnerable beast at present.
David Ospina had kept four clean sheets in six games, underlining the strong defensive principles that underline this side. Daniel Torres and Carlos Sanchez will look to isolate Mascherano in midfield, hoping to draw a silly tackle from the combustible Barcelona man. Radamel Falcao - yes, you heard me right - failed to break Colombia’s all-time scoring record last time out and will be hoping to continue his flourishing partnership with Carlos Bacca.
James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado will clearly prove critical to Colombia this week. Their pace and ingenuity could be the undoing of this disjointed Argentine defense. Just look at the way Neymar and Coutinho destroyed them in the wide areas. Imagine Pablo Zabaleta being matched for pace against Cuadrado. However, I expect Bauza to have figured out some of the more elementary issues that have undermined his reign thus far. So I expect Colombia will encounter a ferocious reaction from Messi’s and co.
Verdict: Argentina Win (11/20)
Argentina are unbeaten in their last six games against Colombia, winning four. Even more impressive, they haven’t lost a qualifying game at home to Colombia since 1993. The Argentine side may be on the ropes, but I expect them to find more width and represent the jersey that is so synonymous with success at the highest level. It will be a grind, but I think Bauza’s side may pull off a 2-1 victory, lifting them above Colombia in the race to Russia.
Written by Damien Kayat @Hollywoodbets