Pressure on hosts will build after draw
It’s only $50, but it does the job. Bolivian players at the Copa America are banned from giving individual interviews outside officially programmed press conferences or directly after games in the chaotic mixed zone. Those that defy the coach Gustavo Quinteros’ rule face a fine.
At the last World Cup, Brazilian coach Dunga did exactly the same with his squad. When Robinho gave a short interview just before the tournament kicked off, the forward was immediately forced to apologize to the whole squad for stepping out of line.
While the media curse and complain about the lack of access to players, and while many players are used to speaking to journalists regularly, it has a clear aim. It puts the focus on the team, not the individuals making up that team. The rules are the same for everyone, there is no star treatment. It builds a strong team ethic, not to mention also avoiding unwanted headlines appearing mid-tournament.
LA PLATA, ARGENTINA – JULY 01: Players of Bolivia celebrate during a match as part of Group A of Copa America 2011 at Cuidad de La Plata Stadium on July 01, 2011 in La Plata, Argentina.(Photo by Wagner Carmo/Inovafoto/LatinContent/Getty Images)
On Bolivia’s debut in the Copa America, this solidarity and discipline that Quinteros is building amongst his players was executed to perfection. An early trademark slalom from Leo Messi past five Bolivian players, setting up Carlos Tevez for a chance to score, pointed to the enormous gulf in quality between the two sides, but with their work rate, concentration and organization, they stifled Argentina throughout. Far from producing entertaining football, it was nonetheless a historic point for Bolivia, and it could have produced an even more historic result.
They took the lead through a freak goal, Brazilian-born Edivaldo Rojas’s neat backheel from a corner catching Ever Banega off guard on the near post and trickling behind the line. The midfielder’s good work in the first half was undone by a simple mistake.
But 1-0 up, Marcelo Martins had the clearest chance of the game for either side, finding himself one-on-one with Argentina’s keeper Sergio Romero, to double the lead. Only a brilliant save rescued Argentina from finding itself 2-0 down.
So while Bolivia stunted Argentina’s attack with strong team work, the hosts’ performance stood out for exactly the opposite – too many players trying to resolve the situation all alone.
Messi was expected to drop deep into his own half to collect the ball at times, leaving him far from where he is most effective. It seemed the perfect game to introduce Javier Pastore, permitting Messi to move further forward, but the Palermo midfielder sat out the whole game.
The explosive introduction of Sergio Agüero with a stunning goal levelled the match at 1-1, but the appearance of Kun also highlighted the contributions of Carlos Tevez, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Ángel Di María, who all underperformed. In the case of Lavezzi his frustration boiled over and was lucky to escape a red card, too. Batista may well have to rethink his front line for the next match against Colombia.
But the problem for this Argentina side reaches further back than misfiring strikers, and it is one that was no secret as the tournament neared.
Lionel Messi was left frustrated, again unduly relied on for link up play that took him away from goal.
Bringing the ball out of defense is an issue for the side, with the fullbacks Javier Zanetti and Marcos Rojo in particular not getting forward enough. But the deeper-lying problem is the lack of team cohesion and short crisp passes that Batista is so keen to see his team play, as they dominate possession, and wait to find the right time to attack. All too often impatience leads to an individual run ending either with a poor cross, or in the worst of cases, a blatant dive.
And against a side that essentially organized in two strong lines of four to impede Argentina, perhaps the midfield three of Cambiasso, Mascherano and Banega was too conservative.
It is unlikely that Bolivia will replicate the kind of shock that the Greek national side produced in Euro 2004, although the draw suddenly changes the panorama in Group A and offers them a good chance to progress to the next phase. Argentina will surely improve and find their rhythm as the tournament progresses, but the pressure to do just that, and do it fast, is well and truly on.