Sabella searches for balance with shaky Argentina

Argentina’s new coach needs to resolve old problems ahead of

World Cup qualifying matches against Bolivia at home on Friday and

Colombia away four days later.

Blending a fearsome attack including Barcelona star Lionel Messi

with a shaky defense proved beyond coach Alejandro Sabella’s

predecessors Sergio Batista and Diego Maradona.

Sabella must fix the inconsistencies quickly after his first two

qualifiers in charge resulted in a promising 4-1 win against Chile

– which included Messi’s first competitive goal in 17 international

matches – followed by a first ever loss at Venezuela.

Sabella said he learned valuable lessons from the Venezuela

defeat.

”I should have made a substitution after five minutes of the

second half because they finished the first half better,” he

acknowledged. ”And we didn’t travel a day before like we will do

against Colombia.”

Anything but victory against underdog Bolivia would put

Argentina’s campaign under mounting pressure, but Manchester City

striker Sergio Aguero said nothing could be taken for granted.

”Nowadays, any country can beat you. We have good players and

we have to be prepared to start winning all these games,” he

said.

Sabella’s principal absentee is Real Madrid winger Angel Di

Maria, who damaged his left hamstring during his club’s 7-1 rout of

Osasuna on Sunday.

Di Maria was in sparkling form before his injury and his loss

will be a blow as Sabella studies ways of breaking down a Bolivia

side likely to defend in numbers.

Messi also trained apart from the main group on Tuesday,

although he is unlikely to miss Friday’s match.

”There aren’t any secrets,” acknowledged Bolivia coach Carlos

Quintero. ”Our success against Argentina will depend on our

defensive play.”

Elsewhere in South America on Friday, early leader Uruguay hosts

Chile, Venezuela travels to Colombia and Ecuador visits

Paraguay.

Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez has six regular players ruled out

through injury, including talismanic striker Diego Forlan, as he

looks to build on a 4-2 home win against Bolivia and 1-1 draw away

to Paraguay.

Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Napoli’s Edinson Cavani will likely

lead the line in Forlan’s absence.

Chile’s preparations were affected when coach Claudio Borghi

dropped five established players from the squad after they arrived

late and drunk from a night out.

Borghi named the five as Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal,

Birmingham City winger Jean Beausejour, Atalanta defender Carlos

Carmona, Palmeiras playmaker Jorge Valdivia and West Bromwich

Albion defender Gonzalo Jara.

The Chile coach said the players arrived 45 minutes after their

curfew and ”in a state not adequate for the Chilean national team,

for a professional player.”

Borghi said Vidal, a ?12.5 million ($17 million) signing for

Juventus in July, would have played on Friday along with

Valdivia.

The one bright spot for the Chile coach was the return from

injury of Barcelona star Alexis Sanchez.

”Alexis is an elite player, like some of the players we have,”

Uruguay coach Tabarez said. ”Generally, the great players have an

influence over how the team plays.”

Meanwhile, Colombia will hope to follow up a 2-1 opening win at

Bolivia with victory at home to Venezuela in a match between two

teams that failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup.

As the game against Argentina showed, however, Venezuela is no

longer the continent’s pushover and has Malaga forward Salomon

Rondon providing pace and penetration up front.

Venezuela is still the only CONMEBOL team never to reach the

finals, but with Brazil qualified automatically as host, there is

an extra spot available for South American teams.

In the final match in the region, Paraguay should have Borussia

Dortmund striker Lucas Barrios fit to return after three months out

with an injury sustained in the Copa America.

Barrios’ recovery is well timed, as fellow forwards Roque Santa

Cruz of Real Betis and Oscar Cardozo of Benfica were left out of

the squad with injuries.