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
”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
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
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
Elsewhere in South America on Friday, early leader Uruguay hosts
Chile, Venezuela travels to Colombia and Ecuador visits
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
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
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.