Last week’s international friendlies featuring South American teams revealed some trends and issues that could become major problems if they’re not remedied soon especially with the World Cup less than 100 days away. Here’s what we learned from the most recent matches:
Outside of Leo Messi vomiting, there should not be a reason to worry about the Albiceleste’s front line. Yes, the Argentine media once again are drumming up the support for Carlos Tevez as well as Rodrigo Palacio, who at this stage both look like they will be watching the tournament from home.
Another positive is that Sergio Romero responded under the sticks for Alejandro Sabella with several great saves in the scoreless draw against Romania in Bucharest. Romero’s performance reduced some doubt over the Monaco man who has mostly been on the bench since making his move to Sampdoria this past summer.
The negatives? Against Romania, if it weren’t for goalkeeper Sergio Romero, Argentina could have conceded three or four goals. Any and all options for Alejandro Sabella left much to be desired. The central defense can’t defend and the outside back can’t attack nor track back on a consistent basis.
Marcos Rojo should be an experiment archived onto the bottom of the ocean. I am not saying that he is not a competent player. I am saying that he is a player that his teammates do not confide in. On several occasions, Rojo was open and teammates decided to look the other way and not get him involved in the play. That plus his limitations on defense are one of many reasons why Sabella will have to make certain adjustments.
Argentina also created a trend that is very preoccupying. Javier Mascherano was attempting to become more like Andrea Pirlo than the Javier Mascherano we’ve come to know throughout his career. He was looking to become the distributor instead of the destroyer. Mascherano’s deep balls to his teammates up top neutralized Argentina and helped Romania just drop back.
José Pekerman’s men played what was arguably their worst match under the Argentine coach. Colombia looked disorganized in the middle and could not string together two consecutive forward passes as Tunisia decided to pack the middle. And there was no way to get the ball to James Rodríguez on a consistent basis.
The holding midfielders showed very little marking, thus exposing Luis Perea and Mario Yepes in the back. The team looked overly unbalanced and left spaces where the Tunisians would go on counterattacks leaving the Colombians wrong-footed on the opposite side of the pitch.
David Ospina is a quality goalkeeper, but if there is one weakness to his game, it’s coming out for crosses. Tunisia’s equalizer was the embodiment of that deficiency. There are some major issues that need to be worked on when the national team reconvenes prior to the World Cup.
And for those that want me to say, I will. Colombia miss Falcao… a lot.
Uruguay showed their usual mettle in a 1-1 draw against Austria. They turned things around in the second half after a calamitous first 45 both offensively and defensively. Uruguay seem slow on defense still and Martín Cáceres is missed a great deal over at left back position over Jorge Fucile.
It’s becoming more and more evident that Walter Gargano was a better midfield pairing for Egidio Arévalo Ríos than Diego Pérez. With the Inter midfielder, you saw a more precise passer and distributor to get out of the defensive zone and start attacks on the opposite end.
Diego Forlán showed signs of rust as he only played 81 minutes prior to this match. Add to that the fact that he had to fly from Japan to Germany, which was also a long flight right after the 1-0 loss to Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
Diego Lugano is also feeling the fact that Father Time has started take a toll on him. And although he is still an emotional part of the squad, he is now more of a tactical liability in the back for Oscar Washington Tabárez. This was why the substitution where he was taken off for Atlético Madrid youngster José María Giménez was not just tactical; it was also the generational torch being passed from one player to another.
Gastón Ramírez also showed that he was worthy of being the playmaker behind Suárez and Cavani or even Forlán and Stuani out wide.
Reinaldo Rueda saw that his experimentation was borderline disastrous after Australia jumped out to a 3-0 lead by the end of the first half in what seemed to be a mirror image of what unfolded in the friendly against Germany in Boca Raton last May.
Collectively, Ecuador have learned that they will have to be focused from the get go if they do not want France or Switzerland to jump out in front of them and possibly see their World Cup aspirations come to a premature end.
Juan Carlos Paredes asserted himself as the right back as youngster Christian Ramírez of Fortuna Düsseldorf was not able to defend Tommy Oar over on that end of the pitch as he was instrumental in the first half with his runs and crosses to Tim Cahill in the middle of the area.
Ecuador’s most glaring weakness remains their center back pairings. Gabriel Achilier still shows deficiencies in the back and the only other option there is a Frickson Erazo who lacks confidence ever since he arrived at Brazilian side Flamengo. That could be where Jorge Guagua can offer some type of stability as well as experience from previous World Cups. Nonetheless, there are certain guarantees that this backline is not offering and it is something that needs to be addressed immediately with personnel changes.
Of course, not all was bad. The circumstances of the match changed when Mitch Langerak was sent off. This is where you saw Ecuador’s athleticism and pace take advantage of a young Socceroo side.
Jefferson Montero showed in the second half how dangerous Ecuador can be with relentless attacks on a vulnerable Australia side. He was also complimented by Antonio Valencia, who on various occasions caught Australia napping and made them pay dearly.
Brazil’s match against South Africa really wasn’t a true litmus test for them. The 5-0 drubbing they offered the Bafana Bafana was just proof of their offensive potential as well as how badly the South Africans played.
The big surprise in the match was that Brazil only scored five goals on South Africa. Brazil’s first true test will be against Croatia over at Arena Corinthians on June 12.
I am sure that Joachim Löw raving about Chile in Germany’s 1-0 win over La Roja says a great deal about what to expect in the World Cup. I purposely left Chile for last because despite them being the only South American side to lose in this FIFA date, they left the most positive impression.
Overall the function of the squad was impressive but the goals did not come, partly due to a lack of clarity in that final touch and partly due to German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer’s brilliance.
There is a need to score goals for Chile and this is why Jorge Sampaoli decided to extend an invitation to former Inter and Lazio man Mauro Zárate to join the Chileans. The Argentine was never part of his country’s national team and his father was born in the desert city of Calama.
Zárate could offer scoring for Chile with the absence of Humberto Suazo due to his shoulder injury.