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Argentina vs. Colombia: Copa America quarter-final preview and TV times

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Talk about a star-studded quarter-final!

Argentina, in possession of some of the world’s finest attacking players and arguably the greatest natural talent of all time, going up against Colombia, a team who thrilled us all with some dynamic displays at the World Cup last summer, coming into this clash having beaten Brazil in the group stages.

It’s a game that has and will continue to be billed in that manner. But a deeper look into the fortunes of both sides at the 2015 Copa America so far and it’s unlikely to be the gunslinging, attacking shootout many will assume by the basis of the reputations of these teams alone.

Indeed, despite making their way this far, the truth is that both the Albiceleste and Los Cafeteros have been far more impressive in their defensive endeavors to this point, conceding just three goals between them in their six games played.

Meanwhile, in the offensive portions of each side, where these two teams are so synonymous with effervescent and enterprising attacking play, there’s been a clear lack of rhythm. Both Argentina boss Tata Martino and Colombia chief Jose Pekerman have tinkered with their attacking set-ups to this point, but neither side has sparked into life quite yet.

For the watching world, hopefully knockout football and prospect of a semi-final showdown with Brazil or Paraguay will expedite that process. And if these two do turn on the style we’re in for an incredible 90 minutes of football.

But are we ambitiously reaching for something that isn’t quite there at this juncture? Make your own mind up, as we run the rule over these two teams and the key areas to consider on the cusp of this crucial fixture.

TV schedule for viewers in the United States:

Argentina vs. Colombia, 7:30pm ET kickoff time (pre-game starts at 6:30pm ET) — exclusively on beIN SPORTS and beIN SPORTS en Espańol.

Programming note: In the United States, beIN SPORTS has the exclusive English-language and Spanish-language rights to the tournament. If your cable or satellite provider doesn’t offer beIN SPORTS, or you want to watch the games on your computer, mobile phone, tablet or Roku, sign up for a free trial to fuboTV to watch the games. And if you like what you see, fuboTV is just $6.99 per month. It’s completely legal and features HD-quality streams, but is only available to soccer fans in the United States.

 

Argentina Eyeing Overdue Glory

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For a nation that has produced some of the most extraordinary players in the modern era, it’s remarkable that the Albiceleste have not won a major trophy since 1993. But this is a crop of players that have the quality to go on and end that dry spell.

The attacking talent available to Martino—including Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Carlos Tevez and Angel di Maria—give Argentina the most lethal index of forwards in the competition. But so often in recent seasons, shoehorning this excess of quality into an XI has proven a conundrum too complex for the nation’s managers.

Especially when trying to get the best out of Messi too. After a year of extraordinary highs for Barcelona, many thought this tournament would be the one in which the Argentina skipper finally spurred his country to silverware. Indeed, Martino has tried his utmost to replicate the circumstances that have enriched Messi this season with the Blaugrana.

But even played on the right of a front three, the Barca icon has dropped below his impeccable standards. Some have put it down to the options alongside him, some to the perennial strive for balance in the Argentina midfield and others would simply say Messi is not doing enough. But if they’re to go all the way to the final in this tournament, with potential clashes against Brazil and Chile to come, that’s going to have to change.

There are qualities which shine through that suggest Argentina can do it. This is a team which made it to the World Cup final after all. During that tournament and this one, the Albiceleste have showcased a mental steeliness to churn out big victories .

But in a Copa bristling with formidable defensive units, some offensive fluidity simply must complement the functionality showcased so far if Martino’s men are to end 22 years of hurt.

 

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Colombia Searching For a Spark

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The free-spirited approach adopted by Colombia at the 2014 World Cup made them extraordinarily fun to watch last summer. But Los Cafeteros’ tepid displays at this Copa America may have lost them those admirers that jumped aboard the bandwagon in Brazil.

It’s not as if Colombia have abandoned the principles that made them an aesthetic delight. Pekerman’s men are still trying to play in the right way and are still packed with players capable of lighting up this Copa, but at the moment nothing in the attacking segments of this team seems in sync.

Many have put that down to the presence of Radamel Falcao at the point of the attack. The physical influences of either Victor Ibarbo or Jackson Martinez alongside Teo Gutierrez gave Colombia a purposeful edge 12 months ago and while they may get refined predatory instincts with Falcao in situ, the dearth of dynamism is hampering James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado in their pursuit to create.

Of course, the latter two must shoulder some of the responsibility for Colombia’s stifled efforts and need to do more when in possession. But it’s clear at this point that something must be done to recapture the swagger of last summer; perhaps reverting back to similar attacking personnel is the way to do it?

One big plus for Los Cafeteros has been their defensive performances. This was their first major tournament since the retirement of longstanding defensive stalwart Mario Yepes and there were plenty who thought his indomitable physical influence would be tough to replicate. But Colombia have arguably been the best defensive team in the competition so far.

As World Soccer Talk noted prior to this clash, Jeison Murillo has had an outstanding tournament to this point, knitting the back four together and scoring Colombia’s only goal in three matches. But in these marquee games, Pekerman will be looking to one of his attacking figureheads to provide a vital spark; if they don’t, you get the impression Los Cafeteros could be on their way home.
SEE MOREPredicted lineups and team news for Argentina vs. Colombia.

 

Key Areas

Argentina Midfield Balance: One of the problems that has blighted Argentina in recent tournaments is the central midfield areas. Javier Mascherano is rightly an eminent presence at its base, but in front of the tenacious Barcelona man, various managers have tried and failed to establish a prominent link to the team’s attacking riches.

Already we’ve seen Martino tinker with the system and personnel, but it seems likely at this point that Javier Pastore and Lucas Biglia will be stationed at the heart of this Argentina team. It’s imperative that they are both decisive and inventive when on the ball in order to bring the Albiceleste’s front three into play.

If Colombia can smother their opponents in this area, in Carlos Sanchez they possess a destructive midfielder capable of doing so, the supply line into Messi, Aguero and co is likely to be scarce.

Colombia’s Center-Forward: According to WhoScored.com ratings, no player has started all group games and played as poorly as Falcao. Any other forward would have been dropped by Pekerman in these circumstances, but will he cast aside his skipper, El Tigre, for this massive match?

If Colombia were short of options, Pekerman’s persistence may be a little more understandable. But with Martinez and Carlos Bacca waiting in reserves, there are quality options to potentially come in. If Falcao does start, Los Cafeteros need a more committed display; otherwise, Ezequiel Garay and Nicolas Otamendi will overwhelm Colombia in this critical segment of the pitch.

 

Verdict: Argentina 1-0 Colombia

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It’d be marvelous if these two suddenly clicked into gear. If Messi was rampant, Di Maria dazzled, Rodriguez ran the show and Falcao rediscovered his goalscoring touch. But with so much at stake, sadly, if anything, this match will be even more tight and tense than the games these two have been involved in already; Argentina’s 2-2 draw with Paraguay aside.

It’s cliched, but these abrasive affairs are often turned by moments of raw ingenuity and although none of the attacking players on show have been at their very best in the Chile showpiece, Argentina have more men capable of swinging a match their way with some serene composure or cerebral skill.

For Colombia, it’s a game which will be there for the taking. But against a strong Albiceleste defense, expect them to toil offensively again, allowing their opponents to claw their way into the last four.

 

Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball

 

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