Following a frenetic end-to-end fixture between Chile and Peru in which Claudio Borghi’s side ran out 4-2 victors, I was fairly convinced that I’d be writing this morning about how watching the Chileans play is still bloody entertaining – even without Bielsa in charge and Alexis Sanchez out injured.
Argentina obviously just couldn’t let that happen, having destroyed their Western neighbours on Friday, their trip to Venezuela wouldn’t have seemed like much of a concern, but they were outfought and outplayed in Puerto La Cruz as they went down 1-0.
Cesar Farias, the Venezuela coach, led them through an excellent Copa America campaign in the summer where they held both Brazil and Paraguay to draws. But this week, he decided to take a big gamble by resting his European-based players for Friday’s qualifier in Ecuador (where they ran out 2-0 losers) so that they were fresh for the Argentina game.
His decision was vindicated though, by a marvellous performance from the Vinotinto that embodied all of the qualities they’d shown in the Copa this summer. In Miku and Rondón, they have a strike partnership that is ideal for a counter-attacking side. They both have a work-rate and energy that will unnerve defenders and Rondón in particular has a physicality that causes problems.
The Argentina defence was suspect from the outset of this game, and at half-time – although it was 0-0 – there was a lot of criticism of the back 3/5. ‘Demichelis’ was a trending topic on Twitter in Argentina after thirty-five minutes, and not for positive reasons. Argentine journalist Juan Pablo Varsky commented at half-time that Demichelis was a “synonym of doubt” and that just about sums up his display. Nicolas Otamendi is still young but his inexperience was shown up on many occasions and Burdisso simply looked clueless.
There was also criticism of Sabella (pictured below), who thus far had done a good job as Argentina manager, for picking players that had done well for him in his spell as Estudiantes manager. Now I’m not too sure where I stand on this, obviously there is some sense in it, particularly early on in his tenure, but you have to be able to see when players aren’t performing.
Rodrigo Braña played against Chile due to a host of suspensions and injuries in defensive midfield, and did well. He was jettisoned for the Venezuela game though, due to the return of Mascherano, and that is the exception. Jose Sosa and Marcos Rojo are both regulars in the national team now but neither is showing themselves to be good enough for a first team place at that level. Sosa’s a particular Sabella favourite but the clamour for Javier Pastore to take his place will not go away any time soon. The case of Marcos Rojo is a bit different as he is a young left-back with very little competition for his spot, but he has not been overly convincing in any of his nine international appearances.
Venezuela were fresher than Argentina, and more energetic. Farias’ decision which could have backfired and left them in trouble early on in qualifying, turned out to be a masterstroke from a coach who must be gaining some admirers given his work with a former minnow of the South American game, and remembering that football is not even the biggest sport in the country. They were undoubtedly the better side last night – Sabella admitted as much after the game – and the goal came from the head of defender Fernando Amorebieta.
Following such an impressive show in the summer’s continental showpiece, Farias has now been able to convince some players with Venezolano ancestry to play for the Vinotinto ahead of the other countries that they are eligible for. Amorebieta is a funny one because he plays for Athletic Bilbao – who can only sign Basque players – meaning that he is certainly the first Venezuelan to play for Athletic. He had even played against Venezuela for the Basque national team in their annual friendly, but as they’re not recognised by FIFA this didn’t impact his decision to play for the country of his birth – but where he left as a young child.
Amorebieta (above, second right) was called up to the full Spain squad in 2008 but failed to get off the bench, so along with the Feltscher brothers from Switzerland he now lines up in the Claret red shirt, and given Brazil’s qualification as hosts for 2014, they have their best chance ever to qualify for their first ever mundial.
Argentina need not worry too much about qualification given the extra space vacated by Brazil, and Sabella should be using this campaign to integrate some younger players into the fold. The likes of Demichelis and Burdisso are very unlikely to be in the side in three years time, and following their recent performances they could count themselves lucky to be involved in the next squad. This game was another reminder though, that the standard of the other South American nations is rising, and Venezuela are a shining example of that.