Once again an Argentine squad packed with some of the best attacking talent in the world underachieved falling to a Uruguayan side in the Copa America quarterfinals. After 120 minutes, the teams battled to a 1-1 draw with both teams missing a number of chances.
Carlos Tevez, who’s been the news for a strongly rumoured return to Corinthians could not put away his PK as the baby faced Fernando Muslera saved his effort. Minutes later the Uruguayan goalie almost stopped Javier Pastore as the Charruas showing the requisite composure came through in the penalty shootout. Martin Caceres did the honours with his match winning PK.
It was Caceres’s flick of a Forlan free kick that got Sergio Romero into trouble and as the ball came lose Diego Perez was at hand to finish off the simple chance. Argentina came back with Messi showing his trademark control cutting in to lay a brilliantly placed cross which El Pipita gliding past the defense directed home.
Uruguay suffered a setback early after Perez already on a yellow was ejected in the 38th minute for a foul on Higuain. They showed some splendid regrouping and shut down the Argentinian attack well into the second half. The Albiceleste too played a man down after Javier Mascherano was sent off three minutes before match end.
The Messi slagging has begun – he’s a choker and a pale imitation of Maradona, But Maradona, surrounded by lesser lights was remarkably fortunate to have players who knew what it took to play as a team. He only came alive in the quarterfinals and semi-finals of the 1986 World Cup as the group stage was carried by Oscar Ruggeri, Jorge Valdano, and Jorge Burruchaga.
With a core like that Don Diego was freed of the burden of expectations to take on England and Belgium where his performance is now the basis of all these comparisons. They also had a great coach in Carlos Bilardo who unfortunately has taken a hiatus from the national scene after his fallout with Maradona.
Messi like the 2010 World Cup had to endure changing roles in the same tournament on the whimsy of his coach as Fernando Gago and Ever Banega were unable to step up as creative playmakers. His circumstances have also left him with the burden of proving his national identity. Much of this has to do with years of living abroad in the protective confines of La Masia in his growing years and later on at Barca.
Maradona on the other hand spent his years abroad getting disillusioned paving his way for an eventual return much to the delight of the home crowd. He’s enshrined in the national consciousness. It’s an impossible act to follow and there have been many meaningless second comings of Don Diego (including his son in law, Sergio Aguero).
Messi and to a lesser extent, Mascherano were the two best players for Argentina and undoubtedly playing in a system that values the collective made that possible. It left them naively expecting the same sort of cohesion from the rest of the team.
A note on the victors. The Uruguayans once again showed they seem to possess that necessary mental toughness to win close matches.