The first marquee fixture of the 2019 Copa America is upon as Argentina and Colombia get set to square off at Arena Fonte Nova on Saturday.
The 2019 Copa America is underway, with the hosts, Brazil beginning in style. The day will see more big hitters taking the field and the spotlight will be on the Group B opener. Argentina and Colombia will lock horns at Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, hoping to kickstart their campaigns on a strong note.
Argentina have been on the mend in the aftermath of their Round of 16 ouster from the 2018 FIFA World Cup at the hands of eventual winners. While La Albiceleste have lost just two of the nine friendlies they have played over the last one year, they are yet to find an identity under Lionel Scaloni’s tutelage and as a result, have not inspired much confidence.
Colombia, like Argentina, were coming off a disappointing World Cup campaign. Los Cafeteros though, are now looking towards a brighter future under experienced coach Carlos Queiroz, who has joined the South American national team after a lengthy spell with Iran. Thus far under the Portuguese, Colombia have won thrice and lost once, a decent start.
Argentina and Colombia are naturally familiar foes and their most recent clash took place last year, ending in a goalless draw. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the Copa America encounter.
Team News & Tactics
There were hardly any surprise omissions from the squad picked by Lionel Scaloni for the 2019 Copa America. While experienced goalkeeper Sergio Romero has been out of favour for some time, the likes of Mauro Icardi and Gabriel Mercado saw their issues at club level hampering their chances.
But, the usual suspects have generally made the squad selected by the Argentina head coach, zeroing in on the starting lineup is anything but straightforward. Scaloni continues to shuffle his system around, having gone from the 3-4-2-1 to the 4-2-3-1 for the final friendly against Nicaragua.
The change in formation did give way to some more fluid football and chances are the Argentina boss will stick to it for the Copa America opener against Colombia. In goal, Franco Armani is likely to start, pipping Agustin Marchesin to the spot.
Ahead of him, Nicolas Tagliafico and Nicolas Otamendi will be the two stars who will have a lot riding on them. While Tagliafico will need to reproduce his heroics with Ajax to help Argentina create a sustained threat down the left flank, Otamendi will don the leadership role at the back. Otamendi ought to be partnered by German Pezzella while Renzo Saravia will be the right-back.
The double pivot in the middle of the park will likely see Leandro Paredes being accompanied by Guido Pizarro. Paredes will hope to keep things tight in the middle of the park while also being tasked with recycling the ball effectively.
The onus though, as always, will be on Lionel Messi, who should start in a central role, playing off the striker, who will be Sergio Aguero. Out wide, Angel Di Maria and Giovani Lo Celso will provide the creative nous, assisting Messi in build-up play. Lo Celso though, will veer infield for the most part, allowing Saravia to provide the width on the right.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Armani; Saravia, Otamendi, Pezzella, Tagliafico; Pizarro, Paredes; Lo Celso, Messi, Di Maria; Aguero
There are a couple of major absentees from the squad picked by Carlos Queiroz for his first major tournament with Colombia. Jeison Murillo and Carlos Bacca had both made the preliminary squad but failed to make the final cut. However, their absence is unlikely to hurt Los Cafeteros much.
Queiroz has picked quite an experienced squad for the 2019 Copa America, with a few youngsters making the cut as well. As far as the style of play is concerned, Colombia will look to be direct with their threat while attacking the half spaces. The width will largely be provided by the full-backs.
Queiroz also seems to have finalised his choice of formation to a 4-3-3 after initially preferring the 4-2-3-1. David Ospina is the resounding choice to man the goal in what will be his 97th appearance for Colombia.
Much of the back four is nailed on as well, with Santiago Arias being the right-back, while Yerry Mina and Davinson Sanchez will combine in a somewhat youthful central defensive partnership. Arias will be a major threat down the right flank with his marauding runs. Mina will also pose a threat during set-piece situations.
As far as the final spot in defence is concerned, William Tesillo and Cristian Borja will be the men competing to be the left-back, with the latter likely to get the nod. Up ahead in midfield, Wilmar Barrios, Jefferson Lerma and Mateus Uribe are expected to combine. While Barrios will be the deepest of the three, Lerma and Uribe will be the workhorses in the middle of the park.
The front three will likely comprise of captain Radamel Falcao, vice captain James Rodriguez and Luis Muriel, meaning in-form striker Duvan Zapata is the unfortunate one to miss out. James and Muriel will primarily look to cut and create overloads in the central areas, while Falcao will need to be clinical so as to ensure a rare win over Argentina.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Ospina; Arias, Sanchez, Mina, Borja; Lerma, Barrios, Uribe; James Rodriguez, Falcao, Muriel
- Argentina are unbeaten in their last eight meetings with Colombia, a run which stretches back to November 2007 (W5 D3).
- In a damning number, Colombia have only scored once across the aforementioned eight games, failing to find the back of the net against Argentina since 2011.
- The last two Copa America meetings between the two sides have ended goalless, and Colombia are winless against Argentina in this competition since 1999 (D2 L2).
- Both Argentina and Colombia have won two and lost one of their last three games before the Copa America.
- Carlos Queiroz will be hoping to win for the first time against Argentina, having lost the only game he has fielded his side against La Albiceleste.
Player to Watch
For years now, Argentina have flattered to deceive in major competitions and a major reason for this has been the over dependence on Lionel Messi. Several strikers have been tried and almost all of them have failed to deliver. Sergio Aguero now has the chance to set the record straight.
The Manchester City superstar has been a pale shadow of his all conquering club persona while donning the colours of his national side. But, coming off the back of a scintillating season with City, Aguero will be raring to go. In what could be his final chance of achieving continental glory with Argentina, it is now or never for 31-year-old.
Argentina 2-1 Colombia
The 2019 Copa America is taking no time to get fans hyped up for the tournament. And what better way to do so than a marquee fixture early into the competition. Ahead of the game, both Argentina and Colombia look quite evenly matched and their recent tendency to play inconsistent football sets up the tie rather tantalisingly.
But, with Lionel Messi being in roaring form all through the club season, Lionel Scaloni would like to believe his side has the edge. Colombia would need James Rodriguez to rise to the occasion after a meek end to the season. Based on form, however, it looks like Argentina could edge this game. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-1 win for La Albiceleste.