COPA AMERICA favourites Argentina make their tournament bow late on Saturday night against 2011 finalists Paraguay. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) checks out the best bets from La Serena.
Argentina v Paraguay | Saturday 22.30 | Premier Sports
Four years ago Copa America hosts Argentina were supposed to end their long wait for a major senior title but a quarter-final exit ended those hopes and dreams. At the same competition, Paraguay picked up a silver medal without winning a fixture; their coach Gerardo Martino is now the man in charge of Argentina.
It’s now 22 years without lifting a trophy but many respected judges believe the time is now for La Albiceleste. With Champions League winners Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano absent, Martino’s men warmed up with a 5-0 friendly win over Bolivia – their three pre-tournament fixtures have returned three victories by an aggregate scoreline of 9-1 as Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria have sparkled in the absence of Messi.
So can Argentina get their campaign off to a winning start? Certainly. With Messi back in the fold and a fearsome front three, La Albiceleste could easily cut loose against a Paraguay side that’s come nowhere near to repeating their exploits from 2011. Ramon Diaz has been charged with bringing La Albirroja back to their former glory but has already admitted it’s his biggest managerial job yet.
Diaz has confirmed he’s no plans to man-mark the imperious Messi ahead of the Argentine coach's first experience of coaching in a major international tournament and treating the Copa as a friendly experimental competition could prove fatal. Paraguay have won just once in their last nine non-competitive outings and draws against Costa Rica and Honduras either side of defeat to Mexico in Diaz’s first three games at the helm mean La Albirroja have now won just three of their previous 19.
Argentina have won eight of their last nine opening games in major tournaments and have beaten Paraguay by a combined score of 8-3 across their two World Cup 2014 qualifiers. Diaz continues to rely on an experienced old guard down the spine but there’s little evidence to suggest a revival is around the corner.
Damage limitation will be Diaz’s primary aim and Paraguay will pack the midfield, get numbers behind the ball and aim to frustrate the galaxy of superstars in opposition but two shutouts in 14 (against UAE and Costa Rica) would hardly breed confidence if you're looking to get a shock result onside.
So how to profit? Odds-against quotes of 21/20 (BetVictor) from Bet365 on Argentina -1.5 on the Asian Handicap line appeals – we’ll have ourselves a winner should the short-priced favourites win by two goals or more. It’s also hard to dampen claims of 888Sport’s 37/19 that Argentina win both halves as a bigger priced alternative.
Argentina v Paraguay – Argentina -1.5 Asian Handicap (21/20 BetVictor)
Messi 4/1 To Score At Anytime
Not got a Betfair account? Now’s the time to get involved…
Betfair are offering a huge 4/1 on the world’s best player Lionel Messi scoring against Paraguay on Saturday night. Now that’s attractive!