SOUTH AMERICAN football fanatic Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over Sunday night's must-win Group B closing contest between Qatar and Argentina at the Copa America.
Qatar v Argentina | Sunday 23rd June 2019, 20:00 | Premier Sports
Argentina arrived at this summer’s Copa America as second favourites behind hosts Brazil. La Albiceleste were marked out as odds-on jollies to top their group with Lionel Messi leading the contenders in the Top Goalscorer betting. For seasoned international football fans, such quotes were laughably short.
Under the stewardship of Jorge Sampaoli at last year’s World Cup, Argentina flopped. The former Chile boss was axed but due to his expensive, long-term contract, the federation were forced to look for cheaper alternatives, such as Sampaoli’s assistant and ex-West Ham defender Lionel Scaloni.
Scaloni was appointed on a caretaker basis and still holds the position now. Having been handed the key in August 2018, the new boss was full of bold talk, saying, “I've always liked more direct, vertical football. Winning the ball to arrive at the opposing goal as quickly as possible.” His message was clear.
Fast forward to June 2019 and Argentina have just one point on the board at the Copa America following dreadfully dour efforts against Colombia and Paraguay. In a World Cup, such a return would be disastrous, although the Copa is a more lenient beast with just four nations exiting the competition at the group-stage.
In the history of the 12-team Copa, four points has always been enough to make it through, so a win against Qatar on Sunday should be enough for La Albiceleste to reach the knockout stage. However, few supporters have been impressed by the football served up this summer and Argentina still look vastly overrated.
Argentina’s lack of fluency
Scaloni abandoned his previous approach against Paraguay on Wednesday night in favour of a more orthodox 4-4-2 formation. Even so, Argentina lacked organisation, defensive pace and invention in the middle of the park; once more, the side were trying to play for Messi, as opposed to with him.
The half-time introduction of Sergio Aguero aided their prospects with Rodrigo De Paul moving to the right of the midfield trio and Giovani Lo Celso the left. La Albiceleste had a better balance about their play – the extra space gave Messi more of an opportunity to make his mark but ultimately Scaloni’s side fell short.
Nevertheless, it’s mighty tough to find positives. The draw with Paraguay came courtesy of a dubious penalty, whilst their opponents missed from the spot themselves. The heavy favourites may yet scrape the win they need to take them through – and could still click – but it’s hard to see this being straightforward.
Scaloni’s constant tinkering is surely a large factor in Argentina’s lack of fluency. The head honcho has overseen 11 matches now, used 11 formations during his 16 hours of first-team football, selected 59 players in squads, given minutes to 52 (including fielding 40 different starters) and made 66 changes between matches.
Qatar’s continuity could be key
If Argentina are underachieving, Qatar are certainly making their mark. The Copa debutants Qatar gained plenty of plaudits for their efforts and application when picking up a much-deserved point against Paraguay, before giving Colombia plenty of head-scratching moments in a 1-0 reverse on Wednesday evening.
The Asian Cup champions were well-organised and despite being dominated in the possession-stakes, Felix Sanchez’s troops frustrating their more illustrious opponents until four minutes from time. Colombia’s most threatening moments came via set-pieces and the Arab nation can be pleased with their display.
We should assume that Argentina will enjoy the lion’s share of possession here, although Al Annabi were compact and certainly looked more comfortable in their system. Qatar’s greater continuity – fielding the same XI in both games thus far – has to be seen as an advantage in Porto Alegre on Sunday evening.
Felix Sanchez's invitees have a defined way of playing and talented youngsters who know the tactics inside out. The underdogs know victory is arguably their most realistic route to the quarter-finals and should be well capable of keeping this contest competitive and deserve respect in the Asian Handicap market.
Unfortunately, the +2 Asian Handicap was gobbled up just 24 hours after matchday two but there’s still plenty of merit in supporting the +1.5 start, knowing we’ll be paid out should Qatar avoid defeat, or only lose by a one-goal margin.
Argentina v Qatar – Qatar +1.50 Asian Handicap (29/25 Blacktype)