Inclusion of Banega restores balance to Argentina's midfield
A 4-1 win Tuesday over world champion Spain should do much to transform
Much will be made of the fact that Batista recalled
Maradona initially based his side around the central midfield axis of
Come the World Cup, however, Maradona left Gago at home, fearing that the lack of first-team opportunities at Real Madrid had taken the edge off his game. And during the tournament he decided he could do without Veron -- with ultimately disastrous results in attack and defense.
When they met the Germans once more in the quarterfinal, the Argentines had no balance. They were wide open to the German counterattack, and in the absence of a central midfield,
It is for this reason that, rather than Cambiasso, the key inclusion in the team against Spain was that of Valencia's
I well recall the first time I saw the stocky Banega, in Argentina's debut match of the 2007 South American U-20 Championships. Within the first 30 seconds he was in my notebook, having played a pass of extraordinary technical ability. His promise stood out. Within six months he had made his debut with Boca Juniors and won both the Copa Libertadores and the World Youth Cup.
The subsequent three years have not all been smooth sailing. Banega had to grow up in public and had his brushes with wild-child excesses. He moved to Valencia, a club in crisis, floundered for a while, and spent a spell on loan with Atletico Madrid, before maturing and becoming emphatically good last season.
From an Argentina point of view, his most interesting facet is his capacity to combine with Messi -- seen to good effect in the outstanding opening goal the little Barcelona genius scored against the Spanish. This makes Banega a key member of the starting lineup and could also help resolve the long-running controversy surrounding playmaker
Batista is a huge Riquelme fan, and once he recovers his fitness the Boca Juniors No. 10 will probably be in line for a recall. But Riquelme is 32. He will be 36 during the next World Cup. Reverting to a Riquelme dependence does not appear a viable strategy. Banega is not a direct replacement, for all the range of his passing. But he is more versatile -- for Boca in 2007 he even played as the holding midfielder, no doubt watching and learning from Riquelme's ability to pass his way through opposing defenses. The balance he brings to the side, and his ability to find a wavelength with Messi, makes Banega a big part of Argentina's future.
Sorting that out is the easy part of Batista's job. The hard part comes in reconstructing the defense, where he has problems all along the line.
On the other flank,
Who are the possible replacements?
The task of building a new defense for Argentina will not be an easy one. Beating the world champion by such a convincing score line makes it likely that Batista will be handed the challenge.