LA SERENA, Chile – Two of South American’s biggest rivals met in a vital Copa America group phase clash in La Serena this evening with predictably combative results. Sergio Aguero’s second half header eventually gave Argentina a hard fought 1–0 victory, but Uruguay can be proud of a determined display.
Here are three thoughts on the latest match between Copa America's two most successful teams:
Sergio Aguero was deadly ... again
The best are so good that their brilliance comes to acquire a kind of routineness. That often seems the case with Aguero–no one has ever made his trademark shoulder-dropping, barrel-thighed burst into the box, followed by an explosive finish, look so predictably easy. His flicked header midway through the second half got Argentina out of jail again tonight.
That gave the Manchester City man two goals in two games here in Chile, suggesting he is keen to make up for lost time after last year’s injury-hampered World Cup. While his presence in the team provides an additional benefit—it is widely held that Lionel Messi’s performances for Argentina side have improved greatly since Aguero established himself as first choice—his real worth is his unerring finishing ability.
Given his colleagues' frequent predilection for over-embellishment and wastefulness in front of goal, it may prove to be a very important gift indeed over the next few weeks.
Rumors of Uruguay’s demise may be exaggerated
Despite reaching the round of 16, Uruguay’s World Cup will likely be remembered for a surprising defeat against Costa Rica in its opening game and Luiz Suárez’s latest tooth-related PR disaster against Italy. With talisman Diego Forlan retiring from international soccer, it was widely held that Oscar Tabarez’s side would be in a rebuilding phase at this Copa America with one eye on the long South American World Cup qualifying campaign that begins in October.
Not a bit of it. This tiny nation of just over 3 million people, with two World Cups and 15 Copa America titles in its trophy cabinet, doesn’t seem to do rebuilding phases. Uruguay has been as fiercely competitive as ever in Chile. With three points already in the bag following victory against Jamaica, Tabarez’s team could afford to sit back and soak up the inevitable Argentinian pressure while trying to hit its highly-fancied opponents on the break.
It almost worked to perfection. Uruguay’s work rate and pressing was terrific, notably from uncompromising left back Alvaro Pereira (who dealt Messi a couple of bone crunching challenges), composed central defender Diego Godin, midfield watchdog Arevalo Rios and even talented young striker Diego Rolan, all of whom did their best to close down Argentina’s creative engines throughout the 90 minutes.
Even while under pressure for much of the game, Uruguay provided some of the first half’s best attacking moments, notably when Rolan almost got on the end of a Maxi Pereira cross at the half-hour mark.
Rolan, fed by Nicolas Lodeiro’s crisp passes from midfield, kept the Argentina defense on its toes all night with his smart running into space, allowing his teammates a vital breather.
Aguero’s smart second-half finish undid that hard work, but even after that Uruguay kept its shape and determination, going toe-to-toe with Argentina for most of the second half. The underdogs came close to equalizing on a number of occasions—notably when Rolan spooned a rebounded shot over the bar from only a few yards out, then Alvaro Gonzalez crashed a shot narrowly over from distance, and finally Sergio Romero saved a powerful shot from substitute Abel Hernandez. Tabarez’s team will glean more than a few positives from its night’s work, and will now take on Paraguay on Saturday with the runner-up spot in the group at stake.
Argentina still looks profligate
After Argentina’s dispiriting 2–2 tie with Paraguay, most of the talk concerned its defensive frailty that allowed the opposition back into the game. What wasn’t mentioned enough was that Argentina’s forwards were as much to blame as the team’s defensive players for letting victory slip away on Saturday evening. Gerardo Martino’s team enjoyed around a 75% share of possession in the first half of that game, and should have been out of sight by the break. But instead Argentina had to rely on two slips from Paraguayan fullback Miguel Samudio—one a sloppy back pass, the other a soft penalty—for its goals.
It was almost the same story here. Argentina created some early chances against Uruguay, notably when Messi curled a delicious cross onto Aguero’s head after 25 minutes, forcing a good save from Muslera. Yet after half an hour Martino’s side had controlled the ball for 72% of the game, and had precious little to show for all that possession. By the end of the first half, in fact, Messi and co. seemed to be running out of ideas, and Uruguay was looking increasingly comfortable.
Aguero’s neat headed goal from Zabaleta’s crisp cross changed all that, and will have eased Martino’s worries for now, but this was another game where Argentina came close to squandering huge amounts of possession and more than a few chances. Title-winning campaigns are seldom built on such characteristics.