Uruguay 1-1 Argentina (AET): Uruguay progress after disciplined defending and superb penalties

July 17, 2011

The starting line-ups

The hosts are out of the Copa America after an engaging 1-1 draw.

Oscar Tabarez kept faith with the same narrow 4-4-1-1 system as against Mexico, although there was one change – Martin Cacares came in for Cristian Rodriguez, with Alvaro Pereira moving forward to the left of midfield.

Sergio Batista named an unchanged XI in broadly the same system as in Argentina’s final group game against Costa Rica.

The game started frantically and then slowed down but remained enjoyable – the two red cards opened up the game, but didn’t produce any more goals.

High tempo

Many Copa America games have been played at a slow pace, but from an Argentina v Uruguay match, you can always count on closing down, tackles and rapid passing early on. Argentina dominated the ball, and like against Mexico, Uruguay tried to press – although the mismatch in systems made it more difficult here. Diego Perez played much higher up than Egidio Arevalo, trying to get into the face of Angel Di Maria, Argentina’s most advanced central midfielder.

Tabarez could afford to play his narrow 4-4-1-1 because of the relative lack of attacking thrust from Argentina’s full-backs. Alvaro Pereira came inside and hassled Gago on the ball, happy to let Pablo Zabaleta receive a pass. Behind Pereira, Martin Caceres generally did a good job on his old Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi, starting narrow and tracking him inside – it was a good decision by Tabarez to play a converted centre-back there, rather than Pereira. That said, Messi did find space for Gonzalo Higuain’s goal – a drifted left-footed cross after he cut in from the right, in almost identical fashion to a chance which produced a shocking miss from Higuain against Costa Rica.

Perez involved

There were two other factors in the first half – both involved free-kicks and dead ball situations. First, Argentina defended set-pieces abysmally, and Gabriel Milito and Nicolas Burdisso showed no understanding of this situation by constantly giving away cheap free-kicks. Perez had poked in the opener from one of these situations.

Second, Perez himself was charging around the pitch and conceding an amazing number of fouls. He could have been sent-off on at least two occasions before his red card, and Tabarez must have considered replacing him before the inevitable happened. Having been forced to bring on Andres Scotti for Mauricio Victorino at the back because of injury, he probably didn’t want to use up a further sub before half time.

11 v 10

A common complain on ZM is that managers who find their side with a numerical advantage don’t adjust their side. The tactics you think will beat eleven opponents will not necessarily be the tactics that will beat ten – there will be more space on the pitch somewhere, the opposition will be more vulnerable in a certain way, and less dangerous in another.

After Uruguay went down to ten

This was a particularly frustrating example, because the best way to play against ten men is with width – especially, as it happens, because Uruguay here were playing a 4-3-2 formation, and asking their three central midfielders to shift across the pitch constantly (rather than a 4-4-1, for example, which covers the pitch with two banks of four). Tabarez felt he could afford to play this way, again, because of the lack of attacking threat from Argentina’s full-backs.

Indeed, Tabarez didn’t feel the need to make any further substitutions until the second half of extra time, which both demonstrates that Uruguay’s players performed extremely well, but also that Batista and Argentina made life easy for them.

With Messi immediately coming inside into the centre of the pitch with the ball, and Aguero staying wider but hardly a natural winger, Argentina lacked width and played through the middle too much, playing into Uruguay’s hands. The amazing thing was, Argentina had a winger, Di Maria, playing in the centre, drifting inside from the left. They could have afforded to play Fernando Gago and Javier Mascherano as the double pivot (there was little threat from Uruguay coming forward from central midfield), and put Di Maria on either flank to stretch the play and to force Uruguay to work harder. Instead, Argentina remained slow and predictable on the ball, and were far too narrow.

Uruguay’s only hope of a goal was from a set-piece. Luis Suarez put in one of the best performances you’ll ever see at getting opponents booked – both Burdisso and Milito were carded within three second half minutes, and later Mascherano got a second yellow for another foul on Suarez. Forlan’s delivery was often disappointing.

Batista waited until 72 minutes for the first change – Javier Pastore on for Di Maria. Pastore played a couple of great one-twos with Messi, but it’s arguable that he’s not the man to break down a packed defence sitting deep – he’s more dangerous on the counter. Ezequiel Lavezzi, despite his poor form in this tournament, would have been an interesting option, and the introduction of Carlos Tevez for Aguero late on didn’t really make any sense – Tevez continues to show no understanding of the football Argentina are trying to play – his positioning and movement from the wide-left position is very poor.

10 v 10

Mascherano’s red card opened the game up further, and Argentina looked nervous until Lucas Biglia came on as a true holding player – a Gago-Pastore duo was not very secure, and Forlan found space until the change was made. Uruguay were tired by this stage, although with their 4-3-2 formation looking more secure and solid than Argentina’s 4-2-3ish shape, Tabarez was the man who got things right in the extra time period – although they needed an astonishing Fernando Muslera double save to stay in it.

Muslera was also the hero in the shoot-out – and it was almost inevitable that Tevez would be the villain.


Argentina played for 48 minutes with an extra man, and despite the best attacking squad in the world, Batista’s side didn’t score. In fact, they didn’t even look like scoring, and even as the game was in progress, it seemed that Argentina would live to regret not taking advantage in this period.

Four Copa games played on home soil, and Argentina’s only victory was against a Costa Rican U23 side.

Tabarez should be commended for his tactics, however – the starting formation was correct, the way he adapted to going down to ten was correct, and his use of substitutions was brave but successful.

Correction: Lavezzi was actually suspended, so wasn’t an option (thanks Aditya Challa below)

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