Argentina 3-0 Uruguay: Messi the main man
Argentina dominated the entire match, but took an hour to get the breakthrough.
Alejandro Sabella kept a similar side to the XI that drew in Peru last month, with a couple of Manchester City players replacing a couple of recent Napoli players – Pablo Zabaleta replaced Hugo Campagnaro and Sergio Aguero returned in place of Ezequiel Lavezzi.
Oscar Tabarez was without Diego Perez, Alvaro Pereira and Gaston Ramirez, so in came Walter Gargano, Martin Caceres and Alvaro Gonzales.
Argentina were superior in every department – although particularly in the final third, thanks to the fluidity, movement and clever combinations of the attackers.
Approaches and formations
Both sides used a back four, two broadly defensive central midfielders, and four players to attack – but the formations were completely different. Uruguay sat back in a 4-4-1-1 with both wingers pushing forward to create a front four when in possession, while Argentina played a lopsided diamond formation, with Angel Di Maria shuttling forward on the left, reprising his old Benfica role, and Fernando Gago more cautious with his movement on the right.
Argentina were always likely to dominate possession at home, especially with Tabarez favouring a counter-attacking approach against superior teams, but the diamond ensured their superiority with the ball. Diego Forlan dropped back into midfield only half-heartedly, meaning Javier Mascherano got plenty of time on the ball, while to his right Fernando Gago had no direct opponent – the two holders were generally keeping an eye on Messi, while Edinson Cavani stayed higher up and tracked Zabaleta if he attempted forward runs.
Argentina’s initial threat came down the left. Di Maria’s movement from inside to out caused Uruguay problems, forcing Gonzales back into a very deep position, where he was unable to launch counter-attacks from. Di Maria was assisted by some rapid runs from Marcos Rojo, but the Real Madrid winger had a responsibility to get back and defend, however, and although he often found himself very high up the pitch, he sprinted back into position quickly.
Uruguay offered very little on the break. The distribution from the central midfield zone was unimaginative and frequently wayward, and the more Argentina dominated possession, the more Zabaleta started to push back Cavani, leaving Forlan and Luis Suarez a long way from their teammates. Those two can legitimately complain about a lack of service, but when they did receive the ball, they were both disappointing – Suarez misplaced passes and overran the ball, while Forlan looked off the pace.
When Uruguay won the Copa America they sealed the final thanks to a brilliant teamwork counter-attacking move featuring their three talented forwards, but Cavani, Forlan and Suarez’s interplay was almost non-existent in this match. Both Cavani and Suarez attempted shots from highly ambitious positions (Suarez from the halfway line) when teammates were in better positions, underlining their frustrations.
In stark contrast, Argentina’s forward play was very good – they attacked in a number of ways, and with a number of players. Gonzalo Higuain’s role was as an old-fashioned number nine – competing with the centre-backs in order to create space for Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero.
Aguero played a dual role – he tried to latch onto a couple of long balls over the top of the defence, but when Messi drifted into deeper positions and took Gargano and/or Egidio Arevalo with him, Aguero very noticeably positioned himself between the lines, giving Argentina two central creative threats, both higher and deeper than the two holders. Di Maria’s forward darts in the opposite direction meant Uruguay’s defence had something else to think about, and Argentina weren’t playing in front of the Uruguay defence, they were attempting to penetrate too.
But this game was really about Lionel Messi, who turned in an outstanding performance in a classic playmaker role. He didn’t just stay between the lines and hope for service, he came towards the ball and received short passes from Mascherano and Gago, drawing the Uruguay midfielders out of position, then beating them with a dribble. He then tried to slip the ball through to Di Maria, Aguero or Higuain, who were all making different kinds of movement and offering plenty of options. This was a good example of Messi being three world-class players combined.
There was one obvious difference between Messi’s role at Barcelona and his role in the first half here: his lack of direct running into goalscoring positions. At Barcelona he’s the false nine and therefore the primary central forward, but in this match Aguero and Higuain got into poaching positions, so Messi had to hang back near the edge of the box.
When that changed after the break, Argentina got the breakthrough. Messi’s opener was more typical of his club style – he got the ball in a playmaking position, spread the play wide to Di Maria (on one of his classic in-to-out runs towards the left) and then raced into the six-yard box to tuck the ball home.
It already felt like the game was settled – Uruguay offered so little going forward and relied on Argentina to leave spaces at the back to break into, so it was difficult to see how they were going to equalise.
The second goal was very similar to the opener – Messi in a playmaking position, Di Maria running down the left before providing a low cross – only this time it was Aguero who tapped in for 2-0. Sabella removed Aguero and brought on left-sided holding midfielder Pablo Guinazu to give the defence extra protection – this was the only significant change of the game.
Messi later added the third with a clever free-kick under the wall, and 3-0 was a fair reflection of the home side’s dominance.
So superior were Argentina that it’s difficult to pinpoint a specific reason they won this game – Uruguay were dreadful, a shadow of the side that won the Copa America so convincingly last year.
But the contrast was greatest when looking at the set of attackers – Uruguay’s looked frustrated and didn’t put together any good combinations, while Argentina had a cohesive system featuring four talented players that all offered something different to the side. Higuain was an out-and-out striker, Aguero could drop deep or run over the top, Di Maria offered bursting runs from midfield and Messi was both playmaker and poacher.