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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Copa America: Argentina 4 x USA 1

In the tropical summer heat of Maracaibo, the USA played a respectable game against the much more experienced Argentine side. The first five minutes were an exhibition of "el tocque argentino." The Argentines, led by their midfield maestro, Juan Roman Riquelme, patiently passed the ball around the pitch. The young Americans, with the exception of Kasey Keller in goal, had never appeared in this competition. Only three players from the Gold Cup Final on Sunday started this match. Coming into the game, Keller had beaten Argentina twice in his career. Before the game, Captain Keller embraced his Argentine counterpart, Roberto Ayala, in a genuine display of sportsmanship.

Against the run of play, in the 8th minute, the nimble Eddie Johnson was taken down by Gabriel Henze in the penalty area. The forward from Palm City, Florida expertly took the penalty. It was a precise shot that beat Roberto Abbondanzieri to the right corner. 1 x 0 USA. Who would have believed it?

A few minutes later, in the 11th minute, Hernan Crespo, the great predator of Inter Milan, scored from directly in front of the goal. The play, like everything by this Argentine side, was begun by Riquleme, on a free kick. The ball was headed into the box, Keller came off the line, the American defenders could not clear it, and Crespo smashed it into the empty net.

In the 42nd minute, a blast by Juan Veron was tipped against the crossbar by Keller. It was one of the few shots on goal, along with actual goal scoring opportunities, for the hallowed Argentine attack. The half ended, 1 x 1. The Argentines appeared frustrated by the lack of space afforded to them by the young American side. Bradley recognized that his team could not outclass the Argentines. Tight marking of space, concentration, and looking for a few opportunities to counter attack were the keys for the first 45 minutes. But as we know, the game lasts 90 minutes. Inevitably, Argentina would exert its superiority against this American side.

Lionel "Leo" Messi, a tremendous young talent for Barcelona, had a good chance in the 60th minute. He dribbled past Marvell Wynne, but missed the shot wide with Keller beaten. A few minutes later, Messi created the perfect assist for Hernan Crespo, who was unmarked, and easily beat Keller. That goal essentially ended the game. In the 77th minute, a running header by recent substitute, Pablo Aimar, from a cross by Gabriel Heinze, rocketed by Keller for the third goal. Carlos Tevez, scored the fourth, in the 85th minute form a long pass by Ayala. The American defense was again easily beaten.

The basic difference in this game, despite the technical and individual superiority of Argentina, was that the South Americans had a true playmaker. And finishers of the quality of Hernan Crespo and Carlos Tevez. The USA does not have these types of players. Yet. But if we are to learn from this Copa America experience, the lesson will be that similar to American football. A quarterback is needed to direct the flow of the game. Few teams have a player such as Riquelme; however, most of them use a #10, "el cerebro" (the brains) in Spanish, as the focal point to run the show. We also need players capable of converting the few chances that occur at this level. Despite winning the Gold Cup, many easy chances were missed. Twice by Beasley, and once by Donovan, respectively, stand out.

A good start for Argentina as they try to win this tournament for the first time in 14 years. In the preliminary game, Paraguay routed Colombia, 5 x 0. Roque Santa Cruz scored three times for the Guarani.

For video highlights of the game, please click here.

Stats courtesy of ESPNsoccernet: *(It appeared to me that Argentina had more shots, along with more on goal, than was indicated below. I counted at least 6 shots on goal. I would estimate that Argentina had 65% to 70% of the ball possession. Keller also had at least two saves. ESPN credited him with only one, and I changed it.)


Argentina United States
Shots (on Goal) *7 (6) 5 (1)
Fouls 15 8
Corner Kicks 4 0
Offsides 5 1
Time of Possession *n/a
*n/a
Yellow Cards 2
1
Red Cards 0 0
Saves 1 2


Notes:

The US team is not staying in Venezuela. For security reasons, the team trains in Aruba, which is a 25 minute flight to Maracaibo. I didn't notice any anti-American chants, and the anthem was not whistled. As is often the case in other locales. Actually, according to 101 Great Goals, many fans were yelling "Freedom" (Libertad) during the second half. I didn't notice this from the Telefutura broadcast. Apparently, as a protest to Mr. Chavez.

A day after the game on Telefutura, Diego Maradona said that Eddie Johnson reminded him of Eusebio, a famous player from Mozambique who played in Portugal. High praise indeed, but don't take it for more than a compliment. It wasn't an endorsement. Johnson physically resembles Eusebio, and Maradona said that EJ was very fast. He also made no anti-American remarks despite his well-known friendship with Hugo Chavez.

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