By Willie Leniek
Just a few hours away from the third and final match of the qualifying rounds of the 2011 Copa America tournament between Argentina and Costa Rica, and the air is filled with a sense of urgency. Argentina, led by Messi and a star studded cast of world class players, is on the brink of elimination at the hands of none other than Ricard
o La Volpe’s Costa Rican team. After the inaugural game with Bolivia the locals felt disappointed with the performance by the ‘albiceleste’ team. Messi functioned well but Tevez, the people’s favorite, Lavezzi, DiMaria and Kun Aguero could not score on the surprisingly tight defense proposed by Bolivia’s eleven. Everything worsened for Argentina during the second game with Colombia, as Messi showed a more human side by loosing several possessions. When the final whistle blew the team hustled off the field to the piercing sounds of insults and screaming by disappointed Argentine fans.
Tonight the team will have another opportunity to qualify and move on to the quarterfinals or be eliminated. So it becomes evident that head coach Sergio Batista has decided to overhaul the Argentine offensive. During the last practice in the Argentina bunker he made changes in the starting lineup with Higuain for Tevez, Agüero in for Lavezzi, in midfield Di Maria for Cambiasso and next to him Banega off for Gago. On defense there were no changes and Batista retained a line of four with, Zabaleta Burdisso Milito and Zanetti. Mascherano stood as lone stopper in center midfield and Messi between Di Maria and Gago.
He is hoping that changing the cast around Messi will spark more offense. In the case of Cambiasso, who has been in the starting lineup although he was absent the latter part of the season with Inter due to a muscle injury the change is clearly offensive. Di Maria will handle the offense on the last meters of the left wing as he is doing in Real Madrid. Kun Agüero will replace Lavezzi on the right as he does in Atletico Madrid. Higuain will post himself in the center and will await for Messi’s explosive game to provide him the scoring opportunities that the team needs to overcome their current standing.
No doubt that Costa Rica will have to be a well-organized defensive team in order to fend off the Argentina attack. The hard task of keeping up with Messi will be for amateur player Francisco Clavo who currently plays college soccer in Houston, Texas. Calvo, who was on vacation in Costa Rica when he was spotted by Ricardo La Volpe during a sub-20 training session has already gained valuable experience by marking Colombian forward Radamel Falcao. On the offensive side Costa Rica will try to the seemingly impossible feat of piercing the Argentine defense with 19 year old forward Joel Campbell.
It was said that La Volpe had asked the players not to ask autographs from the Argentine players before the game. This would be indicative of the lob sided nature of the game tonight. For the Costa Rican team it is an opportunity to make waves across the soccer world and for Argentina it is a decisive game for a team that has shown a great gap between expectations and actual play.