Ahead of the 2011 Copa America, which kicks off on July 1, we begin our run-down of the teams taking part with a look at the hosts Argentina.
Argentina head into the tournament neck and neck with Uruguay, both nations leading the way with 14 Copa América titles apiece. If la Albiceleste win on home soil they not only move ahead of their neighbours but also close the book on 18 years without a senior title.
Momento de gloria
Argentina won three consecutive titles in the mid 1940s thanks in no small part to the goals of Norberto Méndez. El Tucho remains the tournament’s joint all-time leading goalscorer. No other nation has completed an unbroken hat-trick of Copa Américas although Brazil has the chance in 2011.
El director técnico
Sergio Batista took over the reigns from his 1986 World Cup winning team-mate last year. The highlight of Checho’s coaching career so far is leading Argentina to a gold medal finish at the Beijing Olympics. Batista has made no secret of the fact he intends to get the best out of Lionel Messi by setting up his team to play in the style of Barcelona. The result of this noble experiment will decide if the head coach gets the chance to lead Argentina to the 2014 World Cup.
Javier Mascherano won his first senior cap before he had even represented his boyhood club River Plate. El Jefecito was handed the captain’s armband by Batista’s predecessor who recognised his own passion for the blue and white stripes in the tenacious midfielder. Mascherano was last spotted putting in a trademark no nonsense performance at centre-back in the Champions League final.
Lionel Messi has the entire world at his feet with the notable exception of Argentina. Every award la Pulga wins for his performances in Catalonia seem to distance him further from his nation. After Messi scored the winner against Estudiantes de La Plata in the final of the Club World Cup graffiti appeared back home stating ‘Messi no es Argentino’. On a recent trip to his home city of Rosario the two-time Ballon d'Or winner was attacked in the street. It seems the only way the guy can win is by winning, the Copa América would be a start and then the World Cup in Brazil should do the trick.
Away from the small and wet confines of Manchester we see another side of Carlitos Tévez. In Argentina, el Apache is granted the status of a folklore hero. Tévez’s rise from below the bread line to above the realms of quantifiable wealth is indeed the stuff of fairy tales. The striker first broke through at Boca Juniors, the best supported club in Argentina, and has played every game since in a manner adored on terraces all over the world. If Batista had his way Tévez would not be part of his Copa América squad, but the public backlash would simply be too much for the head coach to bear.
Javier Pastore burst onto the scene in Argentina as the fulcrum of a delightfully vibrant CA Huracán side. El Flaco’s performances earned him a move to Palermo and after two years in Serie A he can look back on a series of highlights including a hat-trick in the Sicilian derby. In Batista’s version of Barcelona the head coach will be asking Pastore to fulfill the roles of both Xavi and Andrés Iniesta. No easy task but should the 21-year-old pull it off the €50 million price tag Palermo have slapped on his head might not look so silly after all.
Batista still needs to trim three outfield players from his provisional squad but the door has already slammed shut on a number of high profile players. There’s no place for the guile of Juan Román Riquelme and Nicolás Otamendi also finds himself out in the cold after being made the scapegoat for Argentina’s World Cup battering at the hands of Germany.
Rumores de transferencia
Sergio Agüero to Chelsea, Gonzalo Higuaín to Arsenal, Javier Pastore to Manchester United, Ezequiel Lavezzi to Manchester City.
Sergio Agüero and Giannina Maradona’s relationship has blessed el Diego with his first grandchild. El Kún and the World Cup winning captain’s youngest daughter remain together despite rumours of the Atlético Madrid striker enjoying the odd away fixture.
Síguelo en Twitter
@pablo_zabaleta - When I say “we have to be united” is for the team and the fans!!!!! hahahaha sorry for my english.
La opinión experta
“My doubts about the Argentina team come from Batista’s insistence on trying to copy Barcelona. We have Messi but we lack players for the defensive positions on the pitch. It’s great when you have the ball but I worry about winning it back when we lose possession. Argentina is of course the favourite because we are hosting the tournament but we have not won a senior title since Diego Maradona hung up his boots. I would have more confidence if Batista had played his first team in the friendlies building-up to the Copa América.”
Ezequiel Fernández Moores - La Nación
The only acceptable result for the host nation is to finish the Copa América with the trophy safely in their grasp. Any other result will have serious ramifications for those involved, Batista and Messi especially.
Argentina will make light work of a group which sees them up against a brittle Colombia, a dismal Bolivia and the Costa Rican under-23 team. The hosts are also unlikely to be tested in the quarter-final. Coasting through the early rounds has bitten la Albiceleste on the bum in the past two World Cups and there’s every chance it could happen again at the Copa America. Argentina to lose in the final against Brazil for the third time in succession.
¿Por qué ser fanático?
One of the few things that stirs up passions in Argentina as much as football is the populations’ appreciation of rock ‘n’ roll. Attending a concert in Buenos Aires is to take your place alongside the most fervent congregation to worship at the altar of rock. Take a look at the DVD of any band and the chances are they filmed it during the Argentine leg of the tour. Taking in a Superclásico at River Plate’s el Monumental is one thing, soaking up an AC/DC gig is utter chaos.
¿Un club en League Two?
Fans decked out in blue and white while looking over their noses at the poor relation across the estuary. A constant production line of attacking talent. It must be Bristol Rovers. Also, one of the more polite terms in Argentina for the English is to refer to them as pirates.
Pour out the Fernet Branca, throw a bife de lomo on the barbecue and crank up the Carlos Gardel (or the AC/DC) on the stereo. Then get yourself down to el Obelisco and party like it’s 1986. “Vamos, vamos Argentina! Vamos, vamos a ganar...”
A decade ago Argentina’s flat-lining economy created choppy waters for a series of presidents. When the grim reality struck home in 2001, incumbent Antonio De La Rúa fled the country in a helicopter. Two further presidents, Adolfo Rodríguez Saá and Eduardo Duhalde, then came and went in quick succession. In 2003 Néstor Kirchner was elected and served a full term before being succeeded by first lady Cristina Kirchner. When Néstor passed away last year Cristina had Diego Maradona at her side during the state funeral.
Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero (AZ Alkmaar, HOL), Juan Pablo Carrizo (River Plate, ARG), Mariano Andújar (Catania, ITA).
Defenders: Gabriel Milito (Barcelona, ESP), Ezequiel Garay (Real Madrid, ESP), Nicolás Burdisso (Roma, ITA), Javier Zanetti (Inter, ITA), Nicolás Pareja and Marcos Rojo (Spartak Moscow, RUS), Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City, ENG), Luciano Monzón (Boca Juniors, ARG).
Midfielders: Javier Mascherano (Barcelona, ESP), Lucas Biglia (Anderlecht, BEL), Ever Banega (Valencia, ESP), Esteban Cambiasso (Inter, ITA), Javier Pastore (Palermo, ITA), Diego Valeri (Lanús, ARG), Enzo Pérez (Estudiantes de La Plata, ARG), Fernando Gago (Real Madrid, ESP).
Forwards: Lionel Messi (Barcelona, ESP), Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid, ESP), Sergio Agüero (Atlético Madrid, ESP), Ezequiel Lavezzi (Napoli, ITA), Carlos Tévez (Manchester City, ENG), Diego Milito (Inter, ITA).
*Three outfield players still to be cut from this preliminary squad, Batista due to announce his decision on June 26th.
v Bolivia 01/07/2011 21:45 La Plata
v Colombia 06/07/2011 21:45 Santa Fe
v Costa Rica 11/07/2011 21:45 Córdoba
FIFA ranking: 5
Odds to win: 11/10
Copa America record: P173 W112 D28 L33 F422 A166
Copa America best: 14 time champions
More teams will follow in this daily series. Plus, for more on Copa America 2011, listen to The South American Football Show.