Copa America shaping up to be another tournament to forget for Argentina and Lionel Messi

Andy West 09:15 16/06/2019
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Colombia sparked their Copa America campaign with a deserved 2-0 victory over Argentina on Saturday night, leaving Lionel Messi with a sense of ‘here we go again’ as his team struggled to look anything like potential title-winners.

There is perhaps no surprise in the scoreline and Argentina are now in serious danger of another tournament to forget, while the victors can look forward to mounting a strong challenge.

Let’s focus on three key talking point to emerge from the action in Bahia…and Messi, of course, has to feature highly.

ARGENTINA IN CRISIS MODE ALREADY

Coming on just the second day of the competition, this clash was probably the highest-profile and eagerly anticipated clash of the entire group stage, pitting together two talented sides regarded among the title favourites behind hosts Brazil.

In the first half, though, they were a world apart, as Colombia looked far more convincing than a disjointed Argentina outfit who looked set for another disappointing campaign. Carlos Queiroz’s men were dynamic, fluid and confident on the ball, enjoying almost complete control in the centre of the field, while Argentina were flat and static, lacking fluency and struggling to close down their opponents.

The opening stages of the second half offered a turnaround as La Albiceleste finally succeeded in getting Messi on the ball, but that revival didn’t last for long as Colombia surged ahead with a wonderful curling strike from substitute Roger Martinez, before fellow sub Duvan Zapata wrapped it up in the final stages.

Argentina now cannot afford further slip-ups in their remaining group games against Paraguay and Qatar and the pressure is already being piled on coach Lionel Scaloni, with Argentina sports newspaper Diario Ole lamenting their start as ‘impossible to be worse’.

On this performance, it would be no surprise to see them bow out before the knockout stages.

MESSI’S NEVER-ENDING INTERNATIONAL NIGHTMARE

Lionel Messi

As ever, all eyes were on Messi as the Argentina skipper started yet another attempt to finally end his barren run at international level.

He lined up on the right of a three-pronged forward line, with his old buddy Sergio Aguero through the middle and Angel Di Maria on the left, but the first half was extremely worrying as the front three remained hopelessly isolated, receiving no service from an over-worked midfield which was simply treading water in the hope of containing Colombia.

The second half started much better, helped by the replacement of the woeful Di Maria with Rodrigo De Paul, as Messi finally got on the ball. One slick link-up with Aguero saw him embark upon a mazy dribble – including a cheeky nutmeg – which nearly led to a goalscoring chance, while a bad foul on Messi from Juan Cuadrado sparked an outbreak of handbags involving nearly every player.

But Messi then missed had Argentina’s best chance to score, sending a header wide on the rebound after Nicolas Otamendi’s initial effort was saved, and before long Colombia took the lead.

There was no way back from Argentina after that, and although he did not play particularly badly Messi’s missed header – and his subsequent inability to lead a comeback – will add more fuel to the fire for those who believe he cannot perform well for Argentina.

JAMES OUTSHONE BY SUPERSUBS

Roger Martinez (l) scored the opener and impressed for Colombia.

Roger Martinez (l) scored the opener and impressed for Colombia.

Along with Messi, another world-renowned attacking talent eager to enjoy a strong competition is James Rodriguez, who propelled himself into superstardom – and earned a money-spinning move to Real Madrid – with a brilliant World Cup for Colombia in 2014, but has rarely hit those heights since.

The playmaker was hot and cold throughout his three-year spell with Madrid, and proved similarly hit and miss during a two-year loan spell with Bayern Munich. The German giants have confirmed they do not intend to purchase him permanently, but James is also unwanted at Madrid so his future looks uncertain.

A strong tournament this summer would put him back in the shop window, and he made a decent enough start with some sharp attacking play and incisive deliveries into the box.

Colombia’s real stars, though, were a pair of substitutes: Martinez entered for the injured Luis Muriel after 15 minutes and nearly netted two minutes later, eventually rounding off a power-packed display with a superb whipped opener from the edge of the box.

Then Zapata, a late change for Radamel Falcao, continued an outstanding season (which yielded 23 goals in Serie A with Atalanta) by confidently making it 2-0 near the end. If they continue to perform and James also hits top form, Colombia could be serious contenders.

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