There has been a major cause of celebration across Argentina and its football fans this month. La Albiceleste ended 28 years of wait and heartbreak by winning the Copa America, giving Lionel Messi his first major international trophy. The fact that it came after defeating arch-rivals Brazil in the final made it all the more sweeter.
The party continues across the country in honour of this famed win but a recent disappointment has faded its shine a bit. The U23 team participating in the Tokyo Olympics suffered a second consecutive group-stage exit after some sketchy showings. A combination of factors led to their demise in Japan with the gold medallists of 2004 and 2008 performing dismally once again.
FATIGUE AND QUESTIONABLE SELECTION
Each squad at the Olympics can select three over-age players to represent the nation. However, U23 manager Fernando Batista only picked one in goalkeeper Jeremias Ledesma. The fact that he could not or did not choose more established names has to do with the timing of the Games.
✍ ¡Acá están nuestros protagonistas! 🇦🇷 pic.twitter.com/HvOtJjeK43
— Selección Argentina 🇦🇷 (@Argentina) July 2, 2021
There were only 12 days between the final of the Copa America and the first group-match played by Argentina. Indeed, the best players of the country were in need of major rest and rehabilitation after a grueling tournament in Brazil. Names like Cristian Romero, Lautaro Martinez, Exequiel Palacios, and others who could all have been considered for selection in ordinary times were overlooked.
Kind of intriguing that Paulo Dybala has been left out of two Argentina squads, the Copa America and Olympics. For the Olympics, teams are allowed up to 3 overage players (age limit is 23) while Argentina are only taking 1 overage. I'd like to think Dybala could have been a plus.
— Roy Nemer (@RoyNemer) July 2, 2021
This left a major dearth of experience and talent in the young side that could have helped them enormously. Furthermore, players like Paulo Dybala, Mauro Icardi, Juan Foyth were ignored altogether. This raises more questions about Batista’s thought process. Dybala did have his struggles with injury but is still a world-class player on his day. Even though he was left out of the Copa America squad due to fitness concerns, Batista could have included the Juventus playmaker in this team.
Juan Foyth, who was cut from the Argentina Copa America team posted on his Instagram page. Essentially saying that wearing the Argentina shirt is always a source of pride and that when the Copa America starts in a few days, he'll be supporting the team. He wished them the best. pic.twitter.com/kHMj4iUBTN
— Roy Nemer (@RoyNemer) June 11, 2021
Meanwhile, Icardi has not played any tournament with Argentina and even after scoring 12 goals last term, continues to be left out. The absence of Foyth, who won the Europa League with Villarreal, would have added a lot more zeal to the team given his experiences in Europe. The squads of 2004 and 2008 had players like Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano, Carlos Tevez and others. Batista will surely be under the scanner for his questionable team selection which failed to provide adequate firepower to the team.
STRUGGLING TO WIN
Argentina were drawn alongside Spain, Australia and Egypt in Group C. Their first match against the Olyroos was an immediate disaster, losing 2-0. Batista set the team up in a 4-5-1 formation which failed to deal with the compactness of their opponent’s 4-3-3.
Australia 2-0 Argentina.
What an incredible result!
— Football Australia (@FootballAUS) July 22, 2021
Trailing after just the 14th minute, their task got even harder after left-back Francisco Ortega was sent off just before halftime. They were unable to get back into the game and conceded a second goal in the 80th minute to end the game as a contest. The second match saw Batista make changes to his personnel including switching the formation to 4-2-3-1.
A solitary goal was enough to scrape past the Egyptians but against Spain in their final group game, they were totally outplayed in all parts of the pitch. Spain dominated possession, passing, shots and held the lead going into the final minutes. Tomas Belmonte’s goal in the 87th minute was a mere consolation as they failed to get the three points needed to progress.
Full-time: 🇪🇸 Spain 1-1 Argentina 🇦🇷🇦🇺 Australia 0-2 Egypt 🇪🇬
ARGENTINA ARE OUT! Spain top the group and are joined by Egypt in the quarter-finals! pic.twitter.com/nHAEBv6CKR
— Bet9ja (@Bet9jaOfficial) July 28, 2021
The same type of substitutions at the same time, no plan B, several players including upcoming prospects Alexis Mac Allister, Thiago Alamada, and Ezequiel Barco underperforming all dogged the team throughout.
Given how Argentina’s two biggest clubs- River Plate and Boca Juniors do not allow their players out for the Olympics, most of the names on this team came from the other sides. Only eight of the 22 players play in Europe, with Ledesma being the only consistent starter.
– 11 atajadas.
– 7 tras remates dentro del área.
– 3 goles recibidos.
– 1 valla invicta.
— DataRef (@DataRef_) July 28, 2021
Many of the upcoming stars featured in the Copa America which can provide the biggest boost for the nation. However, the U23 system’s strength remains a cause for concern. Furthermore, as much as the fans dread the thought, Messi will one day retire.
Those shoes will never be filled and it remains to be seen how well the youngsters step up when their names are called. Can Batista be the man to take this team forward? He will certainly have to field questions soon regarding the mishaps of Tokyo.