As Argentina prepare to take on Colombia in the quarterfinals of the 2015 Copa America, midfielder Javier Mascherano has admitted there is frustration that his side’s attacking talent has yet to fully shine. Last year’s World Cup runners-up topped their group in Chile, but, despite being able to call upon some of the world’s leading forward talent, scored just four goals. And ahead of meeting Colombia in their first knockout match, Mascherano explained the difficulty in going up against teams primarily focused on defending.
"It's not easy when you go, you go forward and you find two lines of five,” he said, according to the official Copa America website. “When you are looking to create this is much more difficult to break down,” the Barcelona player said. When you try to create and every attempt fails, you can get down but it takes patience and conviction and playing even if it costs. We have the players to do well.”
After relinquishing a lead to draw 2-2 with Paraguay, Argentina beat both Uruguay and Jamaica 1-0. Sergio Agüero, who scored in the first two games before being rested against Jamaica, is set to return to the starting lineup in Viña del Mar on Friday. The Manchester City striker is expected to partner Lionel Messi, who celebrated his 28th birthday this week.
The duo, supported by Ángel di María and Javier Pastore among others, will now aim to break down a team that has been the most resilient thus far at this Copa America. Colombia conceded just one goal through their three group games, although their progress to the quarterfinals was far from smooth. Starting with an upset 1-0 defeat to Venezuela, Colombia bounced back with a tough-fought 1-0 victory over Brazil. But a scoreless result with Peru, as the team’s attack continued to splutter, meant Los Cafeteros had to rely on there not being a draw in the group’s other final game in order to squeeze through in third place.
Their hopes for the quarterfinal have not been helped by the absence of their two starting midfielders, who have contributed so much to the team’s strong defensive showing. Carlos Sánchez, voted man of the match in shutting down Neymar and Brazil, is ruled out through suspension, while partner Edwin Valencia is expected to miss six months of action with a serious knee injury. Head coach José Pékerman, though, insists his team can overcome their handicap.
“It is not the first time we have suffered such disadvantages with injuries and absences in the team,” he said. “We’re used to dealing with difficult situations, and we are looking forward to a good game. We are eager to really participate in this game. We have talent in all positions, so we know we have enough.”
Pékerman should certainly know plenty about Messi and several of his teammates. The Argentinean coached his home country for two years before being knocked out in the quarterfinals of the 2006 World Cup by Germany. And the two sides also have a rich history, having met 12 times at Copa Americas, with Argentina losing just twice. Perhaps the most famous meeting countries, though, came in 1993, when Colombia stunningly became the first team ever to beat Argentina in a World Cup qualifier on home soil when producing an emphatic 5-0 win.
Kickoff time: 7:30 p.m. EDT
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