It really was now or never for Bauza and his boys Tuesday night against Colombia. And boy, did they deliver. Lionel Messi was in absolutely scintillating form, stunning Colombia with a superb first-half free kick and two beautifully crafted assists.
But while Messi was undoubtedly the man of the night, it would be unfair to say he did it all himself. The main difference between Tuesday and the embarrassing defeat against Brazil, was that Messi’s teammates decided to turn up on this occasion. Bauza’s changes worked a treat. The addition of Banega meant that Messi was picking up the ball around the penalty box rather than the center-circle and Pratto, who was lively all night, picked up a deserved goal (though Messi more on less put it on a plate for him). Di Maria still looked far from the peak of his powers, but the PSG man’s performance was an improvement on last Thursday.
The general shape and movement of Argentina’s attack, with Messi at its core, was infinitely better than against Brazil. After struggling to find the back of the net recently, Bauza will be delighted to have won in such convincing fashion. Before the game, only Bolivia had scored fewer goals than Argentina in the previous 11 qualifying fixtures. That shouldn’t have been the case with Argentina’s wealth of attacking options, and after the Colombia game, that statistic is even more shocking. Argentina could have easily added to their tally.
Frankly, we can’t quite lavish the same praise on the Argentine defense as James Rodriguez and his teammates didn’t really show up last night. Still, clean sheet – can’t knock ’em.
More than just three points, the result will restore belief and confidence back into a team who looked completely lacking in both in the lead-up to the game. While the other results in the 12th round of fixtures didn’t all go their way (Chile beat 2nd placed Uruguay 3-1 and Ecuador beat bottom-placed Venezuela 3-0, meaning that both remain above Argentina), the Albiceleste, now in 5th position, are in a far better position to push their way into the top four automatic qualifying places come the next round of fixtures in March.
After Bolivia’s 1-0 victory against Paraguay, Argentina have opened up a 4 point gap over their neighbors. Still, with just 2 points separating 3rd from 6th, the battle for qualifying positions is as tight as ever and Bauza, Messi and co will have everything to play for when they return to international football in March against Bolivia and Chile.
The latter fixture, a repeat of the Copa America final, will arguably be more important than either of Argentina’s last two matches and will feel just as big as that final back in June. Hopefully, there will be a different outcome…