Messi, Crespo, and Zanetti celebrate at the 2007 Copa America
Goal.com recently published a Argentina Team of the Decade from 2000-2009. Obviously we have not had the best of runs during that time, which makes selecting team of the decade more difficult. Although we breezed through the qualifying rounds for Japan/South Korea 2002, we fizzled out of that tournament in the group stages. We did well in qualifying again in 2006, tying Brazil for the most points although they edged us on goal difference, and we were the top team of the group stages only to go out to the hosts despite providing the world with the best and most beautiful goals (Maxi Rodriguez and Esteban Cambiaso anyone?) Aside from World Cups, we suffered heart break to Brazil in three finals: 2004 Copa America on penalties after a late Adrian equalizer, falling 4-1 in the 2005 Confederations Cup Final to a Ronaldinho inspired side, and finally, losing 3-0 in the 2007 Copa America Final to a cynical Brazilian team under Dunga. There have certainly been some highlights, but for the most part we will leave this decade with a bad taste regarding the full National Team, and it is safe to say we have underachieved more than other side in the world. At the youth levels things were different, winning three U20 World Cups and two Olympics, an U23 competition. The likes of Javier Saviola, Maxi Rodriguez, Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano, Lionel Messi, Pablo Zabaleta, Fernando Gago, Sergio Aguero, Maxi Moralez, and Mauro Zarate starred on those teams, but they have been unable to translate their success to trophies at the senior level. Hopefully, 2010 (if we qualify) will lead to glory with some of those young stars, but if not we can always look to the 2011 Copa America, in Argentina. Anyway, here is my Argentina team of the decade from 2000-2009, I have excluded undeserving players such as Ariel Ortega and Seba Veron from my team. Unfortunately, I have also omitted Gabriel Omar Batistuta, my favorite player of all time. Batigol would be in my team from the 1990’s as well as my all time Argentina Team. I have decided to leave him out here because even though he scored 20 goals in leading Roma to the 2001 Scudetto, he only managed 9 games for Argentina in the 2000’s.:
GK- Roberto “El Pato” Abbondanzieri- The ineptitude of our goalkeeping situation is brought to fruition by the fact that El Pato has obtained 49 caps since 2004. He has been error prone (a 2006 World Cup qualifier against Venezuela in Buenos Aires and a friendly against Algeria in Barcelona in 2007 were laughable), has lacked communication with his back line (2007 Copa America Final, 2010 World Cup qualifier against Paraguay), and has been injury prone in tournaments (2005 Confederations Cup, 2006 World Cup). While his errors are more apparent than his brilliant saves, he has done his best, but unfortunately, his best was none too good. He is a legend at Boca, a true idol, but for La Seleccion, he has disappointed.
RB- Javier Zanetti- Our all time leaders in caps, El Pupi was a mainstay in qualifying for 2002 and 2006, although Jose Peckerman excluded him from the side for the latter. Had he made the trip instead of Lionel Scaloni or Fabricio Coloccini, things could have been different for Argentina against the Germans. None the less, he played in two Copa America Finals, a Confederations Cup Final, and has returned to the national team under Coco Basile and Diego Maradona. In my opinion, we have not had a better servant to the shirt in our history than Pupi, and congrats to him for his 133 caps and 4 straight scudetti for Inter. I hope his career can be capped with a World Cup next summer.
CB- Roberto Ayala- The second most capped player in our history with 115, El Raton was the captain under Bielsa, but tragically missed the tournament in South Korea/Japan through injury. Another humble cervant, Ayala was also the lynchpin of Valencia’s La Liga winning sides in 2002 and 2004, and Champions League finalists in 2000 and 2001. He lost his captaincy under Pekerman, but still featured with the 2004 Copa America finalists, and in the 2006 World Cup, where he made the tournament all star team. He regained the captaincy and led Argentina to the 2007 Copa America final under Coco Basile, but it ended with a 3-0 loss and a tragic own goal. Despite this, his leadership, desire, and heart will not be forgotten, and are still what Argentina miss. In some ways, a modern day Passarella, the man he admired most. He has worn the armband for Argentina more than any other player.
CB- Gabriel Milito- Gabby may be a some what controversial selection, considering all the players we have had in that position this decade. Although Heinze started over him in Germany 2006, the Real Madrid stopper has been error prone, and quite frankly, Argentina’s worst player during the campain to South Africa. Milito formed a fantastic partnership with Ayala in the 2007 Copa America, and appeared to be on the verge of becoming a truly world class defender with both Argentina and Barcelona before a disastrous knee injury has seen him sidelined for over a year. Without Milito, Argentina’s defense has been shaky, including the famous 6-1 drubbing at the hands of Bolivia. If he can regain fitness, and then form, there is no question that Milito can still be the man for the job. One thing is for sure, Argentina will win nothing with Heinze and Demichellis in the center of defense.
Juan Pablo Sorin
LB- Juan Pablo Sorin- Jose Pekerman’s captain Sorin could be employed as left back, wing back, or on the left side of midfield. Although me missed chances in the 2002 World Cup, he was one of many who underachieved. He was however in fine form leading his team to the finals of the 2004 Copa America and 2005 Confederations Cup, although both ended in losses to Brazil. He was also playing well in the 2006 World Cup, providing the ball for Maxi Rodriguez’s fantastic goal, as well as being the swashbuckling force up the left side in each game. Sorin was also a threat in the air, and has scored 12 goals in 75 caps, quite a successful record for a player deployed in defense most of his career. Like Ayala, his position has been the most difficult to replace during the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign, as both Emiliano Papa and Gabriel Heinze have not been able to get forward or provide the aerial prowess of JPS.
Messi pays homage to his father after scoring against Uruguay
RM- Lionel Messi- Although he is only 22, and his best years lie ahead, it is impossible to leave Messi out of my team. He has won a world championship for Argentina at the U20 and U23 levels, and the logical progression would be to win in 2010. In 2006, Messi exemplified the role of super sub, scoring against Serbia and then adding a spark in the victory over Mexico. Against the Germans, he was left on the bench as Jose Pekerman brought on Julio Cruz instead. Hindsight may be 20/20, but had Messi come on, it is hard to see the Germans being able to shackle him. Although he has been up in down during this qualifying run, Messi is Argentina’s joint top scorer, as well as being the most fouled player, and the only player to start all 14 games. In the 2007 Copa America, Messi had his best run for the National Team, and scored a miraculous chip against Mexico in the semifinals, and had a goal incorrectly ruled out for offside in the final against Brazil. If Argentina are able to qualify, and ultimately win in 2010, Messi will be the man holding the key.
Mascherano celebrates at the 2008 Olympic Games
CM- Javier Mascherano- Diego Maradona’s captain has been a lock to start under Bielsa, Pekerman, and Maradona, who made him captain. He is only 25, but has established himself as one of the best midfielders in the world. He is the only Argentine to have two gold medals in any sport, winning gold in 2004 then again in 2008 as an over age player. His exploits in the 2006 World Cup earned him a move to Europe with West Ham, and ultimately to Liverpool, where he played in the 2007 Champions League final. Although not know for his goalscoring, Mascherano scored the game winning goal against Paraguay in the 2007 Copa America group stage, before adding another goal against Peru in the quarterfinals, helping Argentina to the final. Maradona has called his team “Mascherano plus 10”, and the former River Plate star has been the most dependable performer during a rough period for the National Team.
Cambiasso scores against Serbia after Crespo's backheel
CM- Esteban Cambiasso- Although some have been critical of Cucho, it was only after the Inter man was left out of the National Team that the struggles came to their peak. A member of the team that reached the 2005 Confederations Cup final and 2007 Copa America Final, Cambiasso will forever be remembered of scoring what is perhaps the best team goal of all time in the 2006 World Cup against Serbia. Even though Cambiasso has been played out of position at times, his strength and intelligence have allowed the team to keep its shape and balance. Hopefully, Diego Maradona will remember this, and bring him back to the team to replace more attacking minded players.
Riquelme in action at Germany 2006
AM- Juan Roman Riquelme- Although he was not a member of the 2002 World Cup team, or the 2004 Copa America side, Riquelme came into his own under Pekerman, who built his team around the Boca legend. A record of 18 goals in 54 games would be great for some forwards, but coming from midfield, Roman’s record is astounding. He was criticized by many for the exit in 2006, but Riquelme before being withdrawn, Roman had provided the assist for Ayala’s goal. In 2007, Riquelme reached his peak for Argentina, scoring 5 goals on the way to the Copa America Final, including 2 against Colombia and Peru, and a cheeky penalty against Mexico. In the final, Riquelme was again made the scapegoat for Argentina’s loss, though many forget the fact that he struck the post and had a shot kept out by a world class save from Doni. Had luck been on his side, Argentina would have lifted the Copa, and Riquelme would have been the hero. He also added four goals in Argentina’s first 3 World Cup qualifying games for South Africa 2010. Roman was also on hand at the 2008 Olympic Games as an over age player, captaining Argentina to the title. Since he retired, Argentina have been unable to find a creative midfielder, while also lacking a player with the set piece repertoire of Riquelme.
LM- Pablo Aimar- Sadly, Aimar has never been an established starter in a big tournament, although he has proven himself as one of the best subs in the world at Germany 2006 and Venezuela 2007. Aimar was also part of the squad that played in the 2005 Confederations Cup, coming off the bench to score a goal in a losing cause in the final. Sadly for Pablito, Jose Pekerman and Coco Basile both felt that Aimar and Riquelme were too similar to play together from the start, even though he they did it together in the 1997 U20 World Cup, a team that also contained Esteban Cambiasso.
S- Hernan Crespo- Sadly, Hernan has not played for Argentina since he hit a penalty with such ferocity against Colombia in the 2007 Copa America that he sustained a nasty quadriceps injury. That goal had just put the former Lazio and Chelsea striker past Diego Maradona into second all time in the Argentina goalscoring charts. He has been a phenomenon for Argentina, scoring 35 goals in just 64 games, including 19 in World Cup qualifiers, making him Argentina’s top scorer in that competition. A substitute to Gabriel Batistuta in the 2002 World Cup, Crespo led the line in 2006, winning the Adidas Silver Shoe as the tournaments second leading scorer. He was also a member of the 2006 World Cup All Star Team, joing Ayala as the only Argentines. If Crespo can regain his form at Genoa, Diego Maradona will have a difficult time not calling up a player who would quench Argentina’s desire for a true number nine to play along side Messi.
My team would use a similar formation to the team that won the 2008 Olympic Gold Medal under Sergio Batista. Messi would be able to cut in from the right onto his favored left foot, while Aimar would also be able to push forward in support of Crespo. Sorin and Zanetti would add the width to the side.
—————————————GK Roberto Abbondanzieri
RB Javier Zanetti ———-CB Roberto Ayala (c) —————–CB Gabriel Milito
———————————————————————————————-LB Juan Pablo Sorin
—————————DM Javier Mascherano —————-DM Esteban Cambiasso
RM Lionel Messi——————— CAM Juan Roman Riquelme ——————–LM Pablo Aimar
————————————————S Hernan Crespo