Estudiantes Duo Set To Start

Reports out of Argentina indicate that Diego Maradona will include Estudiantes de La Plata captain Juan Sebastian Veron in his starting eleven against Colombia on Saturday. Veron, 34, has 61 caps but has appeared only once during this World Cup Qualifying campaign, playing as a substitute in Argentina’s 4-0 win against Venezuela in March.

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Veron’s Estudiantes’ teammate Mariano Andujar, who has never played for Argentina, will also start becoming the third different goalkeeper to feature for Argentina since the campaign began in October, 2007.

The two are riding the success of being the only Argentine side left in the quarterfinals of the Copa Libertadores, and they are favorites to advance to the semis after a 1-0 win on the road against Uruguay’s Defensor Sporting in the first leg of their matchup.

It appears that Maradona will play with a three-man backline just as he did against Venezuela, with Getafe’s Daniel Diaz starting for another Estudiantes player, Marcos Angeleri, who is out with an injury.

Bayern Munich’s Martin Demichelis, suspended for the Venezueal game, will come in for Inter Milan captain Javier Zanetti, ending his streak of starting all of the matches in this campaign to date.

In the midfield, Fernando Gago, Javier Mascherno and Jonas Gutierrez all retain their places, but Maxi Rodriguez will be left out in favor of Veron, who will play more centrally and in an advanced role.

Bringing in Veron will certainly be a gamble, as it gives less help to Gago when Colombia attack down Argentina’s right, since there will be no winger to track back. Maradona is looking to show that he saw something in Veron when everyone else was calling for his head.

While I have never been a fan of Veron, I certainly hope he performs, for there is no doubt the boos and whistles he faced when he came on as a substitute in March will be there again if he is anything less than stellar.

Up front, Maradona will again deploy his “pequenos”, with the diminutive striking trio of Messi, Aguero, and Tevez. Although no one can argue with the way these three performed in their last outing together, Maradona is again trying to prove his critics wrong.

Almost all media outlets are calling for a target man to be included, but Maradona is determined to play only in his way, despite having an inform “number nine” in new Inter signing Diego Milito, who scored 24 goals for Genoa in Serie A this season.

While a classic center forward could be useful, Maradona will keep his faith in Tevez, after resurrecting his career with the National Team.

Carlitos was sent of twice (including the first game against Colombia) in the qualifiers and had not scored since a match against the USA in the 2007 Copa America, but Maradona has been a mentor for Tevez just as much as a coach, giving him advice on where to move next season as well as handing him a starting place.

Maradona holds a special affection for Tevez, as they both came from the slums of Buenos Aires to achieve glory, and who can blame El Diego for giving Tevez another chance, especially considering his recent displays at Manchester United.

Although I have been critical of Maradona, I see only one place in this line up where a problem could arise, but continuing to question the inclusion of Heinze is pointless, as it appears he is as good as a lock under Maradona as Messi (the only player other than Zanetti to have started all the qualifiers).

Veron’s inclusion may be a questionable decision, but his presence will allow Argentina to control the ball, which should be their best type of defense. The former Chelsea man can hopefully improve the woeful set pieces as well.

While I know Veron has been one of my main targets, I never disputed that he could play and contribute now, but it is doubtful he will be in the same form a year from now against some of the world’s best teams, but that bridge will be crossed when and if qualification is ensured.

I must also commend Maradona on starting Andujar over benched Lazio keeper Carrizo. It is imperative for international managers to start the in-form goalkeeper, and Maradona has done just that.

Andujar has been impeccable for Estudiantes this season, particularly in the Libertadores and in a recent league match against Hurucan, where he pulled off multiple saves in one-on-one situations.

I think Argentina should have no problem defeating Colombia in Buenos Aires with this line-up, and on paper it should be as easy as the Venezuela match. Colombia have managed just six goals in 12 qualifying games, showing their offensive deficiencies.

That does not mean Argentina should take their opponents lightly, for if Uruguay defeat Brazil in the early game Saturday, Argentina will be out of the automatic spots for the World Cup at kick off.

Even if Uruguay lose, a win is imperative for Argentina because their trip to Montevideo on the last match day looms in October, and the World Cup could be on the line at that point. Argentina must also face their demons at altitude against Ecuador in three days time, meaning all matches are now a cup finals.

Either way, look for Argentina to put the mauling in La Paz behind them, control the ball, and win this match two or three nil.

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