Blog Written by Matteo Bellini:
The Argentineans have already booked a place in the knockout round, while Bolivia know they are already out of the tournament. Will Argentina crash through the group stage unbeaten or will Bolivia spoil that and try to give their people a little joy after an uninspired campaign?
They did it once again Argentina prove why they are top dogs. Even with an alternative squad that sported the likes of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Matias Kraneviter, they tore apart a very wounded Bolivia team that already knew they were out of the tournament and couldn’t prevent losing all three matches of the group stage. Argentina imposed its dominance from the beginning not only due to their superiority on a footballing level but you could almost feel the frustration Bolivia was suffering evidenced by their impotence and the nasty fouls they committed. The score was opened when Erik Lamela’s free kick was deflected by a Bolivian player and ended in the back of the net after only 13 minutes.
The situation was made worse after only two minutes later when Lavezzi took advantage of a rebound product of a Gonzalo Higuain header. The Argentinians always posed a threat and always looked confident going forward and defending. Bolivia did little to disturb Argentina’s dominance and failed to worry Sergio Romero and his defense. Soon enough another goal came after a great play which resulted in a cross that Cuesta tapped in.
When the second half was about to start the whole stadium exploded in joy as they saw Messi ready to join the action. We also saw the return Lucas Biglia who had been injured. This of course marked the end of Ever Banega’s game, who had a solid performance pulling the strings and creating chances. Gonzalo Higuain, the Napoli superstar, also was subbed off, in favor of Messi. Once again he had an uninspired performance and only his header that ended up helping Lavezzi score was worth noting. I guess we all expect more from the top scorer of Serie A. Still, the second half had little action, the Argentina siege of Bolivia’s half never stopped but a great green wall was built and eleven men defended against the Albiceleste led by Lionel Messi. which caused the score board to remain unchanged. Though the Argentine ace couldn´t score, he still showed great footwork and made the Bolivians enraged with his unstoppable moves. Argentina was one goal away from breaking the record of most goals scored in the group stage matches in the history of the Copa America.
All in all, it was a tidy performance by the Argentinian’s who won all three matches of the group stage and come in as strong as favorites to take the trophy home. The five guys in the back, including Romero and Jonathan Maidana didn’t have to worry too much as Bolivia looked sterile in attack. Argentina’s midfield led by Ever Banega was great when distributing and recovering balls. Matias Kranevitter’s work should be noted as the youngster had a great match. Biglia, who came in when the second half started, proved that he should be a starter. The three men up front looked very dangerous in attack. Lavezzi had a great game as well as Aguero, they both proved an effective threat. Higuain yet again proves he might not be up to task and Messi who replaced him did what Messi does best, make fans world wide scream his name as he had a quiet performance.
Argentina moves on to the elimination phase and will go head to head against Venezuela. Will this be their year and dispatch Venezuela as easily as their group stage match ups or will Salomon Rondon and his fellow teammates shock everyone and make history? The two nations face off in the Copa America Centenario quarterfinal on June 18 at the Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts
Italy come in as underdogs to this match up in Group E and no one could’ve put it in better words than Italy’s coach, "There will be warriors on the pitch for both sides, (…) " and that is what Italy will have to take to Lyon if they want to beat Belgium a squad which is a favorite in this competition (they even are ranked 2nd in the latest FIFA World Rankings). In their previous match up in November 2015, Belgium trashed Italy 3-1. Will the Azzurri prove everyone wrong and make a statement or will they succumb to the pressure of facing one of the favorites to win the tournament?
Blog Written by Matteo Bellini:
Arguably the best match of Euro 2016 thus far ended with Italy beating Belgium 2-0 in somewhat of a shock result. The Italians have put their foot down and made a clear statement that they might even challenge for the silverware, and not even Mark Clattenburg could save Belgium from losing this match.
To begin with, Italy owed their victory to themselves as much as to the fact that Belgium really had an underwhelming performance as a group and on an individual level as well. The only thing I can say about Belgium is that Thibaut Courtois had a great performance. He was decisive, making some great saves and Jan Vertonghen was very solid in defense, but they couldn’t save their team from defeat as both Romelu Lukaku and Divock Origi both wasted very good chances. This Belgian side looked quite sterile on attack, not only due to their own deficiencies but also the great defensive work displayed by the Italians. I am sure most people expected more from the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne.
Now, let’s talk about the boys in blue. Italy lacked some creativity and precision but they compensated for that with an unrelenting willingness to win. It was clear that the victory was more than just being first in its group; it was a statement and a huge confidence boost, evidenced by Gigi Buffon, who ran the whole pitch to celebrate with his teammates when Graziano Pellé scored in stoppage time. When I first saw how Italy would line up I was worried and angry. I was wondering why would you start Emanuele Giaccherini? Éder? Many agree there are players who don’t deserve to be on the national team and needless to say not starters. I would have gone with Lorenzo Insigne or Stephan El Shaarawy. But Conte proved many wrong, including myself, and made it miraculously work! Giaccherini had an respectable match, not only scoring but he ran the whole time and made some crucial blocks but he still misplaced a handful of passes. Pellé, the other goal scorer, had a very good match almost scoring two headers; Courtois saved one and the other one went wide. As for the rest of the team, there were some mistakes, which resulted in yellow cards. Most were fair, like Éder’s and Bonucci’s who stopped counter attacks but others where really un-called fo. Still, no red cards so that is a good thing.
To sum up, the four-man team the Italian’s have borrowed from Juventus had a huge part in the victory and looked solid throughout the game. Bonucci was fantastic both defensively and going forward, with a sublime assist to Giaccherini. The five man middle proved very effective when defending but lacked some creativity going forward. Daniele De Rossi and Marco Parolo had similar jobs and both played well, though I know they have it in them to completely boss the midfield, at least De Rossi. Antonio Candreva was effective on the right flank and showed up big as he assisted Pellé who scored an exquisite volley. As for Éder he had good movement off the ball though he didn’t really create much or have a chance to score. Matteo Darmian put in a solid performance and so did his replacement Mattia De Sciglio. Thiago Motta didn´t have time to make an impact. Ciro Immobile showed great movement and speed off the bench, while almost scoring but he did help create Italy’s second goal.
It is Italy who will celebrate today as they climb to the top of Group E and could very well be preparing to go deep in the tournament. I hope Conte will be willing to be a bit more attacking-minded in the remaining group stage games. Next match for Italy will be against Sweden on the 17th. Will they manage to keep up the great display they put on today or will Zlatan and his gang steal three crucial points?
Argentina played Panama at Soldier Field stadium in Chicago for their second game of the tournament. Both teams were coming off 2-1 victories. Panama put in a historic performance against Bolivia but would they have enough to get anything Argentina?
Blog Written by Matteo Bellini:
Wow! Take a bow, just take a bow son. That was pure magic from the maestro Messi. I mean come on it is not fair! In less than 30 minutes, Messi managed to make a quite good Argentina side look like a full-on destroying machine.
Argentina took the lead early on after a great Di Maria free kick, which was headed into the net by Nicolás Otamendi. Along with the opening goal, Otamendi looked very solid in the back along with Funes Mori, Gabriel Mercado and Marcos Rojo. The game was a bit irregular mainly due to the imprecision of both teams and the uncalled and basically unethical fouls by Panamanian players, which eventually resulted in the sending off of Anibal Godoy in the 30th minute.
Surely a major blow for Argentina is the loss of Angel Di Maria who had to be subbed off after he got injured five minutes prior the end of the first half. Erik Lamela, who replaced him, couldn’t live up to the standards of his compatriot and didn’t have much of an impact on the match. The game had become stale again in the early part of the second half. In the 61st minute, Argentina’s coach, Tata Martino to the absolute delight of the 53,885 people in attendance decided to sub Lionel Messi on. Now this was where everything changed in favor of Argentina. Messi came in and the crowed cheered and basically he did what he does best, I mean there is a reason why this guy is considered the best player in the world. He added movement, speed and precision something that was lacking. He was very lucky to find a ball that hit Gonzalo Higuain in the face at his feet and with grace, he curved into the back of the net. This apart from one shot is what Higuain did during the game as he ended another disappointing match with the Albiceleste and was subbed off in favor of Sergio Agüero. Messi continued to show his magic, scoring an exquisite free kick, while also delivering a perfect ball to Rojo who then assisted Agüero. This was the icing on the cake for a pretty irregular night from the Argentines who have now qualified for the quarterfinals and thanks to the return of their ace are surely ready to seriously challenge for the trophy.
To sum it all up: goalkeeper Sergio Romero had a couple of interventions and was always reliable. Mercado and Rojo, Argentina’s fullbacks, contributed in attack as well as defense and looked pretty solid the whole match. Next up is the middle where Augusto Fernandez and Javier Mascherano made things look easy. Though they didn’t manage to add much in attack they looked solid, especially Mascherano who saved Argentina from what would’ve been a certain goal after a Panama counter attack. Ever Banega, who Argentina relies on to add a creative spark, was underwhelming to say the least, although he did have a part in some good plays. Nicolás Gaitan played well adding good speed and movement. Di Maria had to be subbed off after his injury but still showed his quality on free kicks having assisted Otamendi in the 6th minute. Finally the striker from Napoli, Gonzalo Higuain, failed once again to score and only managed to get one shot on target and a lucky assist to Messi with his face. As for the subs, Lamela was underwhelming to say the least, Agüero looked good on the ball and had some flashes of genius in the small time he was given, and finally Messi who really played like the legend we all know him to be and showed glimpses of the magnificent Barcelona player he is, this time with his national team. His 19 minute hat trick will surely shut up many of his critics in the country.
Argentina plays their last group stage match against Bolivia on Tuesday, June 4. As heavy favorites they will look to close out on a strong note and win their group.