It appears as if Argentina has got into this habit of giving everyone a reason to celebrate. Today, it was Columbia at the other end. How long the festivities lasted, however, is a different story altogether.
Argentina started the game without a change in its lineup and in pretty much the same fashion as they did against the U.S. The yellow shirted Columbians, who were recently humbled by Paraguay, needed to put up a strong show to make amends and dream of staying a little longer on Venezuelan soil. With this in mind (and possibly Columbian media nightmares), they meant business right away.
Columbia struck in the 9th minutes when Argentina’s defense left Perea unmarked who neatly back-heeled to find the net. What followed in the next 10 minutes was indifferent play from Argentina. A number of haywire passes meant little control of the midfield, which in any case appeared in chaos (by Argentina’s standards ) with Riquelme and Veron once again resuming their joint venture. Messi, in the meanwhile, had not seen much of the ball when he hit the jackpot in the 19th minute.
The last thing the Columbians needed was a controversial penalty. That’s exactly what they got when Messi went up for the ball with a yellow shirt, who appeared to have done nothing wrong ( ironically, the referee was Brazilian ). Crespo equalized sending the ball hard down the middle; so hard that he pulled a muscle and called for an immediate replacement. On came Diego Milito, joining his brother in hot conditions.
With 33 minutes on the clock, Riquelme suddenly found himself on the scoreboard. The second goal was manufactured beautifully with a series of one-touch passes before Riquelme, less known for his headers, sent one beyond the keeper’s reach. There were periods of dull play which saw fouls being committed on a regular basis, mostly on the Argentineans. With 43 minutes gone and the crowd almost resigning to half-time, Messi justified his status as perhaps the most exciting player in world football. Patiently collecting a midfield ball, he sped away diagonally beating a good amount of yellow shirts before being unfairly dispossessed.
The free-kick that resulted provided Riquelme another opportunity to show how dangerous he could be on set-pieces. Having missed his previous two chances, he expertly squeezed this one through the wall, beating the keeper on his own side of the post.
Despite sitting pretty at 3-1, it was only after the interval that Argentina started playing their true game. The first few minutes of the second-half were an absolute delight to watch. It was not uncommon for a series of 15 or more consecutive touches to evade Columbian shirts. And with Messi frequently on the ball, the crowd had a lot to look out for.
The Columbians seemed to have given up and the game all but sealed when Argentina, despite all its pretty football, let one go in off a 72nd minute corner. The Columbians, fired up from this free gift, finally woke up and started to run at the Argentinean goal. They had their chances, the closest one producing a fine save from the keeper with Gabriel Milito clearing the ‘anyone’s ball’ that resulted. Another beautiful aerial ball was headed straight to the keeper. With Argentina protecting a slender lead, Diego Milito, who had been dreaming about god knows what the entire evening, showed up in the box out of nowhere and got the deflection that he needed. That finally sealed it.
A 4-2 result now requires Argentina to beat Paraguay to claim first place. While we wait for that game, Columbia can catch their flight back home.