Argentina is set to take on Colombia on Saturday in a highly anticipated clash to be held at Salvador’s Fonte Nova stadium kicking off their 2019 Copa America campaigns as well as Group B competitions.
Argentina arrived with fresh blood in Brazil, with Lionel Scaloni, an inexperienced 41-year-old coach, who is set to make his competitive debut with the national team.
Only nine players made it through the rebuilding process that started after the 2018 FIFA World Cup, out of whom Lionel Messi outstands.
On the verge of 32 years old, the Barcelona star seems to have taken on the tournament with the enthusiasm of a young player seeking his first title with the national team.
Argentina faces the challenge of winning the tourney following major disappointment after losing the most recent two editions in 2015 and 2016.
The frustration was such that Messi briefly quit the national team.
“I am still in the national team because I am going to continue to insist, as much as I can, to win something big,” a relaxed Messi said with a big grin on his face.
However, he shrugged off the weight of playing on a team considered one of the favorites to win the tournament.
“We came with a new team so the favorites are Brazil and Uruguay, not Argentina this time,” the Argentina all-time top scorer with 67 goals added.
To win the Copa America is not a challenge for Messi only, but also for Scaloni, the rest of the team and even all his countrymen given Argentina last won a title 26 years ago.
With Messi leading, three other experienced players who are expected to be in the starting lineup against Colombia will debut; Sergio Aguero, Nicolas Otamendi and Angel Di María.
At the other end of the field, Argentina will face Colombia led by Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz, a much more experienced manager than Scaloni, although he is also set to steer Colombia in a competitive tournament for the first time.
During the most recent stop of his coaching career, he led Iran to the AFC Asian Cup semifinal earlier this year and to the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
After an eight-year spell with Iran, Queiroz took the helm of the Colombian national team and faced the challenge of filling the shoes of Jose Pekerman of Argentina.
Under Pekerman, Colombia qualified for the two most recent World Cup editions, making the quarterfinal in 2014 and the fifth spot in 2018.
As the 66-year-old took over, new faces have been called up for the national team, although the coach maintained the backbone of the squad; James Rodriguez, Radamel Falcao, David Ospina and Juan Cuadrado.
“We have to dream of winning the Copa America, we came for that, but it is better to go one step at a time,” Falcao said recently.
The former Atletico Madrid and current Monaco player hinted that at 33 years old he does not have much time left with the national team.
“This could be my last Copa America. I am experiencing like this and it is the best way to demand more from himself,” the Colombia top scorer said.
The match represents a major challenge for Colombia who has not defeated Argentina in nearly 12 years and has failed to find the back of the net in their most recent four matches.
However, the Colombian national team has posted big wins in the buildup for the tournament, having prevailed over Panama and Peru 3-0 in the most recent two friendlies.
Argentina: Franco Armani; Renzo Saravia, Germán Pezzella, Nicolás Otamendi, Nicolás Tagliafico; Giovani Lo Celso, Guido Rodríguez, Leandro Paredes, Ángel Di María; Lionel Messi and Sergio Agüero.
Coach: Lionel Scaloni.
Colombia: David Ospina: Santiago Arias, Yerry Mina, Dávinson Sánchez, William Tesillo; Wilmar Barrios, Juan Cuadrado, Matheus Uribe; James Rodríguez, Luis Muriel and Falcao García.
Coach: Carlos Queiroz.
Referee: Roberto Tobar of Chile assisted by his countrymen Christian Schiemann and Claudio Ríos.
Venue: Salvador’s 50,000-seater Arena Fonte Nova stadium. EFE