Argentina are determined to avoid allowing Ecuador any sweet 16 celebrations after Saturday’s quarter-final, having never lost in 15 previous Copa America clashes with La Tri.
Experienced defender Nicolas Otamendi said Argentina would look to provide a platform for their attacking stars, who include the likes of Lionel Messi and Lautaro Martinez, by keeping it tight at the back against the Ecuadorians.
While Argentina topped their group, achieving three wins and a draw from four games, Ecuador scraped through with three draws and a defeat from the pool containing Brazil.
It was a 1-1 draw with an under-strength Brazil in Goiania on Sunday that carried Ecuador into the knockout rounds, and it would be a monumental shock if they beat Argentina.
However, the last-eight clash is also being played in Goiania, at the Estadio Olimpico Pedro Ludovico where Ecuador tamed the Selecao.
Otamendi, the former Manchester City star who now plays club football for Benfica, said: “Defensive solidity gives you a better attack. With the attacking potential we have, it’s important to give them security so they can attack calmly.
“We have to try to have defensive order to take advantage of the potential we have from midfield forward.”
Otamendi added: “This shirt demands commitment and winning tournaments. You always want to make a mark with your country. We will try to do our best to progress.”
Argentina last won the Copa America in 1993 and head coach Lionel Scaloni told a news conference that playmaker Giovani Lo Celso would start Saturday’s game.
“Ecuador are rivals of maximum difficulty,” Scaloni added. “We must respect them and go out into the field with total humility. It will be a very difficult match.”
Ecuador midfielder Jhegson Mendez was outstanding against Brazil, with team highs for possession gained (10 times) and interceptions (3), while finding his man with 48 of 50 passes for a 96 per cent success rate.
It will take something similar to attempt to stifle Argentina, and Mendez said on Friday: “Every game is different, each team has its own approach. We have ours and we will try in midfield to control as much of the game as possible to give ourselves more chances and be 100 per cent concentrated to minimise errors.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Argentina – Lionel Messi
Amid seemingly endless hoopla over when or whether he will sign a new Barcelona contract, Messi is attempting to stay focused on delivering a major trophy for his country. He won an Olympic gold medal with Argentina in 2008 but that feels like a meagre return for his contribution to La Albiceleste. Messi took his tallies to 75 goals and 148 appearances when he struck twice in the group finale against Bolivia. It is beyond obvious that he is the man Ecuador will fear the most.
Ecuador – Jhegson Mendez
Enner Valencia and Angel Mena were excellent going forward against Brazil, but Ecuador’s hopes for their clash with a full-strength Argentina are likely to hinge on how they manage the game. If Mendez and his midfield colleagues can show discipline, keep their shape and protect their defence, they will have done exceedingly well. But that will be imperative if they are to somehow pull off a victory.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Argentina have never lost against Ecuador at the Copa America in 15 games (W10 D5). The Argentinians have scored in 13 of those 15 games. However, this will be the first meeting between the teams in the knockout stage of the competition.
– Argentina have kept three cleen sheets in their last five games against Ecuador in the Copa America (W3 D2). In this period, Argentina have scored 12 goals and only conceded two.
– Ecuador have lost just one of their last five games in the Copa America, including a draw with guest team Japan at the 2019 tournament. However, they are winless in these five matches, with four draws and a defeat.
– Argentina were the only team to score a direct free-kick in the 2021 Copa America group stage. Messi scored this goal against Chile at the start of the competition.
– Messi was the player with the most dribbles completed (22) in the group stage.
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