|Hosts Argentina will be aiming to steal the crown off 2007 Copa America champions Brazil [GALLO/GETTY]
Carlos Tevez will line up alongside Lionel Messi in Argentina’s attack when the hosts open the Copa America against Bolivia in La Plata on Friday.
Coach Sergio Batista said the decision was part of the tactics he had devised for Messi to have a brilliant tournament and inspire Argentina to clinch the South American title they last won in 1993.
Less than a month ago, Tevez appeared out of the running for a place in Argentina’s squad but he and Batista cleared the air over issues that had kept the striker out of the reckoning and he has impressed the coach in training.
“Carlos will play because he can link much more with Lionel and the idea is not to have players of such speed as we would have if (Angel) Di Maria and (Ezequiel) Lavezzi played (either side of Messi)… With Carlos we have more play,” Batista told reporters on Thursday.
“I don’t go by popular clamour. If I say Tevez must play it’s because that’s best for the national team”
Argentina coach Sergio Batista
Batista, who has dropped Di Maria to the bench to make way for Tevez, denied he had bowed to popular demand and media pressure to include the Manchester City captain.
“I don’t go by popular clamour. If I say Tevez must play it’s because that’s best for the national team. He has earned his place on his own,” Batista said.
Batista said he had alternative tactics if Messi were suffocated by Bolivian marking.
“We discussed Messi getting man-to-man marking and we have a plan B, someone (else) who will take control of the team and the ball,” he said.
“Lionel must enjoy what he’s doing, he’s a great player, the world’s best, and we’ll take maximum advantage of that. We built a team for him and let’s hope it’s his Copa America.”
While most eyes are on Argentina’s tournament curtain-raiser against Bolivia, Colombia and Costa Rica are gearing up for their Copa America opener on Saturday at Jujuy.
Although the Argentinians are hot favourites to win Group A, second spot looks up for grabs and Costa Rica will be doubly keen to make the most of their last-minute invite following the withdrawal of Japan owing to the fallout from the deadly tsunami three months ago.
Coach Ricardo La Volpe will in particular hope for a strong showing as he wants to show what his Central Americans are made of, particularly as his side will later go up against his Argentinian compatriots.
La Volpe is Buenos-Aires born and was the reserve goalkeeper in the 1978 Argentine World Cup side but this month his loyalties are firmly with the ‘Ticos’ as they look to make the most of their invitation to the party for the fourth time after 1997, 2001 and 2004.
Colombian counterpart Hernan Darío ‘Bolillo’ Gomez will likewise be expecting his side to get off to a flier as they target a second win after 2001, when they lifted the crown on home soil.
“If we don’t get through the first round of the Copa America then I’m off – that much is clear. That is, I shan’t so much just go; they’ll fire me”
Colombia coach Hernan Dario Gomez
Whereas Costa Rica have a largely inexperienced side the Colombians will be expecting their strikeforce of Porto star Radamel Falcao Garcia and Teofilo Gutierrez, who plys his league trade in Argentina with Racing Club, to put three early points on the scoreboard.
Even if the likes of former greats Faustino Asprilla and Carlos Valderrama are no longer around to call upon, Gomez certainly expects the ‘cafeteros’ to get through the pool.
“If we don’t get through the first round of the Copa America then I’m off – that much is clear. That is, I shan’t so much just go; they’ll fire me,” said Gomez as he looked forward to the opening encounter.
Like many of the teams here – though Argentina want to break an 18-year trophy drought and also prevent a Brazilian hattrick of wins – Colombia are primarily preparing for the 2014 World Cup.
Gomez notes that while he believes he has a good team in the making he must look to 2014 as the goal as “Colombia haven’t been to the last three World Cups so that’s 13 years we have not been doing well and we are starting from zero.”
He added that he was wary of Costa Rica as he much respected La Volpe as a coach.
Even so, Costa Rica will be underdogs in that their main squad was just recently in action at the Gold Cup, hence they will be missing some of their more experienced names such as Bryan Ruiz, Marcos Urena and keeper Keylor Navas.
Despite that, they do have up-and-coming talent as witnesseed by a fourth-place finish at the under20 world championships two seasons ago in Egypt