Gillette Stadium is sure to be electric on Saturday (7, Fox Sports 1) as the world’s best soccer player, Lionel Messi, and Argentina (3-0-0) make a rare visit to the Northeast.
Argentina will take on upstart Venezuela (2-1-0) in a 2016 Copa America quarterfinal match. Argentina has played like the best team in the tournament as they were the only one to win all three of their group (D) matches. Venezuela got here by surviving a tough Group C: they pulled off a major upset by beating Uruguay 1-0 on June 9 and then they tied Mexico, 1-1, on June 13 to surprisingly finish without any losses in their first three games.
ESPN Soccer Power Index (SPI), which is usually very accurate in their predictions, gives Argentina an 88 percent chance to advance to the semifinals against the winner of the U.S. vs. Ecuador. That potentially high-profile showdown between Messi and the Americans on their home turf would take place next Tuesday. You’d obviously be silly to bet against Argentina (although the pay off would be extremely high) but as Venezuela has already shown in this tournament, they are not a pushover by any means and their country should be known athletically for more than its baseball prowess these days.
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Argentina really only had to compete in its first match (a 2-1 win vs. Chile). They beat up on Panama (5-0) on June 10 and overmatched Bolivia (3-0) on June 14 in glorified exhibition matches for arguably the top national team in men’s soccer. Messi rightfully gets most of the headlines but Argentina’s 10 goals have been scored by eight different players (Messi is fittingly the only one with multiple goals). Angel Di Maria, Ever Banega, Nicolas Otamendi, Sergio Aguero (another one of the top strikers), Erik Lamela, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Victor Cuesta each have a goal, proving what an embarrassment of riches that Argentina possesses.
The key for Venezuela will be to not get too flustered when Argentina scores since that is basically a given. Similar to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA - when Argentina’s high-powered offense gets rolling, there isn’t much that most teams can do to stop them. Each of Venezuela’s wins were by one goal and then they had the draw with Mexico, so they are used to playing in tight, low-scoring affairs. They figure to only get a few good chances in the offensive zone so they have to make the most of them. Defender Jose Manuel Velazquez, striker Josef Martinez and striker Salomon Rondon all have scored one goal apiece for Venezuela at 2016 Copa America. Additionally, Argentina is sure to dominate in possession (thus wearing down the opposition) so anytime that Venezuela can get the ball they have to hold onto it for as long as they can. Defending for the majority of a match against Argentina is a sure-fire recipe for disaster.