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Time out ref, Argentina needs a change

Originally published on February 25, 2021

In the last match of the She Believes Cup, Argentina had its biggest test of the last year and a half… and it failed miserably. I’m not talking about the score here. Everybody knew Argentina was inferior to the other three nations they had to compete against in this short invitational tournament. Most of the people on women’s soccer know by now the struggles the South American nation faced in the past and faces nowadays. So when the news about Argentina being included in the prestigious She Believes Cup broke out, many fans and journalists in United States asked “Why are they here?”, “What have they done to deserve to be in this tournament?”

After the campaign they had at the 2019 World Cup, people and pundits started to pay attention to a national team long forgotten not only by the world but by its country itself. The bar was raised and after that 3-3 match against Scotland, the bar was higher than ever. But after the lights in Parc des Princes went off on France, after the group phase actually, Argentina had to go back home and face the hard reality again. When they returned not everything was the same. The World Cup is the pinnacle of football, a great place to show what you can do as a player. If you want to make the jump to the big leagues, the World Cup is the perfect place to showcase yourself if you’re a player. And that’s exactly what some Argentine players did. So along with the good performances, new contracts to clubs in Europe where offered to many of them and, in time, even one to play in the NWSL, but what the players are achieving at a club level is not reflected in the national team. The reasons? Many but most of them point out to Argentina’s head coach, Carlos Borrello.

We have seen what the team can do on a defensive level. Hell, if there was a prize to ‘best defense’ in the World Cup, Argentina would have been a serious contender. After the World Cup, it was the time for the Panamerican tournament in Lima and Argentina went to Peru without some of its big names such as the captain Estefania Banini, Florencia Bonsegundo, Ruth Bravo and Belén Potassa. The reason? They demanded a change. Borrello has been on and off as the head coach for almost two decades now (from 1998 to 2014 and then back again since 2017) and even though processes are important, you have to give the coach the time and resources to grow as a coach and with the team, it’s time for a change. Worldwide football moves fast, faster than ever, and coach Borrello has proved that he’s not familiar with new tactics and his knowledge of the leagues and opponents is very limited.

The Argentinian Football Association (AFA), under the new president Chiqui Tapia, has been advocating for women’s football in Argentina for some time now. New locker rooms in Ezeiza (where both the men and women’s team train) just for the women were built, new projects to make the local league grow were presented and approved, the federation volunteered to host the cancelled U-20 world cup in 2020 and even Copa America in 2022, Buenos Aires will host the Copa Libertadores (something that has never happened before) this coming March… it’s not like the federation is not trying, but the main problem, the major change maybe, is not coming.

“We come here to compete, to win minutes, to play against the best of the best.” “I’d rather compete against these nations than those ranked at 60 or 70.” Coach Carlos Borrello answered over and over again when asked different questions about the performance of the Argentinian national team by the press.

Those answers were great. Who doesn’t want to compete against Brazil, coached by the one and only Pia Sundhage and where magicians like Marta and Debinha play? Who doesn’t want to compete against a team like Canada who’s always in big tournaments and has football pedigree with all those Olympics medals and the top goalscorer at international level in its squad? I know Christine Sinclair was injured and didn’t play but still. And also, who doesn’t want to compete against the back to back World Cup champions?

Competing it’s great but what it’s worrisome is the lack of growth the Argentinian national team has had since 2019. True, they almost won the Panamerican gold medal but we have to consider that Brazil, United States and Canada, the three power houses of the continent, didn’t play in that tournament. After those games in Lima, we got confirmation that Argentina can compete against Latin American teams and even get to the main rounds and win a medal, the problem is that when you put it against the top 15 teams. Many will say “but COVID…” and it’s true: 2020 was a nasty year for everybody, included many national teams if not all of them, but we know that in the case of Latin American teams there’s always a “valid reason” to use as an excuse for the lack of competition.

Twenty years is a very long time for one person to be the head coach of a national team and even more so if said team is playing defence for decades now and can’t build a single play in 90 minutes against a top opponent to make its defence sweat at least a little. And let’s make this clear: I’m not one of those people who immediately says “sack the coach!” when something goes very wrong but after almost 20 years without significant growth (winning Copa America 17 years ago barely counts at this point) one thing it’s clear: Carlos Borrello is no Joachim Löw. At all.

A wind of change is hitting Latin American countries: It started with Brazil appointing Pia Sundhage as a head coach, Duda Luizelli as the team manager and Aline Pellgrino as the Head of Competitions (new role, created by CBF). It was followed by Ecuador who appointed Emily Lima as head coach and she’s now working to put said nation on the map with a solid project. Change also hit Mexico most recently, who appointed Monica Vergara, Maribel Dominguez and Ana Galindo as the head coaches of the senior, U-20 and U-17 national teams, respectively. Chile, who’s under the same coach since 2010, it’s the second strongest nation in South America now and is looking forward to the playoffs against Cameroon to obtain a ticket for the Olympics.

After the 6-0 defeat for February 25th 2021 against United States, coach Borrello left the stadium without wanting to talk to the press. The reason? He and the national team had an early flight to take to go back to their country. Even though understandable, that attitude brings more criticism and questions than anything else. The road to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand starts officially in 2022 for Argentina when Copa America takes place (dates TBD) but the team should take the She Believes Cup as the starting point to build from if it wants more than just qualify and play at the main stage of football. We already have seen how the Argentine players gave even what they didn’t have in 2019 and therefore nobody doubts the love they have for their national team jersey and the qualities they posses but 2023 will bring a new level, with more nations stepping up and trying to finally dethroned the almighty United States. For the past two decades, Coach Borrello has taught them how to defend, what they need now is someone who can teach them how to build from the back, take advantage of set pieces and build connections on the field. Will Argentina put more than a fight in 2023? We don’t know but what we do now is where to start to make this possible. 

Final numbers (Opta) of Argentina in the She Believes Cup:

Games play: 3

Average possession: 38%

Duels won: 45.1%

Aerial duels won: 48.1%

Offsides: 1

Goals conceded: 11

Tackles: 55

Tackles won: 63.64%

Passing accuracy: 65.3% – Long passes: 21%

Total crosses: 7

Goals per game: 0.33

Total shots (excluded blocked shorts): 12

Shooting accuracy: 41.7%

Goals: 1