While I doubt you could find many people that would contest that Argentina is spoiled for choice in attack, there seems to be plenty of talk about what to do in defense. With the retirement of Roberto Ayala, the No. 2 shirt is up for grabs. The problem is that there isn't much excitement over who might be ready to step up and put that shirt on.
Argentina host Chile on Saturday as both sides kick off their campaigns to qualify for South Africa 2010. There is no consensus among the Argentine press concerning the huge hole (both figuratively and literally) that Ayala leaves in the back line. You just don't replace someone with 105 caps overnight.
Thus, we're stuck with trying to plug players in, players that, in my opinion, leave a lot to be desired. National team boss Alfio Basile has included the following candidates for the games against Chile and Venezuela (on Tuesday):
Gabriel Milito (27 years old, Barcelona), Gabriel Heinze (29, Real Madrid), Martin Demichelis (26, Bayern Munich), Nicolas Burdisso (26, Inter), Fabricio Coloccini (25, Deportivo La Coruna) y Daniel Diaz (28, Getafe)
Surely, Milito reprises his center back role after a competent performance at the Copa America. as for his partner, national team vet Oscar Ruggeri would like to see Demichelis in Ayala's spot: "Of the guys on the list right now, Demichelis has to play because of his experience and because he plays in a top flight league. I like him because he's good with the ball at his feet and he knows how to head the ball. Winning in the air is going to be important in these matches."
One of Ruggeri's old teammates, Fernando Caceres, agrees: Demichelis has good qualities. He's a good header of the ball and is in great shape. He's shown that he can deal with the pressure, every week in Germany he has to face big, strong forwards. Bayern Munich is doing very well right now, he deserves some of the credit for their great start to the season."
While 1986 World Cup-winning boss Carlos Bilardo would go with either Burdisso or Demichelis, he doesn't like the situation that Argentina currently find themselves in: "Burdisso and Demichelis are good, but they're both a little lacking when they play as the last man. Centerbacks have to have experience playing as the last man because of the way that Argentina play, constantly attacking. Thus, the defenders have to constantly be on alert. To play at the international level you need to be in peak physical shape, have a little size to you, and know how to play the ball out of the back."
If we go by the numbers, after Milito(12 matches) and Ayala(10), the player with the most appearances in Burdisso(5). If both he and Demichelis are fit, Burdisso would be my bet to start alongside Milito. And maybe, in the end, Chile in Buenos Aires and Venezuela in Maracaibo is the ideal testing ground for a new centerback. For those of us who love the way Argentina play, let's hope so.
Un problema central (in Spanish) [La Nacion]