Argentina ponder options for Colombia clash
They have learned a harsh lesson from a last-minute arrival in Venezuela last month where they were upset 1-0, Argentina's first ever defeat by the baseball-mad country 5,000 km to the north.
What was not in coach Alejandro Sabella's plans before the Bolivia match on Friday was a serious rethink of his line-up and tactics to face Colombia in Barranquilla on the Caribbean coast.
Sabella is pondering his choices in defence after Martin Demichelis was slow to control an easy ball and striker Marcelo Martins robbed him, turned and shot past Sergio Romero to put Bolivia ahead.
He knows former captain Javier Mascherano, a tactically disciplined player and good reader of the game, has been filling in well as a central defender at Barcelona and may use him in the middle of a back three.
"Mascherano is an intelligent, resourceful player who reads the action well and despite not being tall he is competitive in the air," Sabella said.
He also needs to continue working on his midfield formation to bring out the best in Lionel Messi, who was marked into submission by the packed Bolivia defence, and it does not help being deprived of an injured Angel di Maria.
Argentina want time, even if it is only little more than a full day, to acclimatise to 40 degree heat at the Metropolitano stadium in Barranquilla where kick-off is at 4pm local time.
"It's very hot, humid, and it could rain. It's problematic," Sabella told reporters in mid-week when he confirmed he would take his team in early.
"[Colombia] have an advantage and a disadvantage. The first is that they don't have to travel... the second is that they'll play in extreme heat against Venezuela."
Two home games on the trot in the marathon, nine-nation, 18-match qualifying series is a rarity and it was Colombia's turn to benefit from the calendar this month.
But Venezuela snatched a surprise late equaliser in Barranquilla on Friday for a 1-1 draw as Colombia's defence lost concentration and committed an error similar to Argentina's against Bolivia in Buenos Aires.
Venezuela substitute Frank Felstcher stole between the centre-backs, snatching the ball off a lackadaisical Luis Perea and steering it past stranded goalkeeper David Ospina.
Colombia coach Leonel Alvarez lost winger Fredy Guarin, scorer of the opening goal on Friday, to a leg injury. Alvarez was already missing striker Radamel Falcao and midfielder Carlos Sanchez for both matches.
Uruguay, top of the standings with seven points from three matches after they crushed Chile 4-0 in Montevideo with all four goals scored by Luis Suarez, have a bye on Tuesday when they meet Italy in a friendly in Rome.
Argentina and Colombia are among four teams with four points. The others are Paraguay, who visit a Chile side nursing their bruised pride at the Nacional in Santiago, and Venezuela, who are at home to Bolivia at the Polideportivo in San Cristobal.