HOUSTON – The US national team is not Venezuela.
That was the message from Argentina head coach Gerardo Martino during Monday’s press conference at NRG Stadium ahead of tonight’s semifinal bout against the US.
The Argentines, of course, comfortably rolled over Venezuela, 4-1, in their quarterfinal match to get to this stage, but noted that the Yanks will present a bigger challenge for his charges and are “different in how they can come at our team.”
Martino pointed to the USA’s first-half performance against Ecuador as evidence of that. Even more so, he said, because they got the victory against a good team, which is currently co-leading the CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying standings.
“I’m more worried about the US team from the first half against Ecuador,” said Martino. “Our intention is to be able to play a game more similar to the second half of the US and Ecuador match.”
Martino, in his second year at the helm, has seen the US program grow into a legitimate threat as a soccer nation.
“It’s grown. A lot,” said the one-time Barcelona head coach. “I may not be very precise about how much, but the first thing that comes to mind is the US’s continuous participations in World Cups and how well they compete in their regional qualifiers, and in the Copa America, when they get to play.”
On its way to the semifinal, Argentina have wins over Chile, Panama, Bolivia and Venezuela. When asked to rank the US among the teams they have played this tournament, the coach placed them second, behind Chile.
Looking back at their quarterfinal match against Venezuela, Martino said there were 15 minutes in that game that worried him, even if the worry came after Argentina was already in the lead. Looking ahead to tonight' game, the coach wants his team to be alert for all 90 minutes.
“I don’t expect a total 90-minute control in [tonight]’s game,” said Martino. “I do expect if we are ahead, for the team not to look like they did in those 15 minutes against Venezuela.”