REUTERS – Argentina’s shock 2-0 defeat by Ecuador at the River Plate stadium on Thursday has brought back bitter memories of the last time they lost at the same venue, a 5-0 humiliation by Colombia 22 years ago.
That defeat in September, 1993, also in a World Cup qualifier, sparked chants of “Maradoooo…na” from the packed stands.
Argentina recovered after recalling their idol Diego Maradona and went on to have a better 1994 World Cup than the Colombians, although their talismanic playmaker was kicked out of the finals in the United States for doping.
There were no chants on Thursday for the absent Lionel Messi, who is nursing a knee injury, from the largely quiet and sparse crowd at a cold Monumental, an indication that Argentines are not in love with their team.
After the double disappointment of losing the 2014 World Cup and 2015 Copa America finals, Argentina remain in a trophy drought dating back to 1993.
The defeat to Ecuador comes as a warning to coach Gerardo Martino that his all-out attacking game is built on a flimsy defence, especially when Pablo Zabaleta and Marcos Rojo are missing on the flanks.
Fullbacks Facundo Roncaglia and Emmanuel Mas, on his competitive debut, were given the run-around by Premier League-based wingers Jefferson Montero and Antonio Valencia and got little support from the midfield.
The tall but fragile Javier Pastore is not the playmaker Argentina have lacked since Juan Ramon Riquelme’s day and he needs Messi alongside him to have an impact.
“Playing badly with the ball led to the damage without it,” Martino told the post-match news conference.
“When we couldn’t circulate the ball, finish moves, each reply from our opponents produced gaps. The worst is what we didn’t do when we had the ball… Ecuador were superior in all facets of the game, we lost our shape as a team.”
Without Messi, the seeds of defeat may have been inadvertently sown days before when Sergio Aguero scored five goals for Manchester City while not entirely fit.
Aguero, who has scored 11 goals in the Martino era, did not train properly with Argentina during the week, but Martino said he was fine and played him in Messi’s number 10 shirt.
The striker pulled up with a leg problem before the half hour and Carlos Tevez, who received the only standing ovation of the night when he came on as his substitute, had a poor game.
Tevez has seen limited playing time under Martino and has been deployed in a different position from at his club Boca Juniors.
Angel Di Maria, a left footer who began the game on the right in Messi’s position, has been struggling for 18 months to revive his best form.
Argentina need to recover quickly from this setback if they are to beat a renascent Paraguay in Asuncion on Tuesday and kick-start their campaign.
(Reporting by Rex Gowar; editing by Toby Davis)