Argentina might not have it all their own way against USA in Wednesday's semi-final.
The improving hosts take on the so far untroubled favourites in Houston in the first of the semi-finals. Last year’s semi-finals saw Argentina record a 6-1 win over Paraguay but 17 of 44 major semi-finals (Copas, Euros or World Cups) since 1990 have finished all-square and 59% have had fewer than three goals, so it could be closer than expected. In the USA’s favour is that they’ve had five days to prepare for this game while Argentina have had just three, and with the game being played in a hot and humid Houston that could be significant. Since 2011, there have been 26 Copa matches where one side had received at least one extra days rest (the majority being just one extra day) and those teams have gone W13-D9-L5.
After losing their opening game the USA have rebounded to win three in a row, and in all internationals they’ve won seven of their last eight matches. That includes four wins in their last five against CONMEBOL nations but against the best South American sides they still have a very poor record. They’ve lost 12 of their last 14 games against CONMEBOL teams in the top five in our rankings. However, they’ve been fairly solid at the back since their opening game and at the last World Cup they lost just 1-0 against Germany and held Belgium to a 0-0 draw over 90 minutes in the Last 16, so they’ve proven tough to beat in tournament conditions.
Are Argentina finally fulfilling their potential at this tournament? They’ve certainly been in commanding form over their past three matches but at the same time those have come against three of our five worst ranked teams in this competition and the 4-1 win over Venezuela in the last round did raise a number of questions about the quality of their defence. Nevertheless, they’ve now won eight consecutive games and scored 12 times in their last three, although against teams ranked 11th-30th, since the last World Cup, they’ve gone W3-D0-L2 with just one clean sheet. Furthermore, since 2011, they’ve drawn six of their nine knockout matches while their two big wins, against Paraguay and Venezuela, have come against relatively low ranked sides. The USA are not the best team in this tournament but they do represent a reasonable step up from what La Albiceleste have seen in their past few games.
The USA have found some decent form and with the combination of a home crowd and no pressure having already achieved their goal of making the semis they should be capable of putting up a good fight. For Argentina, they will be very happy to see both Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain in the goals, and they have some wonderful options off the bench. That might be what makes the difference here but the USA should at least keep this relatively close and we’ll back them on the Asian Handicap.