Hanging on the wall at the entrance of the complex where Argentina’s coaching staff go about their everyday duties are two large photographs that are impossible to ignore, one of Cesar Luis Menotti and the other of Carlos Salvador Bilardo.
“Ever since I walked in here I’ve pictured my photo hanging there too,” current Albiceleste coach Edgardo Bauza told FIFA.com. “I know it’s not easy because you have to win the World Cup to get up there, but I wouldn’t have got into this if I wasn’t thinking of that. All I’m focusing on is setting up the team to be champions.”
Bauza also has a very clear idea of the steps he needs to take to achieve that goal, though he refuses to look at the table for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying competition, where Argentina lie fifth, in the play-off place.
“Why bother looking when I get reminded about it in the street the whole time?” he said, maintaining his sense of humour. “All I’m thinking about today are the two objectives we’ve set ourselves: the first is to qualify and the second is to reach the World Cup Final.” Those objectives could not be stated more emphatically.
Road to Russia
His Argentina side face a stern test in Buenos Aires next Thursday, when they play host to Chile, who lie one place and one point above them in the table. It is a crucial and potentially decisive encounter, made all the more intriguing by events at the last two Copa America competitions.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s a final, but it is a decisive match,” explained Bauza. “I need to take the team away from the last two finals they played in. They didn’t lose them. They just lost on penalties. There’s always been rivalry with Chile but we need to boil it down to this one game, which is an important one against a direct rival. The only thing that should be in our minds is that if we beat them, we overtake them.”
Nicknamed Patón (“Big Foot”), Bauza is not at all concerned about the pressure getting to his players: “They’re used to it. They play for the biggest clubs in the world.” Pointing to Chile’s strengths, he said: “They’re dangerous in midfield and attack. They press a lot and can play a short passing game. We’ve got our strong points too, though.”
Voicing nothing but praise for his friend and opposite number Juan Pizzi, Bauza added: “He’ll try to instil in his team the selfsame drive and desire that made him such a top-class player in his career.”
After taking on the Chileans, Argentina will then travel to the lofty surroundings of La Paz to face Bolivia, where the altitude of 3,600 metres may well force Bauza to reshuffle his team.
“It depends on a few things,” he explained. “We’ll have to see how we do against Chile, which will also be a factor. The other problem is that we’ll be going into what is a very spicy match with 12 players on yellow cards. We’re going to wait and see.”
As for Bolivia, they have won only two of their six home games, an unusually low return for them on home soil. Having coached for five years in the altitude of Quito, Bauza believes he knows the reason why: “That happens because teams, as well as being better, plan the match better. The key is to take a balanced approach and to get to the last 20 minutes with your options still intact. They come out to attack and play at a high pace. You can’t play their game. If you do, you can have problems.”
While he regrets the five points dropped against Paraguay at home and Peru away, the Argentina coach believes the upcoming double-header will prove a turning point in the competition: “I don’t think the table will carry on being as tight as it has been up to now. If we beat Chile, we’ll have a great chance of qualifying for the World Cup. It would be a huge boost for the players and the fans,” he added, pointing to the positive effects of what would be a much-needed win.
Confident in his side’s chances, Bauza is thinking only about success, not failure: “I’ve learned that there’s only a thin line between the two. I’ve always been a very positive person though. I feel like I’m a winner and I feel I’m going to win.”