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Argentina’s Copa America title defence faces routine challenge against struggling Ecuador

Argentina’s Copa America title defence continues at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, as they take on Ecuador in a handsome-looking quarter-final tie on Thursday night.

Lionel Scaloni’s high-flying side powered into the knockout stage as Group A winners.

Canada, Chile and Peru were no match for the reigning World Cup holders.

Although the Argentina fans are still waiting for Lionel Messi to open his account at the tournament, La Albiceleste’s attack is in safe hands.

Inter Milan talisman Lautaro Martinez has enjoyed a spectacular event, netting four of the Argentines’ five goals in the group phase.

Martinez scored in all three group-stage fixtures, with three of his four strikes coming beyond the 85th minute.

His scintillating form should make Ecuador nervous as they search for their first appearance in the Copa America semi-finals since 1993.

Felix Sanchez Bas’ side blew hot and cold in Group B, recording partial success across three games (W1, D1, L1).


Despite their form woes, a thumping 3-1 win against Jamaica in round two was enough for a runner-up spot behind the tournament’s surprise package, Venezuela.

La Tri can take confidence from sending North American powerhouse Mexico packing, courtesy of a fiercely-contested scoreless draw in Group B’s finale.

Argentina are hot favourites

Argentina’s group-stage performances were far from dazzling.

However, their defensive solidity has been off the charts. As the only team to reach the knockout stage without conceding a goal, Scaloni’s troops are odds-on to oust familiar foes Ecuador.

No strangers to this juncture, they’ve qualified for the knockout rounds in 15 consecutive Copa America editions, while they’ve advanced into the semi-finals in the last four.

Facing Ecuador promises to be a walk in the park, with Argentina holding La Tri at bay in four of their last five encounters, including a narrow 1-0 win in June’s pre-tournament friendly.

The only potential concern could be Messi’s minor fitness problem.

Scaloni left the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner on the bench in a 2-0 triumph against Peru last time out. But La Pulga should regain his place in the starting XI.

Perennial underachievers up against the odds

Alongside Venezuela, the Ecuadorians are the only remaining CONMEBOL nation yet to lift the Copa America title.

As if that’s not disturbing enough, they’ve never featured in a title-deciding fixture, a trend likely to continue unless they defy history in Houston.

Unfortunately for La Tri, the signs are ominous.

They’ve faced Argentina at Copa America 16 times without winning (D5, L11), while Scaloni’s team halted their run at this stage in the 2021 edition.

Conceding first would likely be bad news for Ecuador, considering the last time they came from behind to win was in September 2023.

Speaking of bad omens, ten of their 16 Copa America clashes against Argentina have seen them concede at least three goals.

Argentina vs Ecuador Potential Line-Ups

Argentina (4-3-3): Emiliano Martinez; Nahuel Molina, Cristian Romero, Lisandro Martinez, Nicolas Tagliafico; Angel Di Maria, Rodrigo De Paul, Alexis Mac Allister; Lionel Messi, Lautaro Martinez, Julian Alvarez.

Ecuador (4-2-3-1): Alexander Dominguez; Angelo Preciado, Felix Torres, Willian Pacho, Piero Hincapie; Alan Franco, Moises Caicedo; John Yeboah, Kendry Paez, Jeremy Sarmiento; Enner Valencia.

Prediction

No matter what the odds may suggest, Ecuador will probably give Argentina a run for their money.

Capable of frustrating their opposition with an aggressive approach and stubborn defending, the Ecuadorians could make this contest go down to the wire.

Apart from a tremendous collective effort at the back, Scaloni’s charges heavily relied on their brilliant individuals to carry them through the group stage.

But they’ll likely need more to beat Ecuador. We envisage another 1-0 win for the world champions.

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