Historical Analysis, Road to the Football Olympics Game Final : Argentina of Marcelo BIelsa (Athens 2004)
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The 2004 Argentina Olympics football squad was one of the best there was in the history of the Olympic games. The team dominated from day one en route to winning the gold medal. A historic performance by the Albiceleste in which they won all of the games they played in while keeping a clean sheet in every game. They went on to score 17 goals while conceding zero.

Argentina started the tournament in fashion stomping Serbia and Montenegro 6-0 while taking care of Tunisia and Australia 2-0 and 1-0 respectively to finish off the group stages. In the knockout round, Argentina dominated once again defeating Costa Rica 4-0 with Carlos Tevez scoring a hat-trick in the process. While also taking care of Italy in the semi-finals against Italy 3-0 who was also one of the favorites of the tournament with their bright young stars. In the gold medal match against Paraguay, Tevez scored the lone decisive goal to give Argentina the win 1-0 and complete their dominance of the competition.

The squad was full of bright young stars such as Tevez, Javier Mascherano, and Javier Saviola with savvy veterans to keep the squad afloat with Roberto Ayala, Gabriel Heinze, and Cristian Gonzalez. They were managed by the great Marcelo Bielsa had recently left his post with Espanyol to take up the managerial job for the Argentina national team in 1998. Results weren’t great during his early tenure as the Albiceleste manager, but the 2004 Olympics was a different story.

His coaching style was different and ahead of his time during his tenure with the Albiceleste. While Italy was also known for using three at the back, Bielsa introduced a different type of three center back-formation to the world with a 3-3-3-1 type of formation. While, traditionally, players and other teams are more used to playing with four at the back and even the Argentinian players preferred to go with a four at the back instead of a three, Bielsa managed to convince them that going with three was the way for this team and it showed.

The 3-3-3-1 formation is a unique one in that the formation allows the team to be flexible transitioning from defending to attacking with many of the players used in that formation are used to performing both duties. And every part of the field can create a numerical advantage whether it’s defending with seven players, attacking with six or seven, or boss the midfield with six players. It requires the players to quickly be in an attacking position when the team has possession of the ball while aggressively press and retain possession when the opposition has the ball. It is very heavy on the players and requires a high level of work ethic and teamwork from them in order for this formation to be successful. Thus, if one player isn’t doing his job whether pressing at the right time or not in the right position, the numerical advantage will be gone, and the balance of the formation will be tilted.

The high pressing style has always been a feature in Bielsa’s team over the years and it was no different with the Argentina national team. While his formation has changed and adapted to the modern game, the pressing has always been there. His style of play requires a huge amount of work ethic and he had that with the type of players on that roster. Even if the players preferred to play with a back four, the back three proved to be pivotal in their quest to win a gold medal in the Olympics. The oppositions could not handle the new formation and style of play that Bielsa has introduced and dominated every opposition that came their way.

This type of aggressive pressing is something that was new at the time. It’s similar to gegenpressing in that you start the press with your strikers to retain possession. Thus, it is crucial to have a good striker who has a great work ethic and contributes defensively to the press. And what better striker to have that defensive capability than Tevez. While his diminutive size may say otherwise, Tevez is a strong stocky forward with a great work ethic. He’s been known to sacrifice his game for the team and is known to be a pest in the pressing game. Not only was he contributing in the defensive side of the game as a striker helping to press the opposition, but he was lethal in attack leading the team and the competition with 8 goals and arguably the player of the tournament.

Even after his stint with Argentina, Bielsa kept on influencing different teams at each place he’s gone on to manage. But the Argentina Olympics’ squad was on a different level not only from a talent perspective which was phenomenal but also from a tactic’s perspective. He was able to have his team adapt to his 3-3-3-1 formation and absolutely dismantle the opposition with quick and aggressive pressing and counter-attacking. This current wave of pressing style is all thanks to Bielsa’s style of play and his Argentina squad showed the world how deadly his pressing can be.



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