World Cup scouting: Nicolás Otamendi (Argentina)

While much of the attention surrounding Argentina’s World Cup campaign will understandably focus on their star-studded attacking line-up, their chances of success in South Africa depend just as much – if not more – on Diego Maradona’s ability to configure an effective defensive unit.

The Albiceleste aren’t exactly shabby when it comes to big-name defenders either, but one of the prime reasons why stars such as Barcelona’s Gabriel Milito, Real Madrid’s Ezequiel Garay and Internazionale pair Javier Zanetti and Nicolás Burdisso are unlikely to feature in Maradona’s first-choice XI is the recent emergence of 22-year-old Vélez Sársfield defender Nicolás Otamendi.

Otamendi made his professional debut as recently as May 2008 and played his first game for Argentina in a 3-1 friendly win over Panama a year later. After playing an important role in Vélez’s Clausura triumph last year, the centre-back received his first competitive international cap in Argentina’s 2-0 World Cup qualifying defeat in Ecuador last June. He was one of the few players to emerge with any credit from the damaging 3-1 loss at home to Brazil last September (see video) and his year ended on a high after he played the full 90 minutes of the 1-0 win in Uruguay in October that secured Argentina’s passage to the World Cup.

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He held onto his place, at right-back, for the impressive 1-0 friendly win in Germany last month and Maradona said recently that the defence he selected for that game in Munich – Otamendi, Martín Demichelis, Walter Samuel and Gabriel Heinze – will be the one with which Argentina will open their World Cup campaign against Nigeria on June 12.

“I tried out lots of full-backs, I tried with Zanetti, [Emiliano] Papa, and I finished up with four central defenders,” said Maradona. “I think I’m going to play like that, they’re the ones who give me guarantees at the back. They didn’t concede a goal and [Germany] didn’t create any goal chances.”

At 5’10”, Otamendi is short for a centre-back but he is a brave, committed defender with good awareness and superb timing in the tackle. His combative style has also prompted comparisons with Argentine great Roberto Ayala, who stepped away from international football in June 2007 with 115 caps to his name.

“He plays like a veteran. In centre-backs, cases like this are very rare,” said Vélez coach Ricardo Gareca last summer.

Ayala played at three World Cups (1998, 2002 and 2006) without ever getting beyond the quarter-finals. If the pieces fall into place for Argentina, Otamendi could outdo him by the middle of July.

14 Responses to “World Cup scouting: Nicolás Otamendi (Argentina)”

  • [...] posted here: World Cup scouting: Nicolás Otamendi (Argentina) « Football Further Author: Admin on April 29, 2010 Category: World Cup News Tags: argentina, attacking-line-up, [...]

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Travel Panama, Tom Williams. Tom Williams said: Blog – World Cup scouting: Nicolas Otamendi (Argentina); the final piece in Diego Maradona's defensive jigsaw? http://bit.ly/bISXvy [...]

  • Thanks for this write-up. Otamendi’s often been a figure of ridicule, lumped into the same category as the other bizarre call-ups by Maradona but he’s perhaps justification of Maradona’s obsession with home-based players. Let’s hope a left back emerges in time for the World Cup as well.

    I still think the WC is beyond them though, in recent friendlies they’ve improved on their awful qualification form and Maradona seems to have a fairly clear understanding of his first choice XI, but they need more time to gel as a team and the 2014 WC may be a better bet.

  • kamikaze kontiki:

    Can he play at left-back ?

    Is there any option Maradona has at left-back other than Heinze ?

    • Tom:

      Maradona is happy to play him at right-back, but I don’t know if his left foot is good enough for him to play on the other side. I’ve heard he favours his right quite strongly.

      As far as left-backs are concerned, I can’t understand why Javier Zanetti has been eased out of the team. He played at left-back in both legs of Inter’s Champions League semi-final against Barcelona and was absolutely superb in both matches.

      • Roberticus:

        Tom, Maradona has this obsession with dressing-room spirit and human relations; arguably he played in some of the most volatile collectives in the history of the game and this, rather than tactical innovations or coherent strategy, seems to have most left its mark on him. For instance, Heinze is a certain pick because his brother manages Diego’s PR. And Diego relied on Heinze’s reports on the icy relations between Gago and Higuain at the Bernabeu (fell out over a woman apparently). Perhaps Maradona fondly recalls his ’86 squad being weak on fluidity and natural talent (apart from his imperious self, of course!) but united on a human level, and he associates this with generating success.

        As for Otamendi and the four centre-backs strategy, this almost sounds intentional; so could Diego go on to be hailed as one of the tournaments innovators? His contribution? In a back four, three stay back but one always puses up to join the midfield; trouble is, which defender do opposing teams target with their marking? It could be Demichelis who advances through the middle, but then again Otamendi or Henize could become surprise incorporations to the attack along the flanks (not that they would do so effectively).

  • [...] World Cup scouting: Nicolás Otamendi (Argentina) Nicolás Otamendi “While much of the attention surrounding Argentina’s World Cup campaign will understandably focus on their star-studded attacking line-up, their chances of success in South Africa depend just as much – if not more – on Diego Maradona’s ability to configure an effective defensive unit.” (Football Further) [...]

  • Tom:

    Thanks Rob. I can’t see Otamendi or Heinze providing much attacking thrust on either flank, which makes it all the more puzzling that they are both ahead of Zanetti. Do you know why Maradona has taken him out of the first team? Did he react badly when he lost the captaincy to Mascherano?

    • Roberticus:

      Zanetti? I don’t think Maradona has anything but respect for Zanetti; but he wants to signal that youth and ambition will be rewarded in his call-ups. Although it sounds cruel and perplexing, since Zanetti was preposterously ommitted from the 2006 World Cup, the ‘logic’ runs something like this: “Zanetti is 37, and has had a full decade-and-a-half of opportunities at the top level to contribute to the national team- now let someone else try.

      But I am as gutted as anyone to not see Zanetti sign off on a well-deserved high.

  • audie argentina is my love inUK:

    it is fast becoming clear that maradona is onto something, its like a old fashioned arsenal defense from the 80s or a old fashioned solid hard back 3 like Argentina 86 but using 4 instead of 3,bilardos side almost came unstuck with width play against them this solid back 4 with time to jell i think is going to impress and i mean seriously impress… the way they kept Germany out like a wall was very very good and with time i think it will only get better maradona knows who in the Argentina league has the ability and the balls to play in a Argentina shirt…the team looked like a 70s 80s side very italy like at the back tight hard strong the team that beat Germany and Uruguay (1 player difference)is a great looking team and there’s other options

    those saying rubbish like attacking thrust are in the belief all back 4s are two attacking fb’s and two cb’s

    that is actually not the case out side of say brazil the attacking full backs of euro teams to day is a brazil copy and iv never seen argentina play that way only under belisa wen he played 4-3-3 at copa america

    peckerman played solid 3 bardisso-ayala-henze and one attacker sorin NO ONE COMPLAINED if you feel back 4s should be a generic copy of say barca and brazil then you lack any imagination

    henze and otamendi did go forward vs germany but in a more solid up to the half way line fashion like teams of old or jamie carragher of liverpool plays like that at FB

    clementie will be the attacking option or even jonas dropping back would work by starting with a solid 4 you have options like replace with more atacking fb or remove a defender play 3 and add a striker or a midfield play maker in the second half of a game

    veron south americas best passer

    mascharano best passer in prem league 2 fast wingers jonas and the amassing dimaria this side has far better speed in attack and defence than the coco built around roman 4-3-1-2 crap

    cambiasso,veron,roman in the same midfield 4 was too slow and coco never ever bothered changing a thing he put argentina in this mess not maradona

  • Otmendi is a good option as right back for argentina. Everybody expected Zanetti to fill that role or Zabletta. But DM decided to go for Otmendi. If he can stay alert, It will be very useful for NT.

  • audie uk:

    zanetti to old zabaletta too stupid zabaletta will never be on par with zanetti or otamendi id prefer jonas there if we are talking more natural wide play take otamendi off put pastore on the wing drop jonas to right back

    wen your say 2 nil up and go for possession

  • [...] B Argentina: 15. Nicolás Otamendi Nigeria: 15. Lukman Haruna South Korea: 16. Ki Sung-Yong Greece: 18. Sotiris [...]

  • [...] B Argentina: Nicolás Otamendi – Group match 1 (Argentina 1-0 Nigeria): Didn’t play. – Group match 2 (Argentina 4-1 South [...]

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