Friday, March 02, 2007

Argentine Watch

Starting off with a topic near and dear to me, Juan Roman Riquelme set up 2 of Boca's 3 goals in their eventual 1-3 victory over Independiente. Same as always, then. He was of course over-shadowed by Martin Palermo's incredible goal from the half-way line in the 94th minute.

What a goal, although I do feel terrible for poor Oscar Ustari, Argentine international and Independiente's young 'keeper, who was understandably crushed after conceding the goal. Ustari is a really good goalkeeper, and he saved his team's ass so many times last season, so this really does suck for him. But he's also a very mature lad, so I'm sure he'll pick himself up quickly and move on.

But Roman...I saw highlights of the game, and I haven't seen him smile like that in a long time. Maybe the move really is doing him a world of good.

Long-suffering Javier Mascherano finally made his debut for Liverpool against Sheffield United and put in a good performance. Frankly, I can't wait for him to start proving his doubters wrong. He is after all an excellent player, and you know what they say: form is temporary, but class is permanent. Liverpool is probably the ideal club for him, too, since about half the squad and the coach speak Spanish.

On the other hand, what's happened to Carlos Tevez? I dread to think...unfortunately West Ham seem doomed, especially given their injury woes. Asking fans to feel some empathy for another club's injury problems seems like an alien concept in the Premiership, but you've got to admit they have had terrible luck.

Congratulations are also due to young Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain for opening his account with the Spanish giants, and in his first Madrid derby, no less. (On a related note, congratulations are also due to Fernando Torres for finally scoring against Real on what I believe may be his 9th attempt. The curse is broken!)

Argentinean National Team coach Basile has announced that Juan Sebastian Veron will be getting a recall to the NT for a pre-Copa America training camp. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, he probably deserves the call-up after such a storming season. On the other, I'm not convinced by his ability to deliver at international level. The latest is that he's injured, and I'm not sure for how long. Despite my doubts, I have to say if injury makes him miss a long-awaited international recall, one has to feel sympathy for the man.

In better injury news Villarreal centerback Gonzalo Rodriguez is finally ready to play again after recovering from a major knee injury suffered in the beginning of the season. Villarreal have missed him and will be glad to have the talented and reliable youngster back. Argentina have a good, solid defence right now, but having him as an option on the bench would be a great confidence booster.

(Imagine Villarreal with a central defence of Ayala and Gonzalo next season. None shall pass, indeed. Now they just need more decent right-backs and left-backs, since all of them seem to be leaving.)

If you've read Phil Ball's book on David Beckham (which is really a great look at the Spanish league through the Beckham transfer) there's a bit where he explains how the Argentineans in La Liga like to meet up and drink mate tea together in groups. I've always gotten the general impression that there's a certain solidarity and mutual admiration society dynamic, especially with the Argentinean internationals. Certainly a lot of the younger segment are friends. Riquelme and Aimar are still close, D'Alessandro and Saviola are childhood friends who still speak a lot, Aimar is Messi's idol, Zabaleta visited Messi almost everyday when he was on crutches and Aguero and Messi are email pen pals.

So it's rather sad when two of them come into open conflict on the field, as D'Alessandro and Messi did in the second leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinal, Zaragoza v Barcelona. Seemingly, Messi incurred D'Alessandro's displeasure when they were fighting for the ball (not literally), after which words were exchanged and D'Alessandro headbutted Messi. Not very hard, mind, so Messi really didn't need to go down clutching his face. D'Alessandro fully deserved hs red card, but Messi also fully deserved his yellow, for exaggerating the contact. There's no need for a fine player like him to do that. I didn't like it when Thierry Henry did it in the World Cup, and I don't like it when one of my favourite young players - who contrary to popular opinion in England is not actually a habitual diver - descends to that level.

It's an unfortunate incident, which I hope won't affect the atmosphere next time both are called up for the national team, although given poor D'Alessandro's luck that seems unlikely. His last call-up, if memory serves, was well before the World Cup.

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