Ah, yes, yet another meaningless international exhibition match mandated by a shady deal done by the Argentinian FA. Only these friendlies will become increasingly meaningful as coach Alfio Basile seeks to work out the future of a squad in transition, and decide on a formation, let alone the team for the World Cup qualifiers starting very soon. Comments on the squad first, then a note on the glaring omissions.
Juan Pablo Carrizo (Lazio, Italy)
Oscar Ustari (Getafe, Spain)
Sergio Romero (AZ Alkmaar, Holland)
The big surprise here is the omission of previous no.1 Roberto Abbondazieri, which I'll discuss later. Carrizo has been threatening to break into the team for some time now, although I would question the timing of this promotion for him, given that he's just gone to Lazio and may need time to settle in there. Ustari is in a strange situation himself, having gone to Getafe to be backup for Abbondazieri, or at least that's the assumption given El Pato's form for the Madrid club last season. Hopefully he won't just warm the bench there, as he's an excellent prospect. Congratulations are due to Romero, who just won the U20 World Cup for Argentina. Also a big prospect, and it's good to see so many young 'keepers coming through.
Gabriel Milito (Barcelona, Spain)
Fabricio Coloccini (Deportivo La Coruna, Spain)
Nicolas Burdisso (Inter, Italy)
Ezequiel Garay (Racing, Spain)
Daniel Diaz (Getafe, Spain)
Javier Zanetti (Inter, Italy)
Oh dear, does that mean we might see Coloccini at rightback again? To be fair, he had a good second half of last season playing for Depor in that position, so maybe he could also be redeemed at international level. Zanetti is a no-brainer, other than the fact that I'm worried about the fitness levels of him and Burdisso, who have just returned to training for Inter after the Copa America.
Good to see Garay finally get his chance. An important member of the 2005 U20 World Cup winning side, he's become a vital player for Racing as well. Very reliable, and definitely one for the future.
I'm not sure about 'Cata' Diaz quite yet, having only seen him play one game for Argentina in the Copa America. I've heard good things, though, and hopefully Getafe will suit him.
Luis 'Lucho' Gonzalez (Porto, Portugal)
Maxi Rodriguez (Atletico Madrid, Spain)
Jose Sosa (Bayern Munich, Germany)
Javier Mascherano (Liverpool, England)
Fernando Gago (Real Madrid, Spain)
Cristian Ledesma (Olympiakos, Greece)
Federico Insua (America, Mexico)
The return of Maxi Rodriguez is extremely welcome. I think we missed him at the Copa America, especially since Lucho was a bit off-colour.
I'm quite surprised by this part of the list, to be honest. No Riquelme (more on that later), no Aimar, 3 defensive/holding midfielders. Very strange. I haven't been too impressed by Insua's previous performances for Argentina, and young Sosa, who was so good playing in Argentina, has just moved to Bayern. Perhaps Basile will abandon his commitment to a single playmaker who can be stifled by heavy defending, although I don't see him playing anything else other than the diamond 4-4-2.
Javier Saviola (Real Madrid, Spain)
Diego Milito (Zaragoza, Spain)
Lionel Messi (Barcelona, Spain)
Ezequiel Lavezzi (Napoli, Italy)
22 year old Lavezzi is yet another player on this list who has just made a move, in his case from San Lorenzo to Napoli. I have to confess, my knowledge of him is limited, but I'm excited to see what he can do.
Messi was asking to be included in this squad right after the Copa America ended, and not surprisingly he's got his wish. He has the same fitness concerns as everyone else who was in the Copa squad and hasn't been training for too long, though. Saviola has earned himself a recall by some good performances in pre-season for Real Madrid. It remains to be seen if he will remain in contention, given the competition for a place on the forward line at Real, but he's looked good for Argentina before, especially alongside Crespo. So welcome back. Good to see Diego Milito get another chance, too. He was much maligned in the Copa, but I've always been convinced of his quality.
It's a young squad, almost half of whom have just been involved in a transfer, quite a few of them making the jump from Argentina to Europe, which is probably a fair reflection of what happens to any young talents who shine in the domestic league these days.
On the other hand, giving a chance to all these young players means the omission of a few surprising names. The retirement of Ayala and the probably retirement of Veron we all know about, but what about the likes of Abbondanzieri, Heinze, Riquelme, Aimar, Cambiasso, Tevez, Aguero and Crespo?
I suspect the omission of Riquelme and Heinze has a lot to with their uncertain future, and the lack of Tevez can also be explained by his long, drawn-out transfer saga, which has just been resolved. As for Abbondanzieri and Cambiasso, perhaps Basile already knows what they can bring to the table and wants to see what others can do in their place. Crespo still has fitness concerns, (I certainly hope his Argentina career isn't done yet) and so does Aguero, although for him it's more a product of a strange pre-season that included being called back to help Atletico qualify for the UEFA Cup straight after winning the U20 World Cup. When he's fit properly again, I hope Aguero gets more chances at senior level. He's certainly proven his devotion to the cause. As an aside, I'd like to see Pablo Zabaleta of Espanyol back in contention too, but he's young and I'm sure the chances will come. A fit Gonzalo Rodriguez would also be nice to see sometime soon. Such a great young centerback, so unlucky with injuries.
The likes of Aimar and D'Alessandro have been figures on the sidelines for a while now, and I can't really see any of those players ever fully breaking through, given the incredible rate with which Argentina turns up the Next Big Thing, leaving the former prospects behind. Just look at the way attention has turned to the stars of the side who won the U20 World Cup.
Hmm, that was a rather cynical note to strike. It will be good to see how this group of players shape up, and to get some indication of Basile's thinking ahead of the qualifiers.