This week’s Argentines Abroad is delayed slightly, but fortunately that means I can include the video of Lionel Messi’s astonishing performance in the European Cup on Wednesday night, when he became the first place in 32 seasons to score five goals in one match in Europe’s premier club competition during Barcelona’s 7-1 thrashing of Bayer Leverkusen. Read on.
First of all, we may as well get Messi’s performance on Wednesday night out of the way. If you’ve been living under a rock for the last 24-and-a-bit hours, just trust me you want to watch this. Four of these goals would be the best in most strikers’ careers, but with little Lionel they’re almost a matter of course…
And now, to last weekend. As usual, we’ll start in England’s Premier League. Mauro Formica played the first half for Blackburn Rovers in a 1-1 draw at home to Aston Villa; Pablo Zabaleta was forced off injured 20 minutes into Manchester City’s 2-0 win over Bolton Wanderers (Sergio Agüero was rested, an unused substitute), and Denis Stracqualursi played almost the entire match for Everton, who drew 1-1 away to Queens Park Rangers. Franco Di Santo was guilty of ducking under a cross, but worked hard otherwise as his Wigan Athletic side fell to a 2-0 defeat at home to Swansea City.
On Sunday, Fabricio Coloccini came close to scoring a rare goal for Newcastle United, seeing an effort from a corner saved shortly before half time. Jonás Gutiérrez also featured for Newcastle, in what ended as a 1-1 draw against north-east rivals Sunderland.
* * *
In Italy on Saturday, Nicolás Bertolo and Ezequiel Muñoz were part of the Palermo side thrashed 4-0 at home by AC Milan, whilst Franco Vázquez was an unused substitute. Sunday saw Ezequiel Lavezzi score a winner for Napoli, who beat Parma 2-1 away from home, with both Hugo Campagnaro and Federico Fernández being sent on from the bench during the first half. Gabriel Heinze and Erik Lamela were in the Roma side which lost the capital derby 2-1 at home to Lazio (Fernando Gago was suspended); Rodrigo Palacio had a seemingly rare goalless game for Genoa, who drew 2-2 away to Lecce, and Matías Schelotto and Germán Denis featured for Atalanta in a goalless draw at Udinese.
The most Argentine-packed meeting of the weekend was of course Internazionale v Catania, two sides who have collected Argentines as if they’re going out of fashion (incidentally can anyone explain that phrase? Surely when something’s out of fashion people are less inclined to collect it. I’ve wondered ever since I was small why people don’t ‘collect x as if it’s at the height of its fashion’). Catania’s team included (deep breath) Juan Pablo Carrizo, Nicolás Spolli, Sergio Almirón, Mariano Izco, Alejandro Gómez, Gonzalo Bergessio, Pablo Barrientos and substitute Cristian Llama. Izco and Gómez scored a goal each for them, whilst Inter, who fielded Walter Samuel, Javier Zanetti, Esteban Cambiasso and Diego Milito, relied on Milito for an equaliser with ten minutes left after Uruguayan maestro Diego Forlán had put them back in the game with some help from a spaghetti-wristed piece of goalkeeping from Carrizo.
And now, over to our correspondents.
* * *
Tom Clark writes, diligently as ever, to let us know what’s been going on in Mexico. He’s also recently made this blog post in praise of Lionel Messi.
Round 9 of the Mexican Clausura kicked off on the evening of Friday 2nd March with a visit by by the Xolos of Tijuana to Guadalajara, where they nailed struggling Estudiantes Tecos (UAG) a bit deeper into relegation woe with a 2-0 victory. What would prove to be all the scoring the visitors would need came from a 67th header from José Pepe Sand, whose industry up front has kept the Xolos competitive all through the current campaign; this was his seventh goal of the torneo.
The following day, Tigres conquered Atlante at home in Nueva Léon on the strength of an early tally by Lucas Lobos, who pounced on a defensive miscue and effectively finished off the tie in the 13th minute.
The same day’s action also featured a pair of rousing seven-goal affairs. Facundo Pereyra converted a penalty for San Luis, but the potosinos took a 5-2 pounding away to Santos Laguna. Meanwhile in the capital Cruz Azul, hosting Monterrey, fell behind to an early Aldo de Nigris goal, made by good work from César Chelito Delgado; the Cementeros roared back, pouring on their Argentine firepower through Christian Chaco Giménez and Emanuel Tito Villa. Chaco scored twice in a span of nine minutes after halftime, and Tito added one in the 83rd minute. The Rayados fought to the end, making things tight with a bullet header from José Maria Basanta in stoppage time, before finally succumbing 4-3.
The weekend closed on Sunday 4th March with a 2-0 victory by a resurgent América playing at home to Jaguares de Chiapas before an exultant crowd in the colossal Azteca. Takeoff for the Águilas occurred in the 27th minute, with this strike by Daniel Rolfi Montenegro.
* * *
They might have taken the lead on Saturday evening, but Getafe were to be beaten 3-1 in the end by Málaga. Daniel Cata Díaz was a strong presence in the Getafe backline, and he thwarted many Málaga attacks before they eventually broke through. On one occasion, he even rescued them with a last ditch tackle to prevent a seemingly certain goal. Málaga brought Martín Demichelis off the bench with twenty minutes remaining, and he was fine as his side tightened things up and protected their lead.
Barcelona beat Sporting Gijón 3-1, though they did so without Lionel Messi. He was suspended for an accumulation of yellow cards, and watched from the side-lines. Javier Mascherano was present for Barça though, and played at centre-back. He didn’t let the team down, and stepped up when Gerard Piqué was sent off, to put in strong tackles and key interceptions. Again, his movement out of defence with the ball was excellent.
Sevilla and Atlético Madrid played out a well fought 1-1 draw, and the goal for Atleti didn’t come from the usual source of Falcao, but Eduardo Salvio instead. The former Lanús man was a constant threat in attack for much of the first half, working hard across the front line and getting support from his teammates in wide areas. As well as his work ethic, he weighed in with a goal too. It was a smart finish too, as he evaded his marker with a fine piece of movement and snuck in to head home. Not bad a for a little guy. Despite results dipping for Atleti, Diego Simeone’s work is still very much in progress.
Real Zaragoza stunned Villarreal in the 93rd minute to win 2-1 on Sunday, and on the score sheet for the latter was Alejandro Martinuccio. Villarreal have had many excellent Argentine players at the club over the years, and they’ll be hoping he turns out to be another. The 24-year-old grabbed his first goal for the club, and though it was a tap-in, it is a start. Other than the goal, he worked extremely hard, and he should get further spoils in recent weeks as long as he receives the support from midfield. Gonzalo Rodríguez performed well at the back, but a lapse in concentration from the whole backline let them game slip away at the death.
Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic won 2-0 against Real Sociedad, ahead of the biggest game of their season so far in the Europa League away to Manchester United [editor's note: which, due to circumstances slowing the publication of AA down this week, is being played as I put this post together].
Real Madrid demolished Espanyol 5-0, and behind that result was a strong performance from Gonzalo Higuaín. Goals have been hard to come by, and his full contribution to the team is rarely acknowledged – so this week José Mourinho took to the press and stated he’d be an idiot to get rid of a player like Higuaín. The Portuguese was thanked in the way of a brace of goals and assists by the Argentine, who produced a man-of-the-match performance.
Higuaín goals and assists
Valencia struggled to a 1-0 victory over Granada, and despite the win their level of performance needs much work. Tino Costa featured in midfield, but he failed to help control the game for Valencia, and was anonymous in large parts. Pablo Piatti made a late appearance, but only managed to run into blind alleys.
* * *
The game of the weekend of Portugal took place at the Estádio da Luz on Friday night, as Benfica hosted Porto in what was billed by many as a title decider. There were five Argentines amongst the 22 players that started: Ezequiel Garay, Pablo Aimar and Nico Gaitán for Benfica, along with Nico Otamendi and Lucho González for Porto. On a poor night for Benfica, Garay and Aimar limped off injured, whilst Porto, spearheaded by the influential González, wrested back control of the title race with a 3-2 win. Lucho and midfield partner João Moutinho wove passing patterns around Benfica all night long, something that was key to Porto’s eventual victory.
Joining Garay and Aimar on the injury list this weekend was Nacional’s Andrés Madrid. The former Gimnasia midfielder lasted just 24 minutes against his former club Braga before he was forced off nursing a knock. His departure signalled a downturn in Nacional’s fortunes; 1-0 up at the time, they conceded five minutes before the interval and Braga eventually ran out 3-1 winners.
Sporting suffered their first defeat under new coach Ricardo Sá Pinto against Vitória de Setúbal on Saturday night, with Emiliano Insúa amongst the defeated XI. The left back was his usual committed self, but had little impact on a fragmented, ill-tempered match largely contested in the central areas of the pitch.
Left back José Shaffer continued his spell on loan from Benfica at União de Leiria, playing the full 90 minutes in a wretched 3-1 home loss at the hands of Olhanense. In fairness, the Leiria squad haven’t been paid for four months, so perhaps their motivation levels aren’t what they might otherwise be…
* * *
Mauro Cetto’s January move from Palermo to Lille was meant to give the French champions a much-needed boost at the back, shore up the defence and give Les Dogues increased presence. After Saturday’s performance the jury is still out whether he is the right man to fill in for the injured Marko Basa.
The Argentine defender got an early yellow card during Saturday’s game against Auxerre. Out-paced by Auxerre’s Kenyan striker Denis Oliech, Cetto had no choice but to bring him down. Fourteen minutes later Oliech sped past the defender and Cetto’s tackle was wild, late and the former Rosario Central man was shown a straight red, not even a second yellow and although 1-0 up Lille were down to 10 men.
Lille would take a 2-0 lead and Anthony Le Tallec’s straight red for a late challenge would level the teams at ten apiece, but somehow Auxerre rallied back and stole a vital point away at the home of the Champions. Cetto will miss the big clash against Lyon this Saturday.
Speaking of Lyon, Lisandro López had a very poor night as they were unexpectantly beaten 2-0 by lowly AS Nancy. The same scoreline was had in Brittany as Lucas Mareque’s Lorient were beaten by rivals Rennes. Lorient are currently on the worst ever run the club has witnessed as their winless run continues to eleven games.
One Argentine on the winning team this weekend was Fabián Monzón. The left back converted an early penalty to put Nice up against the home side Bordeaux. It was Monzón’s fifth goal of the season. Defenders have scored ten of Nice’s twenty-five goals this season.
Last but by no means lease, Paris Saint-Germain fans will be extremely happy to see Javier Pastore returning to his best. The former Palermo fan scored the opener again AC Ajaccio, after great interchange play with Blasie Matuidi. The Argentine then set up Jeremy Menez for the second as PSG rolled on to a 4-1 win.
Nice to finally see El Flaco [note from Sam: interviewed by me in the new issue of The Blizzard, which you can order from here] getting back to his best. When you watch this PSG side, you can’t help but thinking there is much much more to see when they finally click. Even with the 4-1 win, it could have been much worse.
You can follow the latest news from the selección and Argentina’s foreign legion of players, as well as the domestic championship, River Plate’s first second division campaign in over a century and the ever entertaining/tragic/infuriating capers of Julio Grondona & chums direct from Buenos Aires with HEGS on Twitter. If you’ve not signed up yet you can do so here. You can also join the official HEGS Facebook group, to keep up to date with the latest posts on the blog and discuss things with other fans. You’ll find it here. And remember to bookmark Hand Of Pod, our Argentine football podcast, or if you prefer you can subscribe to it on iTunes here.