The big day arrives

Argentina make their debut in the 2010 World Cup campaign tonight, with everything prepared to be the main focus for the start of a ball-obsessed weekend for the nation’s sport fans. On Sunday, the national rugby side will play the biggest match in their history when they take on South Africa in the Rugby World Cup semi-final in Paris. But first, the footballers host Chile.

It’s a match with several points of interest. For one thing, Marcelo ‘El Loco‘ Bielsa returns to his homeland in charge of the visitors. For another, Argentina, one of the best sides in the world, will be counting on a playmaker who’s been frozen out at his club (to no apparent ill affect for them). And then there’s the form of the planet’s hottest 20-year-old.

Bielsa and Basile, ‘Loco‘ and ‘Coco‘, have met once before as managers, when in charge of, respectively, Vélez and San Lorenzo during the 1998 Clausura – a 2-1 win for Basile’s San Lorenzo. So today’s clash will be only the second between the last two men to win trophies in charge of the national team (Basile the two Copas América in the early ’90s, Bielsa the 2004 Olympic Games title). Bielsa has spoken of his pride in having led his country, but confessed that he ‘fantasises about the joy of winning’ over his homeland in their own stadium.

Both coaches are noted for the attacking play of their teams, with Bielsa’s sides generally showing a greater tendency towards positional fluidity and fast attacking using the wings, whilst Basile’s more rigid 4-3-1-2 tends to focus on controlling possession of the ball and continuing to pressure and probe for openings.

With Juan Román Riquelme given the number 10 in the current Argentine side, we have the unusual situation of one of the world’s finest footballing sides relying for their playmaking on a man who’s been frozen out at his club and hasn’t played any competitive football since the 3-0 defeat to Brazil in the final of the Copa América. Riquelme’s ongoing personality clash with Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini will surely result in his leaving the club in January, but Marcelo Bielsa, such a fan of Riquelme’s performances at Boca, has enough faith in him to hand him a place in the team regardless.

One player it would be sheer madness to leave out is of course Lionel Messi, hailed on the front page of Spanish daily Sport today as ‘The Perfect Footballer.’ Messi has, according to the Barcelona-based paper, a combination of Diego Maradona’s left-footed control, Johann Cruyff’s change of rhythm, Pelé’s finishing ability and Ronaldinho’s ‘magic’. It’s possible that they’re going a little overboard, but one thing that can’t be argued with is their assertion that ‘Leo Messi’s progress is so awesome that he’s sure to be considered among the very greatest.’ Not many players have such quality that, at his age, the talk in his country has been not about whether he should start today, but about which strike partner will best allow him to strut his stuff.

Chile have some very handy young players themselves too, of course, and have been tipped by many pundits to make some major noises in international football over the next decade. Their forward line today might just include one man who’ll be perfectly at home in the Monumental, though – veteran and River Plate legend Marcelo Salas could squeeze David Suazo out of the starting lineup.

The probable teams:

Argentina (manager Alfio Basile):


Zanetti —- Demichelis —- G. Milito —- Heinze

M. Rodríguez — Mascherano — Cambiasso


Messi ——- Tevez

Chile (manager Marcelo Bielsa):


Alvarez —– Fuentes —– Riffo

Vidal —— Iturra — Estrada

M. Fernández

Rubio ——————————– M. González

Suazo / Salas

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