Selection issues, and selección issues

Two big matches on Wednesday: Argentina take on Mexico in San Diego in the first of their two end-of-season friendlies (they’ll play the United States at the weekend), and Boca Juniors walk out at the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro to take on Fluminense in the second leg of their Copa Libertadores semi-final. The holders drew 2-2 in Buenos Aires in the first leg, and Flu are hopeful of an upset, Juan Román Riquelme was a doubt, but it seems he’ll now start for Boca.

Boca arrived in Rio and had an immediate coach transfer to the Maracanã, where Riquelme, who’s been unwell in recent days with something that, from the presence of the word ‘gastro’ in the reports, I’m guessing is a nasty stomach bug, told reporters; ‘At times I feel bad, but I’m only thinking about tomorrow’s match.’ In spite of his not being 100%, he’ll be in the starting lineup for the Xeneize. ‘We know it’s going to be very complicated, we’re playing against a great team,’ said Riquelme in a sentence entirely free of any of the normal banal fripperies players come out with prior to such occasions (ahem). ‘We have to be really well prepared. It’s normal that they’re feeling confident [after the 2-2 draw in the first leg].’ Why does anyone bother asking players questions prior to big continental matches?

Of course, there was no Riquelme to talk bland non-thoughts into microphones for the national side in San Diego on Tuesday, so instead the job went to a man who’s often got something to say to his team-mates on the pitch, Javier Mascherano. El Jefecito told the Argentine, Mexican and American press, regarding both Wednesday’s match and the game against the USA on Sunday; ‘I believe it’s important for the coach, to try out something different and take his conclusions.’ For once he may actually have a point – these dates have been circled for a while as two matches that should help Alfio Basile work out what the bloody hell he’ll do if Riquelme’s unavailable for the selección in a competitive match.

‘We’re thinking about tomorrow. We’ve played Mexico far more than we have the United States in recent times. But they’re two very good teams who deserve respect, and these matches will give us a lot of pointers to work towards the upcoming World Cup qualifiers [against Brazil and Ecuador later in the month],’ the Liverpool midfielder told reporters.

Check the site tomorrow for the lineups of both matches.

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