Argentina play Uruguay in the Monumental on Saturday and whilst things are rarely friendly between two of the oldest rivals in international football, the sniping has come from an unexpected angle on Tuesday: Julio César Cáceres. That’s Julio César Cáceres of Paraguay. Obviously seeking to crank up the pressure on a team currently trailing in Paraguay’s wake in the World Cup qualifying table, Cáceres spoke out on Tuesday, and the target of his ire was one of his own club-mates – his captain, in fact: Boca Juniors’ Juan Román Riquelme, who’s responded in his trademark carefree, cheery fashion.
Cáceres was speaking in the context of current unrest at Boca following Mauricio Caranta’s relegation to backup goalkeeper behind new boy Javier García, who started for the first time for the first team in the 2-1 home defeat to Estudiantes on Sunday. In international week, though, he didn’t miss the opportunity to turn the interview with Paraguay’s Radio Católica Cáritas into a tirade against certain aspects of the Argentine selección. Caranta met on Tuesday with Boca manager Carlos Ischia, but wasn’t entirely satisfied with the reasons Ischia gave him for his sidelining. Cáceres spoke about that situation but saved the main portion of his criticism for Boca captain Riquelme.
‘Riquelme when he plays for the Selección is more motivated than when he plays for Boca,’ Cáceres told the interviewer, making a statement plenty of Argentina fans would probably disagree quite strongly with given JRR’s performances for both his club and his country so far this year. ‘He could be tired or mentally “saturated”,’ the Paraguayan continued, not so much hitting the nail on the head as driving it home with a sledgehammer. ‘When you don’t have any motivation, you need to spend a bit of time on the sidelines.’ Cáceres compared Riquelme unfavourably with attacking partner Martín Palermo, a man who for all his successes with the club he’s supported all his life, remains hungry for more.
The response from Riquelme, who’s currently training separately from the rest of the Argentine squad in an effort to regain fitness due to a metatarsal problem, was scathing. ‘He’s left all his former clubs in the wrong manner,’ said Riquelme, whose exits from first Barcelona and Villarreal I must have dreamt. ‘The only thing [Cáceres] wants is to cause trouble. If he wanted to leave Boca, there was no need to pick on me.’ He’s certainly got a point there, and it might be added that if Cáceres didn’t want to leave Boca, he could equally have spoken out about any of Argentina’s other players from the squad this week. Where this is going we’ll find out…
Meanwhile, also on Tuesday, it was announced that Alfio Basile will break with tradition by not giving a pre-match press conference in the buildup to the Uruguay match. His first comment on the current qualifiers will come in the post-match interviews. Given the pressure he’s under to deliver a win at some point, he won’t be looking forward to that if Argentina come up short against their oldest rivals. Manchester United’s Carlos Tevez knows what’s needed, though; ‘We need to be more alive. If we’re not good footballistically right now, more than good play we just need the points, because everyone’s fighting each other at the top [of the qualifying table].’ Wise words indeed.