The AFA will hold their press conference in a few hours’ time to allow Diego Armando Maradona to announce his first Argentina squad (read on to see who’s made it), and already there’s controversy surrounding the nature of the appointment (not to mention the exclusions of three key players). Maradona declared on Radio La Red that he wants a different set of assistants to those preferred by the AFA, whilst Don Julio Grondona insisted he’ll have who he’s given. Meanwhile, as the first squad of Maradona’s reign is prepared, this seems a sensible time to round up the contributions of the foreign legion from the weekend’s matches.
The team expected to be accompanying Maradona was summarised by me for Soccernet last week, but he told Mariano Closs on La Red yesterday that he’d prefer Alejandro Mancuso and either Oscar Ruggeri or Miguel Brindisi as his assistants. It seems he fears that José Luis Brown and Sergio Batista would both have one eye on the top job themselves. Grondona was giving the story short shrift when he left AFA HQ that evening: ‘He’s not asked anything from me for definite, we’re not having any scandals that will be harmful to Argentine football… Diego never signed…’ Grondona refused to explain what those last three words meant. We shall see.
The players are waiting for the official announcement, of course, but it’s now known who will form Maradona’s first squad (see below). In Spain, there were the normal contributions from Señores Agüero and Messi – El Kun scored both goals in the first half for Atlético de Madrid – the first a superb close-range chip over the goalkeeper – as his side beat Real Mallorca 2-0 on Saturday. Lionel Messi scored from a narrow angle in driving rain to put Barcelona 2-1 up away to Málaga as they went on to win 4-1 in something that resembled a swimming pool more than a football pitch. On Sunday, Gonzalo Higuaín set up Raúl to put Real Madrid ahead away to Almería, but former Estudiantes midfielder Pablo Piatti announced he’s truly arrived in La Liga with an 82nd minute equaliser as the hosts took a point from the champions.
In Italy, Germán Denis deflected a Ronaldinho shot past his own goalkeeper late on, allowing Milan to beat Napoli by a goal to nil, and Diego Milito – from the penalty spot for Genoa in their 2-2 away draw with Udinese – was the only other Argentine goalscorer of the weekend as Mauro Zárate, just for a change, didn’t score for Lazio (who won anyway). Here in Lisbon, I watched Benfica struggle to beat Vitoria Guimaraes 2-1. Pablo Aimar (as he has been for most of the season) was largely disappointing, but did set up the first goal for David Suazo with a fantastic rabona from his own half that helped the Honduran score Benfica’s 5,000th goal (whether in league matches or all competitions, I’m unable to glean from the front pages of the Portuguese papers).
In Mexico, veteran Damián Álvarez scored the winner for Pachuca away to Cruz Azul to cap a man-of-the-match performance in which he’d already set up fellow Argentine Bruno Marioni for the first goal of the match. In the match between Santos Laguna and Tigres there were no Argentine goalscorers, but both goals – one for each side – were set up by Argentines, first Lucas Lobos putting Guillermo Marino through for the visitors, before Matías Vuoso set up Fernando Arce for the equaliser with a quarter-of-an-hour to play. Daniel Ludueña (for Santos) and Lucas Ayala (for Tigres) were also playing.
And finally, the bit you’ve all been waiting for… the Maradona era begins.
Argentina squad to face Scotland on Weds 19th November 2008:
Juan Pablo Carrizo (Lazio, Italy)
Sergio Romero (AZ Alkmaar, Netherlands)
Nicolás Burdisso (Internazionale, Italy)
Martín Demichelis (Bayern München, Germany)
Gabriel Heinze (Real Madrid, Spain)
Fabricio Coloccini (Newcastle United, England)
Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City, England)
Fabián Monzón (Real Betis, Spain)
Fernando Gago (Real Madrid)
Javier Mascherano (Liverpool, England)
Maximiliano Rodríguez (Atlético de Madrid, Spain)
Ángel Di María (Benfica, Portugal) or Jonás Gutiérrez (Newcastle United, England)
Carlos Tevez (Manchester United, England)
Sergio Agüero (Atlético de Madrid)
Ezequiel Lavezzi (Napoli, Italy)
Diego Milito (Genoa, Italy) or Germán Denis (Napoli)
The controversy in the squad is over the exclusions of Roberto Abbondanzieri, Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso, who may all now be wondering whether they have an international future whilst Maradona’s in charge (although, in fairness, Abbondanzieri at least deserves to have been having such thoughts for a while now). The doubt over Di María or Gutiérrez surrounds whether the Benfica man recovers in time from his injury.
Maradona is also keeping aside five places for players from the Argentine league. These will be Vélez Sársfield left-back Emiliano Papa and four others, depending on how Boca Juniors and Estudiantes do in the Copa Sudamericana this week. If their sides are eliminated (and therefore if the players won’t be otherwise needed on the day of the match), Sebastián Battaglia, Juan Román Riquelme, Marcos Angeleri and Juan Sebastián Verón can all expect call-ups. Tonight, Maradona will fly to Europe: first to England, then to Spain, and then to Germany and perhaps Italy to talk in person with the players he considers key to his team’s future.
Thanks to reader Tom Clark for the info on the performances of our boys in Mexico.