This wasn’t expected. Diego Maradona has named three – not five – home-based players to be added to the Argentina squad prior to this weekend’s international friendly against Scotland in Glasgow, in his first match as selección boss. In spite of Boca Juniors having exited the Copa Sudamericana, Juan Román Riquelme is not one of them. Instead, Independiente playmaker Daniel ‘Rolfi‘ Montenegro is included. So is Vélez Sársfield left back Emiliano Papa, as expected. And… hang on… it says here… River Plate right back Cristian Villagra! Scotland fans looking forward to the game might be wondering who these three are. Find out right here…
Villagra’s call up is the most surprising, largely because River Plate are currently bottom of the Apertura, and Villagra’s not had a mention among lists of Maradona’s supposed favourites. The River right back, 23 next month, started off at Rosario Central but was signed by River at the start of 2007. He gets forward frequently – the system River have used under both Daniel Passarella and Diego Simeone has always given him freedom to raid up and down the right flank, and he’s started some matches on the right side of midfield. He can also play at left back, but if Maradona does decide to go with either of the home-based full backs, Emiliano Papa on the left is a better bet (not least because of the presence of Javier Zanetti in the squad).
Papa is one of those players who at the age of 26, might be hoping that this – also his first call up to the national squad – can act as a springboard to greater things. He’s provided solidity at left back and left midfield for Rosario Central and Vélez Sársfield. He’s had two spells with each club, and is currently a few months into his second at Vélez. There were rumours recently that an unnamed European club had made an offer in the region of US$5 million for his services, which Vélez – who paid Central a pittance for him on what was originally a loan-to-buy deal – turned down. As soon as Maradona took charge of Argentina, it was an open secret that Papa could expect a call up. If he’s given the chance to impress, and succeeds, it could solve a long-standing problem at left back for Argentina, where Gabriel Heinze’s gone from the sub-par to the ridiculous since Juan Pablo Sorín’s fitness has ruled him out.
Montenegro wasn’t expected to be called up, but deserves to as much as anyone. Over the last few seasons, he’s been one of the most consistent performers in the Argentine league, particularly during two spells with River Plate and his subsequent, current, two year stint at Independiente, where he scores and sets goals up by the bucketload. He won the 1999 World Youth Cup with Argentina and in April last year, aged 28, was called up for the ‘B’ international against Chile in Mendoza. That was counted as an official cap, but he’s not since had another. The 29-year-old debuted at Huracán before moving to Europe where he played with Marseille, Real Zaragoza (winning the Copa del Rey in 2001) and Osasuna, a brief stint at Independiente in between. Between his two spells at River, he’s also played in the Russian league for Saturn. He’ll no doubt enjoy the chance to hook up with Porto’s ‘Lucho‘ González again – the two formed a lethal partnership for Huracán in the 2002 Clausura.