That’s ‘Pre Diego’, for those who can’t work it out. The Argentina manager and most of his squad have arrived in Glasgow and begun training for Wednesday’s friendly against Scotland in the city where Maradona scored his first senior goal for his country, back in 1979. It makes sense, then, to take a quick look at how some of the included players did for their clubs this weekend – as well as some of those who aren’t travelling.
One player who isn’t in the squad but had something to celebrate was Lionel Messi, who scored Barcelona’s opener away to Recreativo de Huelva as the Cataláns won 2-0 to open up a 3 point gap at the top of La Liga (Gabriel Heinze was sent off the day previously as Real Madrid lost 1-0 away to Real Valladolid) and make it nine league wins on the trot. Messi peeled off the defensive wall and finished above the goalkeeper after Brazilian ‘right back’ Daniel Alves dummied a free kick to him. The goal was a timely one: Sunday was the fifth anniversary of Messi’s first-team debut for Barça.
Elsewhere in La Liga, Maxi Rodríguez scored a fantastic goal, nodding a high ball into the box from the right wing, then peeling away from his marker to take compatriot Sergio Agüero’s instant wall pass in his stride and drive the ball in low, first time, to make it 3-0 to Atlético de Madrid in a match they eventually won 4-1 against Deportivo de La Coruña. Uruguayan striker Diego Forlán, formerly with Independiente, scored two of the others. Ever Banega came off the bench with 15 minutes left. Maxi and Agüero are both expected to play from the start for their country on Wednesday night.
In Italy, Maradona’s goalkeeper Juan Pablo Carrizo had an excellent match for Lazio in the Rome derby but was beaten five minutes into the second half by a fine header from Brazilian Julio Baptista. Lazio didn’t deserve to lose but at the other end, Mauro Zárate was causing the Roma defence all sorts of problems but – just for a change – couldn’t stick it in the net this time. Cristian Ledesma was sent off in the 66th minute, and it ended 1-0.
In England, Carlos Tevez’s thus far frustrating second season for Manchester United continued. He’s not played at all badly, but he’s managed just one goal in the league so far this term, and this trend continued at home to Stoke City on Saturday. As United hammered the visitors 5-0, Tevez was subbed midway through the second half and his replacement, Danny Welbeck, smashed in a 30-yarder on his debut to make it 4-0. For Newcastle United, Jonás Gutiérrez and Fabricio Coloccini both started – the former subbed for Michael Owen in the 68th minute – in the 2-2 draw against Wigan Athletic, and Julio Arca filled in in midfield for Middlesbrough, who drew 1-1 away to Everton on Sunday.
In France Fernando Cavenaghi scored again – off the bench this time – for Bordeaux but it was in vain, his side losing 2-1 to Lyon. And in Portugal, Lisandro López celebrated his recall to the selección with a goal to set Porto on their way. Another Argentine, Ernesto Farías, got the second late on, capping off a wonderful counter-attack, as the champions beat Vitória Guimarães 2-0.
And the Mexican Apertura finished this weekend. Ramón Díaz’s Club América are out of the running, having not made the playoff stage, but El Pelado will be in charge for another six months at least, according to his bosses. On the pitch Cristian Giménez and Daniel Botinelli traded goals as Pachuca drew 1-1 with Atlas; Walter Gaitán hit a stunning volley in the first half against Díaz’s América, but also scuffed an easy one in the second half as Necaxa beat their visitors 2-0, and Lucas Lobos set up both goals – both superbly – as Tigres got a 2-1 away win over Monarcas Morelia in order to qualify for the playoffs. Giménez and Lobos finish the regular season in joint fifth place in the goalscoring charts.
Thanks as ever to Tom Clark for the info on our boys in Mexico.