Argentina’s preparations for their World Cup second round match on Sunday against Mexico continue apace, with FIFA officially confirming that Juan Sebastián Verón’s 135 successful passes against Greece is a new record for a single player in a single match in World Cups (statistics started in 1966). On the squad’s day off, Jonás Gutiérrez – who will return at right back against Mexico – has claimed that the Englishmen amongst his Newcastle United team-mates will be supporting Argentina in the World Cup; ‘they don’t like Capello because he’s Italian.’ And maybe because he doesn’t give them a call-up. Jonás also explained his ‘Spiderman’ goal celebration. There are still doubts, meanwhile, about the team that will face Mexico.
Jonás’ position at right back against Mexico has been put in doubt due to that fact that Nicolás Otamendi seems to have taken to the position far more naturally (not for the first time, I should say I’m not criticising Jonás for this; he’s not a defender, he’s an attacking midfielder. Otamendi is a defender). Walter Samuel’s recovery from a thigh strain – team doctor Donato Villani confirmed today that all 23 players are physically fit to play – will see him come back in at centre back, and means that Nicolás Burdisso is also being considered for the role on the right.
Jonás also, incidentally, explained his famous goal celebration, in which he takes a Spiderman mask out of his shorts and puts it on (he’s left all six of them in Newcastle though, presumably realising he was going to be wasted at right back and not have any chances to use them anyway in South Africa). ‘In Spain, I went to the cinema and a little boy was there too. He asked me to score a goal for him for Mallorca and told me that Spiderman was his favourite super hero, so I told him I’d use that mask.’
If Maradona opts for Jonás again, then Mexico manager Javier Aguirre would be well advised to put one or two pacey players on Mexico’s left side and tell them to focus their attacks down that flank.
Seba Verón is expected to start again, of course, but Maradona is yet to decide whose place he’ll take out of the two other attacking midfielders. Maxi Rodríguez played well on the right against Greece, with Verón on the left. Until now Verón’s been the starter on the right hand side and Ángel Di María has filled the position Verón took up against Greece, but Di María’s weak performances in the first two matches and Verón’s superlative one on Monday have put doubt in Diego’s mind. Maxi, of course, scored the most spectacular goal of the last World Cup at this same stage against the same opponents to win the game. Don’t be surprised if the only midfield change from the Greece match is Javier Mascherano replacing Mario Bolatti as the cinco.
Up front of course, it’ll once more be Lionel Messi as the enganche in a free role with Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuaín linking with him a little further forward (or in Tevez’s case, behind and to the side as well). Argentina certainly have the tools to undo Mexico, but the defence is still a worry and the North Americans could be the first side to put it under real pressure. On Friday, Maradona will give his pre-match press conference in Pretoria, having won dispensation from FIFA to give the obligatory interviews two days before the match near the selección’s training centre, rather than in the match stadium the day before as everyone else has to. Now who says FIFA never give him anything?
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