Argentines Abroad bumper Christmas special

Javier Zanetti parades the trophy - and remembers absent friend Walter Samuel

This extended Argentines Abroad has been made possible by the fact that I didn’t have time to do one last week, but forgot to let my correspondents know – and as a result we’ve got two weeks’ worth of submissions from Spain and Portugal, as well as a very belated (my fault, not Tom’s) report on the climax of the Mexican top flight championship early this month. All this, plus the Carlos Tevez saga and news of a loan deal to Spain for Martín Demichelis. How I spoil you all, this festive season.

Tevez‘s transfer request was, of course, mentioned on HEGS at the time, but after being withdrawn on Monday it’s now all completely out of all parties’ minds, of course, and he’ll definitely, certainly see out the remainder of his contract. That good news didn’t help Manchester City on the day of the felicitously-timed announcement, though; they lost 2-1 at home to Everton in a match that would have taken them top of the league had they won it.

On Saturday, the match that FIFA would like to pretend is the highest-profile in the club football world saw victory for three Argentines. Javier Zanetti, Diego Milito and Esteban Cambiasso were all involved for the Internazionale team who got a 3-0 win over the superbly-named Tout Puissant Mazembe Englebert to be crowned world club champions thanks to the sage and assured guidance of their genius Spanish manager Rafael Benítez. Cambiasso thus overtakes Alfredo Di Stéfano as the Argentine footballer who’s won the most medals (including honours won at national youth level), after collecting his twenty-third. During the trophy parade, Zanetti wore the shirt of injured team-mate Walter Samuel, who was forced to miss the tournament. In the same competition, Andrés D’Alessandro scored one and set up another for Internacional de Porto Alegre, who after becoming the first South American side to fail to reach the final, finished third after a 4-2 win over Seongnam of South Korea.

Back in Internazionale’s homeland, Serie A continued. There were a couple of Argentine goalscorers: Germán Denis scored a brilliant header for Udinese to draw them level at 2-2 away to Lazio. The hosts withdrew Mauro Zárate with 19 minutes to go, and eventually won 3-2. Maxi López, meanwhile, scored for Catania after thirty-three minuts of their game at home to Brescia, and it proved a vital one; the only goal of the game. The previous weekend, Zárate had scored for Lazio in a losing cause, as they fell 3-1 away to Juventus.

Lazio 3 – 2 Udinese (Udinese are in orange; Denis’ goal is their second)

In France, Lisandro López scored for Lyon to put them into a first half lead away to Marseille, but the hosts – who featured Gabriel Heinze and Licha’s former Porto team-mate Lucho González in their starting lineup – equalised and claimed a 1-1 draw in the second half. López had also got one a week earlier after only five minutes, in a 2-0 home win over Toulouse.

And now to our correspondents, with two weeks of action to catch up on…

Tom Clark (blog here) keeps me up-to-date on the Mexican league, although I’ve not been as good at passing his missives on so far this month.

The Mexican league Apertura 2010 came down to a wonderful final between two strong, evenly matched clubs.

On Thursday, 2nd December, Santos hosted Monterrey in the first leg, a back-and-forth affair in which the visitors twice fought back to level; a Nery Cardozo goal in the 56th minute made it 2-2, but the home side came back to take the match 3-2 and head into the return leg with the advantage.

Back in the mountain home of Monterrey on Sunday, 5th December, however, the return provided a different storyline. The marvelous Chilean forward Humberto El Chupete Suazo once again worked his will and magic, striking twice. And in between there came the goal that turned the aggregate in the favour of the Rayados. It came from Monterrey’s Argentine connection, with José María Basanta soaring high in the box to head home a Nery Cardozo corner.

Monterrey thus conquered on a 5-3 global and became deserving Apertura champions.

Ben Shave, author of Cahiers Du Sport, fills us in on the last two rounds of Portuguese action.

The weekend of the 11th/12th saw Benfica and Braga square off in the 4th round of the Taça de Portugal, and there were plenty of Argentines on show. Andrés Madrid was handed a rare start for the away side, whilst Nico Gaitán, Pablo Aimar, and Javier Saviola took to the field for Benfica. It was Saviola who opened the scoring after 38 minutes, the former River man slipping goal side of the sleepy Braga defence and turning home from close range.

Benfica pushed hard for a second until the finish, and it eventually came in the 93rd minute through Aimar. Substitute Salvio fired a low shot off the post, Braga could only half clear and the ball fell to El Mago, who headed over the despairing Artur. A cracking game, and that win sees Benfica through to the 5th round.

The following week, for the second week in a row, it was the Argentine show at the Luz, as Benfica disposed of Rio Ave 5-2; with all five goals coming from Argentine feet. Salvio, Aimar, Gaitán and Saviola all started for the Eagles, and it was Aimar who opened the scoring after just five minutes with a deft finish. Saviola doubled the advantage moments later, meeting Gaitán’s deep cross with a shot that took a wicked deflection.

Seven minutes after the restart Saviola grabbed his second of the game, tapping home after some brilliant work from Salvio. Latching onto the ball at the halfway line, the on-loan Atlético Madrid youngster left his marker in the dust, before calmly squaring for his compatriot. That marked the beginning of the Argentine show’s high-water mark, brought to you exclusively by Salvio and Gaitán. With a deftness of foot that recalled some of his more illustrious predecessors on the Benfica wing, the latter ghosted past a couple of defenders at high speed, before digging out a pinpoint cross, headed home at the back post by Salvio. It was the type of cross that had you or I attempted it, we would have fallen over, such was the speed at which Gaitán’s feet were travelling. Lovely stuff.

Salvio netted the fifth a quarter of an hour later. After an Aimar free-kick had been punched only half clear, the diminutive figure headed the ball back into the area, over everybody and into the net. It was a goal of singular present-mindedness, and capped Salvio’s best performance for Benfica. His future is still up in the air, but a few more displays like this and the Eagles will surely consider extending his stay at the Luz.

A bumper weekend for Argentines in the Liga continued on Sunday evening, as Nico Otamendi notched up his second goal in the blue and white of FC Porto, as the Dragons ended 2010 with a 3-0 victory at Paços de Ferreira. Otamendi opened the scoring after eleven minutes, heading home from what looked to be an offside position – but the goal stood. With the Brazilian Maicon in the midst of a fairly error-strewn run of form, the former Vélez man can feel reasonably confident about his chances of nailing down a first-team spot once the Liga recommences in early January.

David Cartlidge is a contributor to Spanish Football Info, and is keeping us up to date with – you guessed it – Spain.

I had planned the report from last week but one on the basis that a small Argentine whose surname wasn’t Messi was the standout out performer from La Liga action of the 11th and 12th – needless to say it wasn’t to be, so thanks Lio! Anyway, now to tell you the story of a hat-trick of braces…

Pablo Piatti is the first of the pint-sized magicians in question, and regular readers of this very column will know I’ve been praising his efforts for a weeks – all seemingly leading up to a performance like this. His Almería side’s 1-3 victory over Sevilla saw him strike one ferocious effort after a neat Cruyff turn and another with superb improvisation to back flick the squared cross into the net. Tip: When watching the first goal, shout boom as Pablo strikes the ball…works a treat!

Piatti’s goals from Sevilla 1 – 3 Almería

Atlético de Madrid also played Saturday evening, and gained a much needed 2-0 victory over Deportivo de La Coruña thanks to a double from Sergio Agüero. The first came after he bent his run to keep onside, before driving down the right flank, cutting inside and slamming the ball home at the near post. The second showed a wonderfully composed finish, as he ran onto a through ball before flicking home with the outside of the boot. Diego Colotto also featured in the game for Depor, and his tracking back was a little suspect for both goals.

Atlético 2 – 0 Deportivo

Lionel Messi – not to be outdone by Piatti or Agüero – delivered a brace of his own. He contributed immensely to Barcelona’s 5-0 win over Real Sociedad, and the first came after a series of one-twos with Dani Alves before receiving the final return and tapping home. The second however was all Messi, picking the ball up in the box he glided away from four defenders before arrowing the ball home into the corner of the net. His all-round team play was brilliant, and the ability to drop deep in midfield and start a move is as wonderful to watch as another mazy run. Javier Mascherano also started for Barça, and he put in a series of crucial interventions on the rare occasions Real mustered an attack.

Angel Di María also scored, as his Real Madrid side won 1-3 at Real Zaragoza – for whom Nicolás Bertolo and later Leo Ponzio featured though both had little to show in the game. Di María’s goal came after a run onto a long ball, before deftly lobbing the ball over Leo Franco in the Zaragoza net.

The weekend just gone was rather a quiet one by their usual standards for the Argentine contingent, but nonetheless there was still some action to report.

Saturday night’s main attraction was the Catalán derby, in which Espanyol were beaten 1-5 by their cross city rivals Barcelona in a fiery atmosphere at Spain’s newest stadium Cornella El Prat. Five goals for Barcelona and Messi didn’t score any – rubbish eh? Not quite. Messi was deployed in a role that allowed him to drop off the front line and into midfield, allowing him to dictate things as he saw – it’s a tactic Pep Guardiola has utilized before and has thus far never failed in coming to fruition. Espanyol’s Juan Forlín was the man given the task of shadowing Messi, and this resulted in leaving gaps in central defence which Barcelona capitalised on superbly as Forlín was pulled in all sorts of directions. The opening goal was scored by Pedro, but Messi provided the assist with a delightful through pass, and his next contribution was a direct run which produced a shot which the keeper could only parry for Pedro to score his second. Messi then got another assist, this time with a smooth little turn in the centre circle before playing in David Villa ever so neatly to finish with aplomb. Espanyol’s consolation came from ex-Argentine Pablo Osvaldo (who also scored the previous week), whose gallop down the wing culminated in an excellent low shot which Victor Valdés could do little with in the Barcelona goal. Javier Mascherano featured for Barça too – albeit for the final 10 minutes – and Jesús Dátolo made a rare appearance for Espanyol and got in 30 minutes or so.

Messi performance vs. Espanyol

The late kick off on Saturday saw Valencia go to Real Sociedad and win 1-2. The game’s highlight was another astonishing effort from Tino Costa – I’d be willing to back the argument that he has one of the best left feet in La Liga. As well as the goal, he also kept his discipline as Valencia lured their opponents in and defended well for large periods of the game. Ever Banega was missing this week, after picking up a knock in training.

Tino Costa free kick

Real Madrid played their game on Sunday, and they succeeded in narrowly beating Sevilla 1-0 thanks to a composed finish from Angel Di María. The ex-Benfica man pounced upon some poor distribution by Andrés Palop in the Sevilla goal, to set himself up and finish from the tightest of angles to get a valuable 3 points at home. The downer on his night was a booking, which he was rightly given for a pathetic dive in the area. Federico Fazio failed to get on for Sevilla, but he made a return midweek in the Europa League; his first appearance after a long spell on the injury list. His side’s poor run of form requires the physicality he can provide.

Di Maria goal

Finally, Leonardo Ulloa got his name on the score sheet for Almeria in their 2-3 loss to Getafe. He, like club mate Pablo Piatti – who had a relatively quiet game this week – is in a decent run of form and took his chance as he beat the offside trap to finish from close range.

And finally, a short bit of transfer news: Martín Demichelis, having fallen out with the Bayern München directors and management, has agreed a six-month loan to Málaga for the rest of the season, where he’ll be a team-mate of Fernando Cavenaghi.

You can follow the daily ins and outs during the summer break, as well Argentina’s performances in the Sudamericano Sub 20 in January, the country’s vast foreign legion and the latest news from the selección during the 2010-2011 season direct from Buenos Aires with HEGS on Twitter. If you’ve not signed up yet you can do so here. You can also join the official HEGS Facebook group, to keep up to date with the latest posts on the blog and discuss things with other fans. You’ll find it here. Also remember to bookmark Hand Of Pod, our home to a brand new Argentine football podcast (or subscribe to it on iTunes here)

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