It was an understated weekend last week for Argentines in the world’s leagues, and as such I’ve really only got some words from our contributors, for the most part. This post is late going up, by the way, because after moving into a new flat on Sunday I’ve spent a few days enjoying having a home after a month and a half sleeping on friends’ sofas. Normal service ought to be resumed next week. In France, Lisandro López returned from injury to hit a hat-trick for Lyon, but otherwise it was generally quiet. There were a couple of goals in vain in Italy, and important contributions from Lionel Messi (as usual) and Sergio Agüero in Spain. Here with all the action from Spain, Portugal and Mexico are David, Ben and Tom.
First of all though, I’ll get my own little bit out of the way: Serie A saw far fewer Argentine goals than we’ve become accustomed to, and the two that there were were essentially meaningless. Rodrigo Palacio and Mauro Boselli (the latter on loan from Wigan Athletic in England) both scored for Genoa, but their efforts came to nothing as their hosts, Internazionale, who featured Javier Zanetti throughout, ran out 5-2 winners anyway. The other big Argentine-related story this week was Maxi López’s announcement that he’d like to be considered for the Italian national team, having accepted that he’s unlikely ever to get the chance for Argentina. If you were thinking of nominating him for our end of season ‘best Argentine Abroad’ award, he’ll no longer be eligible for it.
Goals from Internazionale 5 – 2 Genoa (Palacio’s is first, and Boselli’s is last)
In France, meanwhile, Licha López returned from injury and made up for lost time, scoring a hat trick against Arles to help Lyon move to within four points of Rennes at the top of Ligue Un. It’s a welcome return to action for López, and coming a week and a half before his club’s second leg in the European Cup second round tie away to Real Madrid next week, a potentially vitally-timed one.
Annoyingly, YouTube seem to have deleted all the videos that have been uploaded of Licha’s hat trick.
And now to our contributors.
David Cartlidge, a contributor to Spanish Football Info, keeps us up to date with La Liga.
A quiet weekend for the Argentine contingent in Spain, but nonetheless here is the round-up. Barcelona were up against the wall of Real Zaragoza on Saturday evening, and won 1-0, with Lionel Messi providing the assist for the solitary goal. Messi picked up the ball and drove in his typical direct manner, before shrugging off the challenges from the defenders to get to the by-line and pullback a pass for Seydou Keita (who had set up Messi for that header against Real Mallorca a week earlier) to strike a bobbling ball home. Messi had a few more decent efforts on goal; none more so than a free kick which narrowly went wide in what happened to be the last kick of the game. Javier Mascherano also featured, and got in a full 90 minutes – he did well enough, tidying things up in the middle and passing under little pressure throughout. His quantum leap into the hearts of the Camp Nou faithful, of course, was taken on Tuesday night with a last-ditch tackle on Arsenal’s Nicklas Bendtner which probably kept Barcelona in the European Cup, and dumped the visitors out. Back at the weekend, Nicolás Bertolo started for Real Zaragoza, but had little time on the ball due to his side being on the back foot for the majority of the evening.
Messi performance as usual
Atlético de Madrid won 3-1 over Villarreal in an entertaining encounter, with Sergio Agüero getting on the score sheet. His efforts were as usual tireless, cutting out on occasions to wide berths and dropping deep to good effect. He got his goal to make it 2-1 by finishing off a neat move on the edge of the area with a delicate lob over Villarreal’s goalkeeper. That goal for Kun was his 84th in 224 official matches, to move level with Fernando Torres in the Atlético scoring charts. For Villarreal meanwhile, Mateo Mussachio and Gonzalo Rodríguez both had a decent games despite conceding the three goals – for instance the former could do little when up against a stronger Agüero for the 2nd goal. Despite this, they put in some excellent tackles, including a few of the last-ditch variety and were unfortunately not given sufficient protection from the midfield. Marco Ruben came on with 2 minutes to go, but did nothing of real note for Villarreal.
On to Sunday evening and Sevilla were on the receiving end of a 2-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao. One of Athletic’s goals was an own goal attributed to Sevilla in the shape of Federico Fazio. The defender was perhaps not expecting a cross to reach him, and an outstretched leg prodded the ball into his own net. The crime would be to let the own goal eclipse his performance, as other than this incident Fazio was imperious as has been the case this season. The gradual improvement made each week since returning from a long injury has been clear to see, and his marking of Athletic’s Fernando Llorente – one of the most feared strikers in Spain – was testament to his current standing. Llorente was never given an inch, with Fazio matching him positionally and for strength. Diego Perotti was unable to make any real contribution to the game, as he was outmuscled quite often by a more physical side.
Real Madrid beat Racing Santander 1-3, despite perhaps taking their foot off the gas for long periods of the game. They were able to do this due to a very bright start, and the performance of Ángel Di María was again a positive. The former Rosario Central man put in another very lively display, showing good intelligence in his approach play and beat his defenders at times with consummate ease. His main contribution to the game was the winning of a penalty after being brought down in the box, halting another exciting run.
Late Monday evening, Deportivo de La Coruña beat Real Sociedad 2-1. Much has been made in this very column of Diego Colotto’s ability to defend, but here he showed a more attacking side to his game, providing an excellent assist when he drove in a cross for Deportivo to take the lead.
Ben Shave, author of Cahiers Du Sport, is our man in Portugal.
Fernando Belluschi was the sole Argentine starter for Porto against Guimarães on Saturday, with Nico Otamendi handed a rest by coach André Villas Boas. The former Newell’s and River man was an uncharacteristically peripheral figure, and was withdrawn after fifty-four minutes. Porto eventually won 2-0, with the deadlock broken by a pair of Colombians who will be familiar to fans of the Argentine game: James Rodríguez played a delicious through ball, which was latched onto and finished by Radamel Falcao García.
The ongoing injury troubles of Sporting captain Daniel Carriço meant that Marco Torsiglieri was handed another start, as the Lions eventually overcame a dogged Beira Mar 1-0 at the Alvalade. The former Vélez man had a quiet evening as the home side dominated possession but were forced to sweat out a narrow win.
Benfica’s usual glut of Argentines was reduced somewhat for their trip to Braga – only Javier Saviola and Franco Jara started, with Pablo Aimar and Eduardo Salvio rested, and Nicolás Gaitán benched ahead of their midweek European commitments. Saviola got Benfica’s only goal, crashing home from close range after twenty-five minutes, but neither he, Jara nor Gaitán (who appeared with twenty minutes remaining) could prevent defeat for Benfica, ending a quite remarkable eighteen-game winning streak.
And last but not least, Tom Clark (whose blog you’ll find here) is, as ever, keeping a beady eye on Mexico for us.
In the ninth round of the Mexican Clausura Argentine scorers were decisive agents for clubs at the bottom and top of the league table.
On the evening of Friday, 4th March Estudiantes Tecos, a club for which every victory is worth its weight in gold in the ongoing struggle to avoid the drop, pulled off a surprise win at home over Pachuca (who reacted to the humiliation by firing their manager, Pablo Marini). The goal came late, on a 69th minute penalty by Estudiantes mainstay Mauro El Pitou Cejas, whose fifth tally of the campaign keeps him near the top of the league scoring table.
The following day, up in the rarefied ether at the other end of the standings, Pumas (UNAM) leapfrogged Tigres to secure sole position of the superlider spot with an impressive away win at Atlante. There were two goals in the match, coming close together and both the individual work of Martín Bravo, who has been on a tear of late. Here Bravo contributed his third and fourth goals, in the 22nd and 27th minutes, both made largely by this player’s dominant skill, an unusual ability to shred defenses on the strength of combative boldness and pure will. The explosive Bravo has provided all the fireworks lately for the renascent Pumas. As the announcer on this clip succinctly puts it, after La Rata’s second effectively put this tie away, ‘Bravo por Bravo!’
You can follow the ins and outs during the 2011 Torneo Clausura, as well as 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 Argentine football podcast, or if you prefer you can subscribe to it on iTunes here.