The domestic football season has now come to an end across Europe, and also in Mexico. Argentines have been key to the denouements of leagues and cups across western Europe, so here’s the rundown of who’s won what – from the FA Cup to the Mexican Clausura – and who else has impressed in the end-of-season matches. Keep an eye out shortly for the Hand Of Pod Award for Best Argentine In A Foreign League.
In England, Carlos Tevez and Pablo Zabaleta became the first Argentines since Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa to win the FA Cup, when Manchester City beat Stoke City 1-0 at Wembley on the 14th May. Tevez was a livewire throughout, until he was eventually replaced by Zabaleta in a defensive substitution with three minutes to go. A week later, on Sunday just gone, City got a 2-0 away win over Bolton Wanderers to confirm their place in the group stage of next season’s European Cup. Zabaleta and Tevez both featured from the off, and the victory might go some way to affecting Tevez’s indecision over whether or not to stay at City next season. He’d previously seemed unhappy, but seems much more comfortable with the club now. Time will tell…
In Italy’s Serie A, the final two rounds saw plenty of action. The penultimate weekend saw goals from Gonzalo Bergessio and Alejandro Gómez as Diego Simeone’s Catania beat Roma 2-1, as well as an equaliser in vain for Rodrigo Palacio, whose Genoa side eventually went down 4-2 away to Lazio. On the last day, Palacio got one again, and this time it did mean something; it put Genoa 3-0 up at home to Cesena on the stroke of half time, and proved vital as the visitors fought back to only lose 3-2 in the end. Catania lost to runners-up Internazionale 3-1 on that same day, with Pablo Ledesma (who long-term readers may remember as the scorer of the fastest Boca Juniors goal in superclásico history back in 2007) getting a consolation. The other last-day game in Italy with Argentine goals was Lazio’s 4-2 away win over Lecce. Mauro Zárate got one to put Lazio 2-1 up, before Ignacio Piatti equalised for the hosts. Zárate then bagged a penalty to give the visitors a 3-2 advantage before an own goal put them beyond reach. Lazio qualified for the Europa League at the end of the season, with Ezequiel Lavezzi set to wear a miniskirt at Napoli’s end of season celebrations after he’d promised to do so should his club get into the European Cup; they managed it, along with Inter and champions Milan. The Coppa Italia final, between Inter and Javier Pastore’s Palermo, is on Sunday.
And this is where I hand over to our correspondents, with apologies to them for not having put out an AA last week. Those who sent one have it included in this week’s bulletin. Here goes.
Tom Clark, who blogs here, has kept his eye on the end of another thrilling season in Mexico.
The Mexican league Clausura 2011 reached a premature – and rough – conclusion for the brave Argentine contingent of Cruz Azul. The Maquina Cementera, led all season by the marvellous performances of Christian Chaco Giménez and Emanuel Tito Villa, were disappointingly and painfully eliminated after a second leg shock delivered by Monarcas of Morelia.
In the first leg on the 12th March, Chaco once again displayed the brilliant skills and fiery competitiveness that have marked his play all through the campaign. In the 28th minute he created a blue sea of joy with a blistering, swerving free kick that his compatriot Federico El Jefe Vilar got two hands on but was unable to control. Then just before half time Chaco’s quick-reaction header to Villa set up Villa’s precise finish. Two impressive goals from the Cementeros’ Argentine connection, and a 2-0 advantage after the first round.
Come the return on the 15th May the storyline changed dramatically. Morelia’s Rafael Marquez Lugo scored twice early, taking back the advantage in the tie. In the 38th minute Tito Villa left with an injury. Needing a goal, Cruz Azul pressed forward without due caution, and were caught on the counter as Morelia notched a third. So the result was 3-2 on aggregate to Morelia.
But the dramatics were not over. The match, bitterly contested, with tempers and words sparking in its later stages, ended in wild bronca. A pitch invasion by an aficionado brought frustrations to a boil. Chaco lost his cool. Then things got very nasty; the aggravation finally punctuated by the Cruz Azul goalkeeper, Jose Jesus Corona, planting a powerful head butt upon Morelia’s large physiotherapist, toppling him to the ground.
A sad way for the season to end for Cruz Azul, and in particular for Christian Giménez, the figura of the Mexican season, who ended it with a bad set of memories.
In the other semifinal, Pumas (UNAM) took out Chivas of Guadalajara, setting up a Morelia vs Pumas final.
The remaining Argentine hope for a goalscoring moment in the gran final thus lay with Martin Bravo (Pumas).
The next week, the Clausura championship went for the seventh time in history to Pumas (UNAM), and a well deserved title it was, captured in the second leg of the gran final on 22nd May with a thrilling 2-1 (3-2 global) home victory over Morelia.
The Argentine contribution on the day was not a particularly happy one; Federico El Jefe Vilar, in goal for Monarcas, was sent the wrong way on an early penalty by the canny veteran Francisco Paco Palencia.
A celestial salute to all HEGS readers from El Norte… and see you all in the fall.
Another contributor who’s summing up two weeks at once for us is David Cartlidge, of Spanish Football Info.
In the penultimate round of La Liga action, there was little to sort out at the top end of the table – the bottom had a few issues unresolved.
Almería, already down of course, beat Real Mallorca 3-1 and Pablo Piatti weighed in with a goal. The former Estudiantes man bundled in a cross which the defence should have dealt with. A big move awaits for the player this summer…
Málaga drew 1-1 with Athletic Bilbao in the Basque country, and Martín Demichelis managed to get himself sent off for two clumsy fouls – the second being a brainless pull at opposition striker Fernando Llorente. Barcelona drew 0-0 at Camp Nou with Deportivo La Coruña, and they were Lionel Messi-less as he remained on the bench! Javier Mascherano flew the flag for Argentina though, as continuing to prove strong at centre back. The Argentine contingent at Barça (including Messi and Gabi Milito) all posed together for photos with the Primera División trophy afterwards too.
Sergio Agüero featured for Atlético de Madrid as they beat Hércules 2-1. Agüero was quiet by his usual standards, getting off a few shots here and there while making some troublesome runs. In a huge game, Real Zaragoza overcame Espanyol to win 1-0, and much of it was to do with the performance of Leo Ponzio. The midfielder was absolutely everywhere in La Romareda; firing off efforts from 25 yards out and putting in some strong tackles among much more. Deservedly too, he got the all important winner; an effort from 20 yards out flew into the bottom corner of Espanyol’s net, and the points were captured. Leo Franco was solid in goal when called upon, while Nicolás Bertolo made an appearance off the bench but did little.
It was a tale of the wingers for Sevilla, as both Diego Perotti and Lautaro Acosta made appearances in the 3-1 victory over Real Sociedad. Perotti was removed just on the half hour mark, due to a little fatigue after just coming back from injury. Acosta was bright when he came on, and he’ll be hoping for more minutes next season. Real Madrid triumphed 3-1 as they travelled to Villarreal. Madrid featured no Argentines in their line-up, but Ángel Di María got a run out in the second half in what was a largely quiet cameo. Gonzalo Higuaín and Ezequiel Garay were both bench warming. Villarreal included Mateo Mussachio at the back, and he had a decent game despite his side conceding three goals. Marco Rubén started up front but was decidedly average throughout.
The final day of La Liga was as dramatic as it expected to be, though apart from one man the Argentine involvement was minor.
Sevilla beat Espanyol 2-3, and for Sevilla Lautaro Acosta was handed a rare start. The young winger has been restricted to ‘B’ team action this season, but he made a decent impression here as he made some dangerous runs and worked well with the attack. Federico Fazio came on as a late substitution for Sevilla too, though he had little to do.
The main man of the evening though, was Sergio Agüero as his Atlético side beat Real Mallorca 3-4. Kun scored a superb hat trick, and given events this week it could be his final action as an Atléti player; more of that later. His first was scored from a extremely tight angle, while the second was a delicately taken effort before sealing the hat trick with a fantastic solo effort. It was Agüero’s first ever treble for Atléti, and it turned out to be his 99th, 100th and 101st goals for the club. A marvellous achievement, which was soon forgotten as he confirmed later in the week by his personal website and Twitter account he wanted out. To say Atléti’s die-hard support are devastated would be understating the matter.
Getafe drew 1-1 with a rare Daniel Cata Díaz goal, against Real Sociedad. The tough tackling defender latched onto an in swinging cross and poked the ball home. Barcelona finished the season off by beating Málaga (who will include Diego Buonanotte in their ranks next season) 1-3. Javier Mascherano came on as a late substitute for Barcelona, and never put a single foot wrong as his side warms up for the European Cup Final. Lionel Messi was absent, and given his resting in the final weeks of the season he missed out on the Pichichi award for best goal scorer – 31 league goals wasn’t too bad an achievement though.
New contributor Andrew Gibney, the editor of the brilliant Gib Football Show, has joined us late in the season to be our French correspondent. His contribution below sums up the penultimate weekend of the season but, due to a communication mix-up which was entirely my fault, you’re stuck with my own much less erudite summary of last weekend’s action. Sorry.
The weekend of the 21st May was a very mixed one for the Argentine players in Ligue 1. Well, to be honest, it was a plain bad weekend. Cesar Delgado played 90 minutes for Lyon as they drew 1-1 against Brest. Delgado had an average game before being replaced by Jeremy Pied with only minutes to go. Lisandro López didn’t play, having injured his hamstring the previous weekend against Marseille.
Speaking of Marseille, they were without Gabriel Heinze and Lucho González for the trip to Lorient. Both picked up knocks midweek against Brest and failed to make the bench as L’OM were held to a 2-2 draw. The point proved not enough to keep the pressure on league leaders Lille in the race for the title; they secured the crown with a week to go.
Nice defender Renato Civelli had the biggest impact of all the Argentines this week. With his side trailing 1-0 to Nancy the former Banfield man was the last man when his lunging tackle felled Jonathan Brison, Civelli was shown the red card and his team went on to lose 3-0 after goals from Berenguer and Bakaye Traore.
Former Huracán and Bordeaux midfielder Alejandro Alonso played 75 minutes for St-Etienne as they lost 2-1 at home to Rennes and virtually ruled out the chance of Les Verts playing in the Europa League next season.
Thoughts go out to Toulouse captain Mauro Cetto, he could only watch from the sidelines as his team were beaten 1-0 by Arles-Avignon. It is only Arles’ 2nd win of the season. Cetto has begun training again after his hamstring injury but he was not fit enough to be part of the playing squad.
The weekend just gone saw Marseille once again draw 2-2, this time at home to Valenciennes, with Heinze starting and Lucho on the bench. Cetto was finally back to fitness and scored the only Argentine goal of the weekend, the second in Toulouse’s 2-0 win over Bordeaux. There’s still one game to go, this coming weekend, but the title, as mentioned above, has already gone to Lille. Marseille will join them in the European Cup.
Finally, Ben Shave, of Cahiers Du Sport, gives us the lowdown on the Portuguese Cup final.
The curtain came down on the Portuguese season this past Saturday, as FC Porto completed their second domestic and European treble in eight years, with a 6-2 demolition of Vitória de Guimarães. Fernando Belluschi was the sole Argentine starter, with Nico Otamendi having picked up an injury in Porto’s midweek Europa League triumph.
Belluschi has been forced to compete for his previously cemented place with the in-form Colombian Freddy Guarín of late, but his performance on Saturday reiterated his numerous qualities. His link-up play with Hulk in particular was a joy to behold, in what was a barnstorming first half.
The star of the show was not an Argentine, but will be familiar to all followers of Albiceleste football. Since joining from Banfield, James Rodríguez has displayed tantalising promise, and Saturday may well be remembered as his coming-out party, to borrow a phrase from American sports parlance. A superbly taken hat-trick, along with two assists made him the undisputed man of the match. The form of James is one reason why fan favourite Mariano González has become surplus to requirements. The number 10 was given a fifteen minute cameo by André Villas Boas, in which he put the ball in the net only to be pulled up for offside. Word in Portugal is that the wide man will either be joining Racing or Botafogo, but his all-action, committed style will be missed in the Liga.
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.
Photo taken from ole.clarin.com