Argentines Abroad: Messi’s clásico masterclass and more

In England, the Premier League had a quiet weekend for Argentine action for the most part. Last week’s Hand Of Pod introducer Alejandro Faurlín featured as usual for Queens Park Rangers in a 1-0 loss away to Liverpool, and many for QPR felt he should have had a penalty late in the day after a Martin Skertel tackle, but the referee rejected his claim. For Newcastle United, Jonás Gutierrez drew a save from the opposing goalkeeper but couldn’t do much else, as his side fell 4-2 away to Norwich City. On Monday Sergio Agüero made a brilliant assist early on to allow Mario Balotelli to put Manchester City into the lead against Chelsea after only two minutes, but the Citizens ultimately fell to their first league defeat of the season, 2-1.

In Serie A, Rodrigo Palacio played a part in Genoa’s first goal, and scored their second after rounding the goalkeeper in stoppage time as they won 2-0 away to Siena. For Internazionale, Javier Zanetti’s historic red card in the previous match meant he was suspended against Fiorentina, but Walter Samuel, Esteban Cambiasso and Diego Milito all started in a 2-0 win, whilst Mauro Zárate replaced Milito with twenty-five minutes to go.

On Sunday, Atalanta drew 1-1 with Catania. Germán Denis had a couple of chances but was otherwise frustrated, though Catania’s Nicolás Spolli was sent off for a second yellow card after fouling him. Maxi Moralez and Matías Schelotto also featured for Atalanta, whilst Catania’s side was as full as ever of Argentines. National side goalkeeper Mariano Andújar, Sergio Almirón, Maxi López and Pablo Barrientos all started alongside Spolli, whilst Gonzalo Bergessio came off the bench to replace López for the last twenty or so minutes. Ezequiel Lavezzi saw a shot foiled as Napoli (who also played Hugo Campagnaro) drew 1-1 away to Novara.

And now, to our correspondents.

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Tom Clark, who blogs here, is as ever here to fill us in on goings-on in Mexico.

On 8 December the first leg of the Mexican Apertura final was played at Torreón, where hosts Santos Laguna were silenced early by a splendid Damián Álvarez goal. In the eighth minute Tigres’ Chilean forward Héctor Raul Mancilla threaded a pass on the diagonal through the Santos back four, Damián split two defenders, controlled with the footwork of a maestro and fired an angled shot across the goal of Santos keeper Osvaldo Sánchez. The visitors from Nueva Léon, who have relied all through the campaign on the league’s most parsimonious defense, might reasonably have been expected to make a single goal stand up on the night; and, with suffering Santos down to ten men early, the merciless felinos proceeded to do just that.

Four days later, on Sunday 11 December, Tigres came home to their mountain lair at the Volcán, and to no one’s great surprise, finished off the job. A 3-1 victory made the aggregate score for both legs of the final a decisive 4-1. It was Tigres’ third championship, and their first in twenty-nine years. A remarkable campaign of consistent success owed much to Argentine quality: Damián Alvarez, on the left wing, providing energy, speed and dash, and Lucas Lobos – is he the best player in Mexico? – working his midfield magic, the indispensable driving wheel.

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David Cartlidge, a co-editor of Spanish Football Info, is our man in Spain.

There is only one place to being this La Liga round-up of Argentines Abroad, and that’s Saturday night at the Bernabéu. It was of course, the first Madrid-Barcelona Clásico of the season, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. It took just 23 seconds for the drama to kick in as Madrid took the lead, but of course Barcelona responded, and they did so significantly. Lionel Messi was the driving force throughout, and he made the powerful burst and slipped pass as he assisted Alexis Sánchez to level the game. It wasn’t however, until the second half that Messi really shone, and it had much to do with the tactical switch by Pep Guardiola. Messi was placed in behind his Chilean team mate Sanchez, as the 10, the enganche role. The rosarino pulled the strings in midfield, bringing others into play with neat exchanges and simple pass-and-gos, causing chaos with his vibrant running and neat footwork – he weighed in again with a contribution, making a key pass in the move for the final goal. As the game grew, so did Messi’s hunger for the ball. His reading of of the game was sensational, and along with Andrés Iniesta it was too much for Madrid to handle. He did all of this while receiving some disgusting challenges from the likes of Pepe and Sergio Ramos. Meanwhile, the Spanish press spoke the next day of Messi triumphing once more over Cristiano Ronaldo, and how in these games the Argentine grows in stature as the Portuguese diminishes. For Madrid, Ángel Di María wasn’t able to bring his recent form into the game and was anonymous, while Gonzalo Higuaín could do little to turn the match when he came on for his countryman.

Messi vs Real Madrid

He didn’t play at the weekend, but Éver Banega is close to being back for Valencia, and was included in the match day squad which visited Real Betis (losing 2-1) at the weekend. Tino Costa has done well in his absence, but Éver is another level of player. Sevilla had Federico Fazio in their side as they were defeated 1-0 by Levante, and the centre back didn’t have the best game as when the hosts attacked he looked a little anxious at the pace of the counters.

Villarreal were held to a 1-1 draw by Real Sociedad, and the Submarino Amarillo’s goal came via Marco Ruben. The striker closed down Chilean goalkeeper Claudio Bravo to flick the ball in with his head. Other than that he was a nuisance for Real throughout the afternoon and was strong in his hold up play. Gonzalo Rodríguez meanwhile made several key challenges and interceptions for Villarreal as they kept it tight at the back.

Martín Demichelis featured for Málaga as they drew 1-1 with Osasuna at La Rosaleda. The performance of the centre-back was one much improved from his recent hapless performances, and despite a few obligatory nervy moments when being run at with pace, he coped well with Osasuna’s aerial game.

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And finally Ben Shave, author of Cahiers Du Sport, is here to let us know what’s happened in Portugal.

Nico Otamendi and Fernando Belluschi both started as FC Porto recorded a narrow 2-1 win at Beira-Mar. Otamendi (who has been linked with a move to Roma in January) was part of the defensive kerfuffle which led to Beira-Mar’s opening goal, but delivered a solid performance overall. Belluschi found space tough to come by in the congested midfield, and was withdrawn with eleven minutes remaining as the away side looked to shut up shop.

Emiliano Insúa completed 90 minutes in Sporting’s uneventful 1-0 home win over Nacional. Andrés Madrid was absent for the away side through injury.

Ezequiel Garay and Pablo Aimar both played in Benfica’s tense, compelling encounter with Marítimo (Nico Gaitán was absent having hobbled off against Otelul Galati in midweek). The Eagles prevailed 1-0 but not before being given a real fright by their organised, compact opposition. Garay went close with a header early on but was generally preoccupied at the other end, as Marítimo put Benfica’s undefeated run in the Liga under pressure. Javier Saviola made an appearance for the final 20 minutes as Benfica pressed for an opener, which eventually arrived through Óscar Cardozo with just less than five minutes remaining.

You can follow the latest news from the selección and Argentina’s foreign legion of players, as well as the domestic championship, River Plate’s first second division campaign in over a century and the ever entertaining/tragic/infuriating capers of Julio Grondona & chums 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. And remember to bookmark Hand Of Pod, our Argentine football podcast, or if you prefer you can subscribe to it on iTunes here.

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