Argentines Abroad: 2012 is upon us

Football has well and truly restarted in earnest after the new year festivities now, and with  action in Spain, Portugal, Italy, England and Mexico to report on Argentines Abroad is back – as is HEGS for that matter! Happy new year, everyone. There’s not much to say about Lionel Messi’s Ballon d’Or win that you can’t read elsewhere, so as usual my correspondents and I will be sticking to what’s gone on on the pitch over the weekend just gone. Step this way…

In the FA Cup in England, Jonás Gutiérrez was the big Argentine headline-grabber. Newcastle United were drawing their third round tie with Blackburn Rovers 1-1, with Mauro Formica coming off the bench for the visitors, when Jonás struck in the 90th minute after one-two with Leon Best to get the winner. Fabricio Coloccini impressed at the back for Newcastle yet again. Elsewhere in the Cup, there was bad news for Alejandro Faurlín; the Queens Park Rangers midfielder ruptured a ligament and had to be stretchered off late on in his side’s 1-1 away draw. As well as the replay, he’ll miss the rest of the season.

Sergio Agüero scored in vain for Manchester City, getting their second goal in an entertaining Manchester derby which, nonetheless, finished 3-2 in favour of visitors United. Pablo Zabaleta was introduced at half time as City sought to rejig tactically having gone in 3-0 down at the break, and whilst their changes almost worked, their effort in the second half wasn’t quite enough.

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In Italy, Serie A restarted with a 5-0 win for Internazionale against Parma which included two goals from Diego Milito. The first, to open the scoring, was a close-range stabbed finish from a Ricky Álvarez cross, and the second a storming header which bore some resemblance to Wayne Rooney’s opener in the Manchester derby the next day. Álvarez was superb and, like Milito was withdrawn to a standing ovation near the end. Javier Zanetti, meanwhile, scored an hilarious own goal – absolutely smashing the ball into the top corner in an attempt to clear – which was disallowed because the player the ball didn’t run through to was offside. Esteban Cambiasso and Walter Samuel also featured. And although he’s not Argentine, it’s worth watching this video until the end, because Marco Faraoni’s goal is quite something.

Inter 5 – 0 Parma (Milito’s goals are Inter’s first and third, and Zanetti’s disallowed OG… well, you’ll see)

Elsewhere in Italy, it was a mixed bag of Argentine fortunes. The many Argentines at Catania lost (along with the rest of their team) 2-0 away to Bologna, Germán Denis couldn’t score as Atalanta lost by the same scoreline at home to Milan, and Erik Lamela played well – being fouled for a penalty and having a shot saved from open play – as Roma won 2-0 against Chievo Verona. Joaquín Larrivey scored from the penalty spot as Cagliari beat Genoa 3-0, and Hugo Campagnaro and Cristian Chávez featured in Napoli’s 3-1 away win over Palermo. That match was also Franco Vázquez’s debut for Palermo following his move from Belgrano de Córdoba.

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And now it’s time to hand over to our correspondents for the first time in 2012. Here they are.

David Cartlidge, co-editor of Spanish Football Info, is here to let us know what happened on the pitch in the weekend prior to Lionel Messi’s award win.

Real Madrid returned from the winter break in emphatic fashion, dismantling Granada 5-1. Although Ángel Di María wasn’t included due to injury, Gonzalo Higuaín was handed a chance to prove his worth with Karim Benzema stealing the headlines of late. Higuaín did what he does best by chasing lost causes and making something out of nothing on various occasions. He had several chances and could have had more than the one goal he got, but he can still be pleased with his performance.

Diego Simeone took to the Atlético Madrid bench for the first time on Saturday evening, and the returning hero was welcomed with open arms by the Atleti away support for the trip to Málaga in what was to be a 0-0 draw. El Cholo’s job is to turn an underachieving side into a more organised outfit. This performance was exactly what was expected, as the players looked up for the battle and showed signs of positivity in what has been a largely bleak season. The team were aggressive in their defensive work, but perhaps overly cautious when moving into attacking phases.

Simeone selected Eduardo Salvio to start, and the former Lanús man had a quiet game, only showing flashes of his dribbling ability. He’s one of the players from whom much more is required. Málaga meanwhile had three Argentines in their side. Willy Caballero started in goal, and was assured throughout although he had little to do. Martín Demichelis didn’t put a foot wrong at the back, and made some decent interceptions, though Radamel Falcao García did manage to get ahead of him once or twice. The centre back cleared the ball easily in his aerial battles. Diego Buonanotte was also handed a rare start. Ironically during the week leading up to the game he’d been linked with Atleti as Simeone’s first signing. The winger was lively throughout and never relented in his efforts, causing the visitors’ defence problems with his direct running. He was substituted with 15 minutes left but can be happy with his display and should expect more minutes over the coming weeks.

Rayo Vallecano managed an impressive 2-1 win over Sevilla in the early game on Sunday. Federico Fazio started for Sevilla but looked out of sorts, and found it difficult to contend with the high tempo game from Rayo. He received a yellow card for a clumsy foul, and was substituted in the second half. Diego Perotti also started, but never really got into the game and was loose in possession, too often closed down easily by the tenacious Rayo defence and midfield.

Villarreal and Valencia played out an entertaining 2-2 draw later in the day, and although his form for the latter has been good this season, Éver Banega never really got into this game. The Villarreal midfield closed him down quickly before he could dictate from central midfield. The introduction of Tino Costa for Valencia swung proceedings in their favour as he added mobility to midfield and linked play well. Marco Rubén got on the scoresheet for Villarreal, and was a general handful throughout as his side operated on the counter. He held the ball up well, and shrugged off the physical power of Adil Rami very well at times, never seeming intimidated. His goal was well taken, showing good movement before providing a solid finish.

The main game of the evening was the Catalán derby, and what an entertaining affair both Espanyol and Barcelona served up in a 1-1 draw. It was an end-to-end game, with Espanyol perhaps in the ascendancy for the most part, as Mauricio Pochettino’s tactics were incredibly well-chosen. The coach had clearly fired his young side up from the off, and they cut down the space and passing angles created by Barcelona well. Not only were they solid defensively, but they attacked in numbers and with vibrancy. Pochettino is proud of the young players at his disposal, so this result meant a great deal for both his style of football, and use of cantera (youth team) players.

Juan Forlín had a decent game for Espanyol, and looked comfortable for the most part in this defensive midfield role only handed to him this season, as he made a few important tackles and interceptions. Barcelona meanwhile looked smothered at times by Espanyol, and Lionel Messi was one of the main ones to suffer. It might in fact have been his worst game of the season, as he struggled to get involved and looked behind the pace of the game. I’d even go as far as to describe the performance as invisible. One to forget, and here’s hoping with the Ballon d’Or in the bag he’ll be firing on all cylinders again next week.

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Tom Clark (blog here) is back for 2012 as well, as the Mexican Primera got underway at the weekend.

The highlight fixture of the first round of the 2012 Clausura in Mexico was a visit on Saturday 7 January by Apertura champions Tigres of Nueva Léon to the capitol, where traditional powerhouse Cruz Azul lay in wait. The fixture also brought together the best of Argentine quality in the Mexican Primera. And that quality came to the fore.

The home-standing Machina Cemetera struck early doors through a brilliant free kick in the seventh minute from one of the planet’s true experts of that art, Christian Chaco Giménez. I could tell you about it, but you’d have to see it to believe it:

In the seventy-first minute the travelling champions made up the deficit. A headed centre by Alan Pulido was neatly tucked in by Argentine player-of-the-year-so far Lucas Lobos for a 1-1 full time score.

The other pampero goal of the week came on the previous night, when Tijuana stole a point away to Morelia on a forty-fifth minute penalty converted by a man who, it seems, will never forget how to score: José Pepe Sand.

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And last but not least, Ben Shave, the author of Cahiers Du Sport, is here to fill us in on action from Portugal.

Emiliano Insúa celebrated his 23rd birthday by squaring off with compatriots Nico Otamendi and Fernando Belluschi, as Sporting hosted Porto in the first Clássico of 2012. The final score at the Alvalade was 0-0, though Otamendi might well have given Porto an early lead had he managed to direct one towering header with a bit more certainty. The frenzied pace of the encounter meant that Belluschi often struggled to exert much influence in the congested midfield, whilst Insúa performed his usual lung-bursting heroics down the left hand side.

Víctor Meza made a rare appearance for Olhanense as they were defeated 2-1 at Marítimo. The 24 year-old, signed from Unión San Felipe in Chile and once of San Lorenzo, has struggled to make much of an impact since arriving in Olhão, but with new coach Sérgio Conceição at the helm, the forward has perhaps rediscovered his motivation. Also on Sunday, Andrés Madrid returned to the Nacional midfield following a short spell out injured, and was a solid performer as the Madeira club cruised to a comfortable 3-0 win at Gil Vicente.

The stalemate at the Alvalade meant that Benfica had a golden opportunity to move clear at the top of the table, and they made no mistake, despatching União de Leiria with ease, 4-0 the final score. Injuries to Pablo Aimar and Nico Gaitán meant that Ezequiel Garay was the sole Argentine starter, whilst Javier Saviola (who recently signed a contract extension that will keep him at the club until June 2013) came off the bench for the final 20 minutes.

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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