Argentines Abroad: Messi disappoints, Lucho moves back to an old home and more

It’s been a good while since the last lot of Argentines Abroad, partly because of the Claudio Yacob exclusive on Tuesday night, partly because of an enormous storm in Buenos Aires over the last 24 hours which left me stranded for longer than expected at my girlfriend’s house on Wednesday, and partly because of a midweek round of matches in England and Italy meaning I can wrap the action in those countries up nicely now. Lionel Messi missed a midweek penalty and there was plenty more besides. Read on.

In England there was nothing to report at the weekend, FA Cup action meaning many of the sides with Argentine representatives weren’t playing, but in midweek there was a return to league action. Fabricio Coloccini returned to Newcastle United’s team after an injury-enforced break and helped them to a 2-0 away win over Blackburn Rovers, aided by compatriot Jonás Gutiérrez. Coloccini was perhaps fortunate not to get sent off after bringing down Junior Hoilett when he seemed to be the last man, but put in an otherwise impressive performance.

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In Italy at the weekend, Saturday saw a goal from Gonzalo Bergessio as Catania drew 1-1 with Parma. Playing alongside Pablo Barrientos in Catania’s first match since selling Maxi López to Milan, Bergessio gave the home side the lead just over half an hour in, after Barrientos had already volleyed a chance over. Nicolás Spolli, Pablo Álvarez and Alejandro Gómez all featured for Catania. Gabriel Paletta was in the Parma backline. Sunday saw Gabriel Heinze, Fernando Gago and Erik Lamela all featured for Roma in a 1-1 draw at home to Bologna; Matías Schelotto, Maxi Moralez and Germán Denis (who was red carded) all play in Atalanta’s 1-0 away win over Cesena, and Ezequiel Múñoz and Matías Silvestre involved as Palermo beat Novara 2-0. Internazionale fielded Walter Samuel, Esteban Cambiasso, Javier Zanetti and Diego Milito in their 1-0 away loss to Lecce.

The star turn of the weekend, though, was from Rodrigo Palacio. The former Boca Juniors striker scored twice for Genoa as they beat Napoli 3-2 in Genova. His first goal was a well-taken volley and his second, to put his side 3-0 up, a simple finish. Napoli threatened to come back into the game late on with goals from Uruguayan Edinson Cavani and Argentine Ezequiel Lavezzi, but it wasn’t to be. Hugo Campagnaro also featured for Napoli.

In midweek, Gago and Lamela again featured for Roma in a 1-1 draw away to Cagliari, and Campagnaro was again in the Napoli defence as his side drew 0-0 at home to Cesena. It was hard, though, to know whether to feel happy or sad for Diego Milito. After all, it’s not every day a striker scores four goals and still doesn’t help his team win the match. Inter drew 4-4 against Palermo at San Siro. For Palermo, Múñoz again featured and Franco Vázquez was sent into the fray with quarter of an hour left, but Milito was the star, scoring once from the spot and thrice from open play (with a headed assist for his third from Esteban Cambiasso). Zanetti also played.

There follows a tremendously put together video of the Inter 4 – 4 Palermo match, in HD and with some lovely music to boot. Enjoy.

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Now, as usual, it’s time to hand over to HEGS’ tamed resident experts for news on the leagues I don’t have time to watch myself…

David Cartlidge is first up, to inform us about what’s gone on in Spain. He’s a co-editor of Spanish Football Info.

The weekend started with Marcelo Bielsa‘s Athletic facing a tricky trip to Rayo Vallecano, but El Loco’s men managed to grab all three points. It leaves Athletic just two points off the final Champions League spot – meanwhile they’re in the last 32 of the Europa League, and face a Copa Del Rey semi-final this week. Things are going well in Bielsa’s first season in charge at the halfway point. Another Argentine manager, in the form of Mauricio Pochettino, is also doing well. His Espanyol side gained another three points at the weekend with a 1-0 victory over Real Mallorca, are now six games undefeated, and are level with Levante in the final Champions League spot. Pochettino’s reputation is growing rapidly.

Real Madrid beat Real Zaragoza 3-1 on Saturday evening, though Gonzalo Higuaín only made an appearance for the capital club as a substitute with twenty minutes to go. He had little impact on the game, as his side slowed down the tempo with the game dead as a contest.

Barcelona produced yet another stuttering performance, as they drew 0-0 with Villarreal. The Catalans have found complacency a difficult issue to deal with this season, and its ugly head appeared yet again here. Villarreal meanwhile went with the trusted partnership of Gonzalo Rodríguez and Mateo Mussachio in defence – they didn’t disappoint either. Rodríguez was especially strong throughout, and despite a few giveaways when clearing the ball, he made several strong challenges and crucial interceptions negating the Barça threat. Mussachio played his part too, but wasn’t as prominent as his defensive partner. Both picked up yellow cards for their troubles, but never overstepped the line. Marco Ruben was in attack, but had little to do with Barça typically dominating proceedings – he did gather one chance, but skied the ball badly. He went off late on with a shoulder injury, and will miss two weeks. Barcelona just couldn’t break down the yellow wall.

Javier Mascherano was as usual Mr. Versatility for Barcelona. He played not just one role on the night, but two – defensive midfield in the first half, and centre back in the second. In both positions he was excellent, and saved the skins of his team mates on several occasions. His tackling was precise, his passing neat and he never put a foot wrong. Mr Versatility, or is it Mr Dependable? Hmmm. Lionel Messi wasn’t so good. Like his side in general, he stuttered – and badly. There were glimpses of skill and vision but other than that he failed to make any impact on the game, and things got worse in midweek as he missed a penalty during Barcelona’s 1-1 draw away to Valencia in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-finals.

On Sunday Valencia were held to a 2-2 draw by Racing Santander. For Valencia, the midfield partnership of Éver Banega and Tino Costa failed to spark. Much of that had to do with Banega being taken off with an injury early in the first half. That left it up to Costa to provide the impetus in midfield for his side, but he failed to do so. There was the odd neat switch of play into wide areas, but other than that it was all rather lacklustre. Pablo Piatti, after several sparkling performances in the Copa del Rey, has won a place in the first team. He started here, and it was a decent performance once again. His work ethic was admirable, and he made some decent runs, but was often fouled before he could get into real danger areas. He needs to learn to use his body better, as far too often he can be brushed aside easily, if he doesn’t manage to burst away in a blur of pace.

The final game of the evening was a hotly contested game in Andalusia, as Málaga beat Sevilla 2-1. Martín Demichelis made some key tackles and interceptions in defence for Málaga – though his aggressive stamp on the achilles of Álvaro Negredo was disgraceful and left the opposing striker in serious pain. Willy Caballero wasn’t at fault in goal, and made several clean saves. Diego Buonanotte was handed a late run out, and he made a few decent bursts in wide areas but was chopped down before he could find any end product.

On Monday evening, Diego Simeone’s fantastic start to life (again) at Atlético de Madrid continued. He picked up another three points as his side defeated Osasuna 0-1 in the difficult surroundings of Pamplona. Eduardo Salvio featured as a late substitute, and kept the ball well as Atleti closed the game out. El Cholo meanwhile, remains undefeated, and everyone is singing to his tune.

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Ben Shave, author of Cahiers Du Sport, is as ever filling us in on what’s gone on in Portugal.

Vitória de Guimarães defeated Andrés Madrid and Nacional by a goal to nil on Friday evening, opening round 17 in Portugal. Perhaps more interesting than the game itself was the news that preceded it: Guimarães have added to the Liga’s Argentine contingent, bringing in Jorge Molina from Real Cartagena in Colombia. The 24 year-old midfielder is a product of Deportivo Merlo, who this season are in the Argentine second division.

Ezequiel Garay and Pablo Aimar started for Benfica as the Eagles huffed and puffed to a 2-1 at Feirense, who despite their lowly position in the table managed to give the Eagles more than a bit of a fright. Aimar was replaced with half an hour remaining, the hurly-burly of the encounter ill-suited to his more cerebral talents. Nico Gaitán came off the bench during the closing stages, whilst Javier Saviola was an unused substitute.

Sporting finally got back to winning ways at home to Beira-Mar, thanks to a brace from Oguchi Onyewu. Emiliano Insúa played the full 90 minutes, hurtling up and down the left-hand side with his customary abandon.

After a 717-day, 55-game run, Porto’s amazing unbeaten record in the Liga came to a shuddering halt at Gil Vicente. An insipid display from the Dragons saw them beaten 3-1, Gil’s second goal coming from a penalty after Nico Otamendi was adjudged to have handled a ball. Fernando Belluschi was sent on for the second half, and put in an excellent display, galvanising the Porto midfield and providing the assist for Varela’s consolation. It would turn out to be his last contribution of the season: on transfer deadline day, the former River man was shipped out on loan to Genoa, with an option to buy at the end of the current campaign. Injury often derailed Belluschi’s progress at the Dragão, but in this writer’s opinion, if he felt that he didn’t always get the fairest of shakes, he would be justified in doing so.

Tuesday proved to be a case of one in, one out for Argentines at Porto, as Lucho El Comandante González made a sensational return to the club after two and a half seasons with Marseille. The elegant midfielder (who arrived on a free transfer and agreed to take a significant wage cut in order to return to the club and city where he enjoyed his finest European moments as a player) has signed a contract until 2014, and will surely walk straight into the starting XI. Exciting times.

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Tom Clark, whose blog you’ll find here, is a keen Mexican league watcher, and is back to let us know what’s happened there.

On Saturday 28 January, Cruz Azul left it late, extracting a point away to Atlante on the strength of a goal that wasn’t: Emanuel Tito Villa, who had started the night’s scoring with an honest goal in the 17th minute, finished it in the 87th with a clear handball which was mystifyingly counted as the equaliser. Barely a minute earlier, the magnificently nicknamed home side (Atlante are known as the Potros del Hierro, or ‘Iron Colts’) had gone ahead on a penalty converted by Juan Ezequiel Cuevas, which at the time had looked for all the world like a match winner – and was proven in video replays of the Villa play it should have been. (The stand-up Villa, a man who could not tell a lie, confirmed later, that yes, he had swatted the ball across the line with the improper appendage; and, in reward for his honesty, drew a one-match suspension.)

On the same evening, Pachuca was surprisingly held 1-1 at home by Querétaro, the visitors making the most of a very handsome 27th minute tally by Pablo Vitti to put them 1-0 up.

The final Argentine score of the night came from Rubens Sambueza of Estudiantes Tecos (UAG), whose 55th minute penalty was not enough to save the struggling Guadalajara club from falling 2-1 away to defending champion Tigres.

On Sunday the 29th overall leaders Santos overcame Tijuana at home, 3-1, the sole tally by the visitors coming on a minute penalty converted in the 57th minute by the inevitable José Pepe Sand.

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And last but not least, Andrew Gibney, who runs French Football Weekly, is here to fill us in on the action in France.

The weekend started badly for the Argentine players in Ligue Un but ended on a high note. Paris Saint-Germain were without Javier Pastore as they ended Brest’s unbeaten home with a uninspiring 1-0 win. Milan Bisevac scored the only goal of the game. This was the first league game PSG have won this season without El Flaco.

Over in Brittany full-back Lucas Mareque had a decent performance as Lorient draw 1-1 at home to Sochaux. Christian Gourcuff’s side were looking good for all three points but for a superb strike from Cedric Bakambu with ten minutes to go. Unfortunately for Mareque the week would go from bad to worse.

Down in Lyon it was a decent night for Lisandro López. The striker was involved in most of Lyon’s good play but couldn’t find his way onto the score sheet as two late goals saw off Dijon 3-1. The highlight of the game had to be the excellent turn and finish from Bafetimbi Gomis that gave Lyon the lead.

On Sunday night it was back up to Brittany as we said goodbye to one of Ligue Un’s Argentine contingent. Lucho González played his final game for Marseille as they came from behind to beat Rennes 2-1 at the Stade de la Route de Lorient.

The soon-to-be-Porto player didn’t have the best of games. Caught in possession outside the box in the first half Lucho’s error lead to Tongo Doumbia firing Rennes into the lead. Although they were dominated for most of the game Marseille came back and won the game through a second half strike from Benoit Cheyrou.

After three years in Marseille Lucho has made his move back to his former club FC Porto. Marseille confirmed the €2m move although Porto reported that Lucho had moved on a free. And as one Argentine left Ligue Un another returned. Before the weekend’s games centre-back Mauro Cetto made the move from Italian side Palermo to the French champions Lille. The former Nantes and Toulouse defender returns to France after only leaving for Italy last summer.

We end this week with the battle of two Argentines trying to book a date at the Stade de France for the Coupe de la Ligue final. Lorient hosted Lyon on Tuesday night with Lucas Mareque coming face to face with Lisandro López in Lyon’s attack.

The home side were superb and with ten minutes to go goals from Innocent Emeghara and Kevin Monnet-Paquet had Lorient on the brink of a cup fairy-tale. Lyon had other ideas though; substitute Alexander Lacazette made it two one with an excellent strike from outside the box. There must have only been seconds remaining when Lyon won a corner and disaster struck for Lorient. Jimmy Briand was left unmarked to climb highest and power the header into the net. 2-2, and extra time beckoned. Lyon were in the ascendancy and there was only one outcome. Bafe Gomis made it 3-2 and Lacazette sealed the win in the 120th minute.

Lyon and Licha López will face Marseille in the Coupe de la Ligue final. The Argentine striker will be hoping to lift the Coupe Charles Drago come the final in April.

Coupe de la Ligue highlights

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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