Argentines Abroad: Messi breaks another record, Madrid & Porto crowned in Spain & Portugal (video)

Argentines Abroad has been held up slightly this week so that we can take the midweek matches into account, principally because of events in Spain; Wednesday saw Real Madrid (with Gonzalo Higuaín and Ángel Di María) clinch the Spanish league title, just a couple of hours after Lionel Messi’s hat-trick against Málaga lifted him to 68 goals for the season, thus breaking Gerd Müller’s all-time European top flight goalscoring record for a single season. There was also a sizeable Argentine element taking part in The Biggest Match Of All Time © on Monday in Manchester, with Pablo Zabaleta particularly impressive for City in their derby win. All this and more is right here.

We’ll start in England’s Premier League, during the weekend. Mauro Formica played the whole game for Blackburn Rovers as they lost 2-0 to Tottenham on Sunday, but more joy was had by Franco Di Santo the previous day. The Wigan forward helped create one goal before scoring a magnificent one himself on the stroke of half time to give Wigan a 4-0 win over Newcastle United. Fabricio Coloccini and Jonás Gutiérrez both featured for the losers, and also turned out for Newcastle on Wednesday when Papiss Demba Cissé’s out-of-this-world double strike gave Newcastle a 2-0 win away to Chelsea. On Monday, Manchester City hosted Manchester United, and fielded their Argentine trio of Pablo Zabaleta, Sergio Agüero and Carlos Tevez, who apparently is now a blue til he dies once more. All three impressed, but most of all Zabaleta in defence, as City won 1-0 and gained the upper hand in the race for the Premier League title.

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In Serie A, Rodrigo Palacio scored in a losing cause for Genoa on Sunday, as his side went down 3-2 away to Bologna. Germán Denis had a better day at the office; he scored Atalanta’s first goal as they won 2-0 at home to Fiorentina. Maxi Moralez and Matías Schelotto both featured as well for the hosts. Internazionale fielded Esteban Cambiasso and Ricky Álvarez from the start against Cesena, with Diego Milito and Mauro Zárate coming off the bench in the second half; it was the latter who got the winning goal with an emphatic header for a 2-1 win. For Udinese, meanwhile, Roberto Pereyra scored his first goal for the club since his move from River Plate last year, in the final minute to seal a 2-0 win over Lazio. The other Argentine matchwinner was a highly unusual source; Gabriel Paletta, who bagged Parma’s second to put them 2-0 up away to Lecce with twelve minutes to play. They eventually won 2-1.

The midweek matches saw two further Argentine goals on Wednesday; another for Palacio, who thus helped Genoa to a 2-1 win over Cagliari, opening the scoring after eleven minutes, and one for Cristian Ledesma, with a penalty just over an hour in, which meant Lazio equalised and could claim a 1-1 draw in front of their own fans against Siena.

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Saturday also saw the final of the Coupe de France, between Lyon and third division US Quevilly. Lisandro López scored the game’s only goal to help his team to the trophy in the State de France, with a coolly controlled volley from the middle of the penalty box.

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And now it’s over to our correspondents. Tom Clark is absent this week, having been hit by a car near his home a few weeks ago; he’s recovering and eager to get back to action soon, but for the time being his Mexican reports are on standby. My best wishes, and I’m sure those of HEGS readers, are with him.

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Ben Shave is a contributor to PortuGOAL, and is here to let us know what’s gone on in Portugal.

Nico Otamendi and Lucho González were in the Porto starting lineup as the Dragons travelled to Marítimo knowing that victory would put them on the verge of an eighth title in ten seasons. Two converted penalties from Hulk bookended a largely forgettable encounter, with Otamendi rarely tested by the unadventurous home side, and Lucho often crowded out in midfield.

José Shaffer, on loan at União de Leiria from Benfica, took part in what is surely one of the strangest football matches ever played. The full back was one of just eight Leiria players to turn up for Sunday’s 4-0 loss at home to Feirense, with the rest of the squad having cancelled their contracts after months of unpaid wages. Shaffer, like three other teammates on Sunday, remained only because Benfica have continued to pay his salary. Under such farcical circumstances, the result hardly mattered – one way or another, Leiria will be out of the top flight sooner rather than later.

A disjointed 2-2 draw at Rio Ave on Sunday night saw Benfica hand the title to Porto, with Ezequiel Garay and Pablo Aimar in the starting line-up for the Eagles. Neither distinguished themselves in a listless display marred by defensive errors, and although substitute Javier Saviola injected a touch of urgency during the second half, Benfica’s title challenge is over for another season.

Emiliano Insúa’s Sporting bounced back from their Europa League disappointment against Athletic Bilbao with a 2-1 win at home to Rio Ave on Monday night. The Lions may have fallen at the penultimate European hurdle this season, but five straight Liga victories have – improbably given some of their displays this season – thrust them back into the hunt for the final Champions League spot.

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And David Cartlidge, a co-editor at Spanish Football Info, is here to fill us in on an uneventful couple of rounds of matches in Spain.

Starting with the weekend, Mauricio Pochettino’s Espanyol suffered a humiliating 3-0 defeat at home to Sporting Gijón on Saturday, a result which well and truly killed off their European aspirations. Cristian Álvarez was left exposed by his defence throughout, though he perhaps could’ve done better on at least two of the goals. Sporting meanwhile had several outstanding performers on the day, and one was Óscar Trejo. The ex-Boca Juniors man linked play superbly in attack and tracked back to provide an extra body in midfield, but primarily he found the target with a sweet finish to help his team. Gaston Sangoy also had a decent performance, and managed to get himself an assist.

Levante’s fine season continued with a 3-1 victory over Granada, and helping keep things tight at the back was Gustavo Cabral. On loan from Arsenal de Sarandí, Cabral has been an excellent performer since nailing down a place in the first team. He put in some smart tackles, and was disciplined in his defensive work. It’s rumoured that other La Liga teams are interested in his services, such has been the strength of his performances.

Real Madrid went a step closer to securing the title (of which, more in a little while) with a 3-0 victory over Sevilla. It was an 11am kick off to please the masses in Asia, and both teams were a little sleepy in fairness. However, Ángel Di María was wide awake and managed to get an assist when his low cross found Karim Benzema who fired in from close range. Other than that Di María was competent enough in his attacking play, linking well with midfield, dropping deep and pushing on either side of Cristiano Ronaldo and Benzema. Gonzalo Higuaín remained on the bench. Sevilla had Federico Fazio in defence and for the most part he did well, with a few clearances and interceptions, but there was little communication along the backline.

Real Madrid goals v Sevilla

Málaga managed an important win over Valencia in the battle for 3rd place in La Liga, though it was a dreadful game overall. Martín Demichelis was in action for the former, and was at centre back despite playing a holding midfield role to much success in recent weeks. Demichelis did little wrong, keeping Valencia’s rare forays forward in check, and won all his one-on-one duels. Pablo Piatti had an awful game for Valencia meanwhile, having to fight for scraps as he got little support from his team mates. Tino Costa was poor too, and faded as the game wore on which allowed Málaga to control the game from midfield.

Barcelona have had a turbulent time of it lately, with defeats to Real Madrid and Chelsea, before Pep Guardiola confirmed his intention to step down. They showed no signs of sadness on Sunday though, as they beat Rayo Vallecano 7-0 away. Lionel Messi took some of his anger over recent weeks out on Rayo, managing 3 assists and 2 goals. Messi has been tightly watched over recent games, with teams nullifying his threat quickly and assertively. The little man looked slightly fatigued in this matches too, but he showed no signs of it here with a fine performance. Javier Mascherano had little to do in defence, but was as strong and assertive as ever when called upon.

Lionel Messi complete performance v Rayo

Fast-forward to Wednesday, and it was a mixed night for two particular Argentines. What with one basking in individual triumph, while another celebrated collective victory.

Barcelona managed to beat Málaga 4-1 at Camp Nou, and amongst the goals was Lionel Messi. Amongst three of them to be exact. It was a very special hat trick too, as Messi broke Gerd Müller’s 39-year-old record of 67 goals in a season – Messi’s third was his 68th. With the middle goal of his hat trick, he also went one better than the 66 which was Pelé’s personal best in a single season at club level. Messi scored his first goal for Barça in May 2005, and he’s come a long way since. Aside from the goal he was involved in all Barça’s best work in attack. Javier Mascherano also featured for Barça and had a quiet night, but what he did do was efficient.

Messi display v Málaga

Real Madrid beat Athletic Bilbao 3-0 at San Mamés, and in turn celebrated their 32nd La Liga title. Gonzalo Higuaín started off the party, as he took part in a free flowing move involving Sami Khedira, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Özil before finishing in emphatic fashion for his twenty-second La Liga goal of the season. Other than the goal, Pipita worked in typically industrious fashion. Many question if he’ll still be at the club next season, but many also insist it would be crazy to let him go.

Higuaín goal

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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