Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Welcome Home

The wanderers return at long last - tomorrow evening Independiente will host Colón Santa Fe in their newly revamped stadium, the Libertadores de América. As is customary for large construction projects the world over it's over budget and behind schedule. Initial estimates put the work at around $10m, 2 years later and that figure has risen to approx $35m - the economic crisis has been blamed for much of this, although critics of club President Comparada's regime point to shared business interests between himself and the architects. Sales of players such as Kun Aguero have helped to fund the construction.

Independiente were the first Argentine side to win the Copa Libertadores in 1964. Under the stewardship of Manuel Giúdice they adopted a more European style of play - catenaccio - crowds averaged 47,000 during this period. Their revamped stadium has also looked to the old continent for inspiration and is based on a European model, with four distinct stands and the crowd close to the pitch, similarities with grounds such as Ibrox or Sampdoria/Genoa's stadium are easy to see. Anticipation ahead of the return is building and last week fans queued for tickets, perhaps a disclaimer should be included - the stadium is a far from complete and barely resembles the website's promo material: http://www.caindependiente.com/estadio/. Capacity will be limited to around 30,000 for the game, it will eventually increase to 45,000. Financial constraints ensure that the stadium roof will for the time being be an unnecessary luxury.

Independiente are in a desperate financial state and have been losing money on two fronts, the closure of their own stadium and 'renting' other grounds for their home games (including Racing's). Half built or not they need to return home. Many new stadiums in the UK remove the club from it's community and it's roots, supporters are forced to change matchday rituals. A pre-match pint in a pub is now an overpriced lager in a plastic glass from the stadium's snack bar. The newly revamped Libertadores de América ensures that the club is back where it belongs and the fans can once again be surrounded by past glories and legends. It should be fantastic once it's finished.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

The World Watches

It's that time of year again, when the world realises there's more to Argentine football than Maradona and violence - it's Superclásico Sunday. A few weeks ago both River Plate and Boca Juniors were in such abysmal form it would have been difficult to pick a favourite, with managerial changes in the air and recriminations in the dressing room. Boca Juniors coach Alfio 'Coco' Basile tried to resign but the board wouldn't let him leave, River Plate coach Nestor Gorosito offered his resignation and the outgoing regime accepted without hesitation.

Three back to back wins, including one over title contenders Velez and Boca Juniors are moving up a congested table they are now only 5 points off top spot. A self-imposed press silence from coach Coco only ended this week in the run up to the game. An air of quiet confidence is emanating from Casa Amarilla and freak training ground injury aside they should start with the same team which defeated Tigre last weekend. Riquelme has sat out some training this week but these are merely precautionary measures we're assured.

Both coaches are no strangers to the intensity of this game and the associated hype that accompanies it. At River Plate where things are in a constant state of turmoil new/old coach Leonardo Astrada is still searching for his first win since taking over and the team's first victory in a month and a half. A veteran of over 20 league meetings as a player, 2 red cards and numerous Summer Tournament 'friendlies'. As coach he won the 2004 Clasura. The same year River met Boca Juniors in the Copa Libertadores semi-final, after drawing 2-2 over the two legs they eventually lost 5-4 on penalties at the Monumental. Astrada, River to the core admitted indulging in some schadenfreude of his own during the final in which Boca surprisingly lost to Once Caldas of Colombia 'When Boca lost the final of the Libertadores it made me very happy. I was at home with some friends, it would be a lie to say there was not any celebrations'. The coach's last squad included talent such as Marcelo Salas, Maxi Lopez, Javier Mascherano, Marcelo Gallardo and the prolific Fernando Cavenaghi - how times have changed.

Comments from various sources coming out of the Monumental in the run-up to Sunday's game are saying that a win in the Superclásico wont make up for the dross that's been on show over the previous 2 campaigns, but a first triumph since 2007 would be a massive confidence boost and buy Astrada some valuable time. Time may not be on the coach's side with River's presidential elections looming on 5th December his days could already be numbered regardless of form. Presidential candidate Rodolfo D'Onofrio has received the backing of idol Enzo Francescoli, who knows what the mandate of the next president will be. Another candidate Daniel Passarella has publicly backed Astrada, more than he's done for Cristian Fabbiani - when asked why El Ogro wouldn't be in his team he referred to him being 'out of form, overweight and constantly on the cover of gossip magazines' (he's recently tied the knot with model and ex-tennis player Victoria Vanucci - proof if ever it were needed that true love is blind). Fabbiani though should have more immediate concerns on his mind - making the starting eleven on Sunday, his inclusion is far from assured and it'll be two from Gallardo, Ortega and Fabbiani helping out Buonanotte.

For the Brits who've been tempted to swap the sterile Premier League for this game as a result of British Airways recent ad campaign we can only hope it's an improvement on the previous two. At the very least there'll be an atmosphere, we used to have that at English games too.

See who's distracting Fabbiani: http://www.politeapplause.com/polite_applause/victoria-vanucci-is-the-hottest-ex-tennis-player-in-the-world/#

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Destination South Africa

The shots of Carlos Bilardo embracing an emotional Maradona at the end of last night's deserved victory in Uruguay highlighted the schizophrenic nature of the qualifying campaign for Argentina. If reports are to be believed (all rubbish says Diego) their relationship has become increasingly strained in recent months - but now the love is back? How can a nation with such a mine of top class footballing talent struggle to make even the final qualifying position? How can the world's finest player consistently produce such ineffective performances for the national side whilst continuing to shine for Barcelona? Why was Real Madrid's leading goalscorer Gonzalo Higuain ignored for so long? And the big one - how could a country with the international pedigree of Argentina entrust World Cup qualification to the unproven, untested and unpredictable Diego Maradona?

The win in Montevideo surprised those of us who were expecting more strange substitutions, erratic formation changes and a start for Martin Palermo - quite the opposite as sensible changes at the right times along with a starring midfield role for the returning Veron helped secure the win. Uruguay offered little in front of the expectant home crowd and the game as a whole was far from the classic that was anticipated. For periods in the second half Argentina went back to the future and began to look like Argentina again. AFA boss Julio Grondona wants Bilardo to be more involved in team affairs - this win may well have his influence all over it. Could Maradona finally have reneged and let Carlos Bilardo have more say in the team?

You can imagine the gentlemen of the press rubbing their hands together at the prospect of Maradona's post-match press conference, biros and dictaphones poised to record every juicy detail - payback time. Never one to hold back Diego let rip - details of his tirade can be found all over the web, tellingly his main target was the media, dedicating the win to 'all Argentines, minus the journalists'. The journalists wont be too disappointed at being excluded - it's a win-win for them, Argentina are at the World Cup and constant source of copy Maradona is still in charge. The pantomime continues.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Argentina 2 - 1 Peru

The record books will show Argentina 2-1 Peru, those delving a little deeper in years to come may even draw some conclusions about the game from the order in which the goals were scored - the home side take the lead, in an attempt to secure victory they push forward only to be frustrated by the 'bus' parked in front of them, Peru on a rare counter equalise and Argentina throw everyone into the opposition half to secure victory in the 93rd minute. The reality was somewhat different - in typical Diego style there were numerous changes from the previous team which started against Paraguay - Pablo Aimar was recalled, Enzo Perez and Emiliano Insua made competitive debuts and perhaps most significantly of all Gonzalo Higuain was capped for the first time at senior level for la seleccion. In a less than full Monumental the first half saw Argentina dominate possession without taking the lead - Higuain came closest of all when he failed to score from a Di Maria centre, not a great start for Pipita with what can only be described as a bad miss.

The beauty of live football is that you never know quite what to expect - just as you're thinking one thing the opposite happens, chuck a team managed by Diego Maradona into the equation and all predictions are useless. Thanks to numerous factors the second half was probably the craziest 45 minutes of football I've ever seen. Martin Palermo comes on for Enzo Perez. Almost immediately into the second half Peru realise they're allowed into Argentina's half and Juan Vargas hits the bar with a thumping 30 yard volley from a corner. Stung into action Gonzalo Higuain beats the offside and finishes confidently from an expertly weighted Aimar through ball - 1-0 - Maradona celebrates like he's been fighting Pipita's corner for months! Anyone expecting Peru to collapse was in for a shock, inspired by prospect of rubbing Argentina's nose in it they grew in confidence. Like a cheap pair of jeans Argentina rapidly lost all shape. The first spots of rain began to fall and within minutes a storm of Biblical proportions engulfed the stadium. Watching from 8000 miles away I could hardly see a thing as the rain fell onto the camera lens and the wind shook the TV gantry. The same excuse maybe used by the Argentine defence as Peruvian sub Rengifo was left all alone and headed an equaliser in the last minute, South Africa seemed an awful long way away. Playing for their World Cup lives Argentina attacked and Palermo who's had one hell of a week completes his international reincarnation by tapping in a deflected cross and promptly ripping his shirt off in celebration. Ninety-three minutes and counting - Peru's Torres shoots Pele-like straight from the kick-off and hits the bar.

On this showing it's difficult to see Argentina getting a result in Montevideo - an 'epic' encounter, they need a draw to make the play-offs. If both Ecuador and Uruguay win Argentina will be on the beach next summer. Plenty of plaudits for Martin Palermo - Ole's headline today simply says 'Palermo - Immortal' (there's a free poster tomorrow............) or in La Nacion 'Martin Palermo saves la seleccion from the abyss', yes and well done Diego for picking him. Hopefully Higuain is now firmly in Maradona's thoughts for Wednesday's game. Messi once again flattered to deceive, lots of tricks and runs - none of which amounted to anything substantial.

Finally - to those of us watching on TV, given the millions recently handed out to the AFA surely they could have paid somebody (or something) to wipe the camera lens........or perhaps they didn't want us to see?

Hasta luego!

View the goals: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03bSFwHeMag

Saturday, 3 October 2009

In His Own Words

Tired of hearing how 'we was robbed'? Bored of being told by managers that 'the lads worked hard'? Fed-up with formulaic, media friendly, insipid responses to questions? Ever wondered what they're really thinking, ever wanted a more in-depth analysis of how the boss sees things?

Lover of beautiful football, Menotista and all round good egg Angel Cappa - coach of Huracan has recently entered the world known as the 'blogosphere' and started posting his own thoughts for public consumption. Unlike many of us who do this Cappa has actually got something to say and he says it. His postings to date (four in September) give us an insight into the motivations and thoughts of a man committed to his very own footballing philosophy. He likens the decimation of his Clasura squad (Javier Pastore, Carlos Araujo, Matias Defederico) to 'an elephant marauding through a newly planted garden, everything is destroyed' on losing the Championship in the last game to Velez 'I will never forget the performance of Brazenas [referee]...............how it denied the whole neighbourhood the outpouring of joy we deserved by playing better than the others'. Huracan are not having the best of campaigns thus far (something to do with the elephant......?) and are propping-up the table. In his latest post following yet another defeat to Velez, Cappa thanks the fans for their continuing support 'after the defeat I saw people clapping the players, this only happens at Huracan, despite whatever occurs the fans support the team' As for his future at the club despite being offered a contract extension he's holding off for the moment although not for financial reasons he asserts, currently all his energies are being put into changing the team's fortunes 'these losses overwhelm us' he laments.

The cynics would argue that given Huracan's current predicament he shouldn't be wasting time writing for the likes of you and I, given the number of followers to his blog (857 and rising) many fans take a different view. Cappa now can talk directly to the supporters, without having to rely on the media to distribute and on occasion distort his message - very useful in times of crisis.

View Angel Cappa's Blog: http://www.cappadt.blogspot.com/

Hasta Luego!

Friday, 2 October 2009

Hair Today, Gone Sunday

River Plate are in the process of putting the finishing touches to their club museum which is due to open next month - there wont be a place reserved for the reign of coach Néstor 'Pipo' Gorosito which will now officially end of Sunday after the game against San Lorenzo, regardless of the result. Pipo, in tandem with club president Aguilar and the players have come under increasing pressure in the last few months both from fans - remember the banners 'if we see you out on the town we'll put you in hospital' and also other members of the board. Aguilar will be out of the door in December following the presidential elections one of the reasons he was holding off from sacking the coach. No sacking required - contrary to various statements of intent which followed poor result after poor result Gorosito has finally caved in.

I'm trying to recall some highlights of his time in charge at River, but it's difficult and none spring readily to mind, maybe Fabbiani's immediate but very brief impact on arrival, his comedy quotes and rotund physique. El Ogro was this week playing in a reserve game. Plenty of low-lights though - the humilation of a 4-2 defeat at Nacional of Paraguay and eventual Copa Libertadores exit at the group stage, last weekends draw snatched from jaws of victory at home to Gimnasia LP (the millionaires were 2-0 up), getting booted out of the Copa Sudamericana, they'll have to qualify next year's tournament and will not have the luxury of an invite. Even the return of veteran fave Ariel Ortega hasn't been able to rescue him. Five points out of 18 tell their own sorry story.

Boca Juniors fans on this occasion are in no position to snigger and smirk given their own massive problems. There are some great haircuts in Argentine football - but none as expertly coiffured as Néstor Gorosito's, lets hope he's not out of the game for too long.

Hasta luego!