Saturday, 26 December 2009

Buonanotte Seriously Injured

News has broken this evening of a serious car accident involving River Plate's young star Diego Buonanotte. Buonanotte is seriously injured after crashing his father's car into a tree in his home province of Santa Fe whilst his three friends have all tragically passed away. The player is now in Los Arcos hospital, Buenos Aires after being transferred by air.

Buonanotte has once again been the subject of much transfer speculation during the preceding weeks - most recently being linked to Atletico Madrid. New River Plate president Daniel Passarella has vowed that he'll do everything possible to retain the services of the 21 year old.

First Class Bilardo, Cattle Class Maradona

A game they didn't need to play. A result they could have done without against a 'nation' that doesn't exist. Tuesday's 4-2 defeat to a Catalan national eleven in Barcelona has ensured that the year will end in the same turmoil for the national team as has become the norm. Any illusions that qualification for the World Cup would result in an outbreak of harmony between warring factions have long since diminished.

General Manager Carlos Bilardo has directed his ire towards Alejandro Mancuso, good friend of Maradona and current member of his coaching set-up. Mancuso, he alleges has fostered the separation between himself and Maradona, ruining their once beautiful relationship (only a few months ago Bilardo was trying to convince us that the bond between them was the same as in the 80's). The flight back from Spain to Argentina gave an indication of just how far relations had deteriorated - Bilardo was in First Class whilst Maradona and Mancuso slummed it with the plebs in Economy. Things must have reached rock bottom. December 28th will see Bilardo giving his side of the story via his radio show. At present Argentina are tearing themselves apart from the inside, in typical Dutch style.

Catalunya v Argentina

Saturday, 5 December 2009

On Their Best Behaviour

Argentina has to be the greatest country in the world in which to be a football fan. 'Free' football for all on the TV courtesy of the Government and now all expenses paid trips to South Africa to cheer on the national team at the World Cup. To be fair the trips aren't being provided condition-free, the Government (who initially denied any involvement whatsoever) will only give them away if the Barras behave; yes the Barras will be going on an African tour. Upto 280 places have been promised in exchange for good behaviour inside stadiums in the run-up to the World Cup and also support in the 2011 elections.

An umbrella group has been formed HUA - Hinchadas Unidas Argentinas which presently consists of gang members from Colón Santa Fe, Gimnasia y Esgrima LP, Chacarita Juniors , Argentinos Juniors, Independiente, Huracán, Veléz, Lanús, Tigre and Rosario Central. Banners bearing the HUA slogan and references to the Kirchner regime have been appearing at matches over the last month. At first the HUA and their leader Marcelo Mallo advertised themselves as a force for social change, purely an anti-violence movement but links to the Government have become increasingly difficult to cover up.

As alien as this agreement is to most of us, many questions arise as to how it'll work in practice. The barras have to behave inside the grounds - which gives plenty of scope for clashes away from stadiums. When was the last time large scale disorder happened in the stands? Places for South Africa are limited, expect disagreements about who gets a ticket and who doesn't - if more gangs join the HUA this problem will merely increase. A recent meeting of the HUA Capos resembled a scene from a Mob film. No doubt the unlucky ones will be pacified by wads of cash. Both La Doce of Boca Juniors and Los Borrachos del Tablon of River are big enough to book their own to tickets to the World Cup, no help required.

The promised anti-violence measures ( are no use whatsoever in isolation. The HUA initiative is once again legitimising the violent minority, as long as links between the hooligans, politicians and clubs remain in place the problem will persist. The suits believe that getting into bed with the Barras will somehow be of benefit, otherwise why would they do it?

In England the Government collected the passports from the hooligans, in Argentina the hooligans collect tickets and travel guides from the Government.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Resigned To It - Angel Cappa

Adressing the fans directly via his blog ( Angel Cappa of Hurcán is now the ex-coach of Huracán. In the early hours of Tuesday morning he announced his resignation in a post titled 'Hasta Pronto'. His frustration has been building throughout the Apertura; the team, a mere shadow of the one which passed and thrilled it's way to runners-up spot in the last campaign has struggled to find any form and have managed just 2 victories.

Cappa offered his resignation a few weeks ago but was persuaded to stay on until December. Last Saturday's clasico defeat at home to San Lorenzo (0-2) and the die was cast. 'I can't say goodbye to Huracán' he begins 'It's been a privilege to be involved in and with the development of a team that will surely take it's place in the club's history and possibly occupy an important place in Argentine football'. Proud of his reputation as a coach who demands football to be played the right way he believes his crusade also has implications for the game as a whole - 'Argentine football found hope' {in Huracán}. It's easy to accuse him of having an over-inflated sense of his own self-worth, pretentious too; but those who witnessed them destroy River Plate and Racing with their tiki tiki quick passing game can understand why such claims are made.

What now? He'll be cheering on Huracán from the stands and hopefully the blog will continue. As for the team's star midfielder and Maradona saviour Mario Bolatti has already intimated that he'll be moving on, he told La Nacion 'It'll be very difficult for me to continue after December..........many things have happened since July but now is not the time to talk about them'.

Jesús Martínez - reserve team coach will take over in the interim, as for long term solutions president Carlos Babbington has alluded to Miguel Brindisi who's now out of work after coaching in Mexico - his salary demands may well exceed what el Globo can offer a fact already acknowledged by Babbington. Also in the frame is Diego Cocca ex of Godoy Cruz.

Huracán 4 - 0 River Plate

Racing 1 - 4 Huracán

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Copa Qualifiers

Bulletin No 4174 slipped out of AFA headquarters on the 17th July 2008, setting out amongst other things match schedules, relegation procedures and the colour of corner flags........ Hidden away in Section 7 of the document can be found the qualification criteria for the 2010 Copa Libertadores. Argentine clubs have 5 places available, one each for the winners of the Clasura and Apertura with the remaining places assigned to the three teams with the highest accumulated points totals throughout the previous two campaigns. Estudiantes qualified automatically as reigning Copa Libertadores champions. At time of writing Vélez have secured their place as Clasura champions, which leaves 4 places up for grabs, and a myriad of possibilities and combinations.

Eyes are inevitably drawn firstly to Boca (42 pts) and River (40 pts) both are virtually out of the running and will not be appearing in South America's lucrative club tournament. This will be the first time since 1992 that the competition has been without these two at the same time - expect tears from TV execs, CONMEBOL administrators and fans a like. Poised to take advantage of this situation are Corinthians of Brazil who are actively courting Boca's Juan Roman Riquelme, unlike his current club they can entice him with the prospect of Copa Libertadores football. The club may be forced to let him go (or force him to go) given fiscal constraints. River Plate have played more Copa Libertadores matches than any other Argentine club - outgoing president Aguilar's legacy will see them unable to add to their tally in 2010.

Of the teams that have a good chance of qualifying we find this campaign's leading scorers Colón of Santa Fe (62 pts) who've only ever appeared in one previous tournament in 1998. Lanús - currently 12th in the table but with an accumulated total of 55 points. Tight-fisted Apertura leaders Banfield (55 pts) who've only conceded 6 goals so far are also well placed. In what is a refreshing change two more teams from the provinces are challenging for places - Newell's (53 pts) and Rosario Central (49 pts) with the small matter of this weekends Rosario derby to come, Perversely Rosario Central were involved in the relegation play-offs only months ago. Huracán (48 pts) are paying for a poor Apertura and despite being runners-up to Vélez are now looking doubtful to secure a place amidst continued inconsistent form. El Globo take on Diego Simeone's San Lorenzo (47 pts) this weekend who themselves haven't won in three - the loser can kiss any dreams of intercontinental football goodbye for 2010. Finally rejuvenated and re-housed Independiente (47 pts) are still in with chance.

Roll on January.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Ortega Watch - Part VI

Ariel Ortega is travelling with the squad to Rosario to face Newell's in this evening's game. He wont be playing - coach Leo Astrada has decided that given his current personal problems and state of mind playing for River today would be of little benefit to the club or the player. Ortega's lengthy battle with alcoholism has taken many twists and turns over the years and last year saw him loaned out to Nacional B side Independiente Rivadavia of Mendoza - whilst receiving treatment in Chile. He returned to River in May and the demons recently returned, prior to last weekend's defeat at home to Lanús he requested that he didn't play and even made reference to hanging-up his boots for good.

Both Leo Astrada and club president José Maria Aguilar have met with the 35 year old this week which has resulted in yet another plan of treatment being devised. This will involve daily sessions as an 'out-patient' as opposed to a stay in a residential clinic. How times and approaches to problems like this have changed. I've recently read 'Blessed' George Best's autobiography - he documents the highs and deep despair of a sublimely talented alcoholic footballer. His problems were seen as a lack of self-discipline and treated as such -a fine here, a suspension there - they were never recognised as symptoms of his addiction. His periods not playing merely gave him more time and opportunity to indulge in the booze - a cry for help which was never answered by Manchester United. ' I think at the end of the day, if a player is doing the business for the club, then the club should make an effort when things go wrong. But no one ever did come' (Blessed - George Best). On this occasion River can't be accused of abandoning Ortega, on the contrary they're working to find a solution to it. The time is fast approaching when the club's duty of care towards Ortega is matched by the player's own sense of personal responsibility and his desire dry out.

RFA loves you El Burrito, get well and get fit.

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: 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:

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:

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] 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:

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!

Saturday, 26 September 2009

The Foreign Legion v Peru/Uruguay

Reinvigorated, refreshed and revitalised...................Maradona returned from his luxury spa break in Italy this week, minus some earrings but with a list of players he hopes will see Argentina finally make it to next years World Cup. Any thoughts that 11 days of hydrotherapy, salt inhalation, reiki and 5 star pampering would mellow the under fire coach were soon put aside when he barked at plethora of microphones 'No one has instructed me to pick any players. I couldn't stand it from anyone. I'm 48 years old and nobody has imposed anything on me since I was 15. The list I bring is mine' which leaves us in no doubt who to blame if it all goes wrong. On to the players - the initial list of 18 is composed of those playing overseas - the headline, Gonzalo Higuian of Real Madrid finally gets his senior cap - Gabriel 'the scruffy kid' Heinze keeps his place as usual, I wonder if he and Higuain will be sharing a room????!

Some more surprises - Jesus Datolo, the pick of very bad bunch in the September qualifiers gets overlooked.....explain that. Javier Zanetti doesn't make the squad with Man City's Pablo Zabaleta drafted in as a replacement. Still with Man City Carlos Tevez keeps his place despite resembling a headless chicken in recent games. Ezequiel Lavezzi stays on eventhough his impact has been minimal, on fire Inter striker Diego Milito is also retained. but Lyon's Lisandro Lopez is dropped. Benfica's Pablo Aimar is included for the first time since 2007. Full 18 as follows:

Goalkeepers: Sergio ROMERO (AZ Alkmaar, Holland)Mariano ANDÚJAR (Catania, Italy)

Defenders: Nicolás PAREJA (Espanyol, Spain)Gabriel HEINZE (Olympique Marseille, France)Fabricio COLOCCINI (Newcastle United, England)Emiliano INSÚA (Liverpool, England)Pablo ZABALETA (Manchester City, England)

Midfielders: Javier MASCHERANO (Liverpool, England)Jonas GUTIERREZ (Newcastle United, England)Lucho GONZALEZ (Olympique Marseille, France)Angel DI MARIA (Benfica, Portugal)Pablo AIMAR (Benfica, Portugal)

Forwards: Lionel MESSI (Barcelona, Spain)Sergio AGÜERO (Atlético Madrid, Spain)Carlos TEVEZ (Manchester City, England)Gonzalo HIGUAIN (Real Madrid, Spain)Diego MILITO (Internazionale, Italy)Ezequiel LAVEZZI (Napoli, Italy).

The domestic players will be finalised after Wednesday's 'locals only' game v Ghana, Ortega has been called-up! Don't think I'll be setting my alarm for that one. Although Enzo Pérez of Estudiantes gets a deserved chance as does Jesús Méndez of Rosario Central.

On the subject of the Selección's return to the Monumental (remember the fuss?) Diego had a less than coded message for the cleaners, caretakers and groundsmen 'I have nothing against River. The important thing is that the dressing rooms are up to standard and the pitch is in good condition'. Remember the pitch made all the difference in Rosario.

Hasta luego!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Don't Go Coco

After seven competitive games in charge including 3 defeats, 3 draws and a solitary win Boca Juniors coach Alfio Basile tended his resignation on Sunday night. In the aftermath of defeat at home to Godoy Cruz of Mendoza on Sunday, Coco headed for room 707 of the team hotel to inform General Manager Carlos Bianchi and others of his intention to quit. After only a couple of months in the job he didn't believe he could improve things, questioning his own ability to motivate and connect with the team, their attitude, the depth of the squad (Rodrigo Palacio and Fabian Vargas both left in the close season) and a lack of harmony in the boardroom.

Bianchi however refused to accept his resignation and set about rectifying the delicate situation , conscious also that his own reputation relies to a certain extent on Basile succeeding - mission accomplished and he's agreed to stay on. Other factors such as some ridiculous defending (particularly on Sunday), Riquelme's permanent injuries - he's out for at least the next two matches, and fatigue...........yes fatigue 4 weeks into the new season have also been blamed for the poor start.

The goal now is to ensure that they secure qualification for the Copa Libertadores - on current form they are looking very unlikely. Sucessive games against Estudiantes and then Velez will prove if the confidence in the manager is justified - the board maybe begging for the resignation letter.

Hasta luego!

Saturday, 12 September 2009

For The Love of Football

The city of Ushuaia:

Pride of Ushuaia: Los Cuervos del Fin del Mundo
Ushuaia is a city on the edge, located at the very tip of South America on Tierra del Fuego seventy-thousand people now reside here, surrounded by spectacular mountain peaks. The most southerly city in the world (I'll argue with anyone who considers the Chilean settlement of Peurto Williams a city) is rapidly expanding thanks primarily to tourism and also the massive cruise ships that take wealthy holidaymakers south to Antarctica - a relatively short hop over the Drake Passage.
As has been seen throughout football's short history the game prospers and flourishes in tandem with the community that surrounds it. Football at the End of the World is no exception and Ushuaia has recently been accepted into the AFA fold. Ushuaian league champions Los Cuervos del Fin del Mundo and runners-up Mutual Banco made history this year by being the first teams from the city to take part in an AFA administered competition. These pioneers took part in the Torneo del Interior or Argentino C, a mammoth tournament that encompassed 264 teams from all over the country which are divided on a regional basis. The prize is a place in Argentino B, the fourth tier of Argentine football including teams other than those from Greater Buenos Aires.

Being a mere 1200km from the Antarctic peninsula inevitably causes some logistical and weather related problems for the teams. I spoke with Esteban Parovel a sports journalist for the Ushuaian newspaper 'El Fin del Mundo' to gain an insight into how this years tournament has been embraced by the locals and about football in general in the region: 'the season starts in March although there is a winter break at the end of June/beginning of July, it reconvenes in September'. As it's impossible to play outdoors in the depths of winter Esteban explained that the football fan gets his fix from Futsal or Fútbol de Salon (versions of indoor 5-a-side): 'In
order to be affiliated with the AFA a condition was that we developed a Futsal league'. Each game consists of two twenty minute halves.

Certain aspects of Torneo C resemble English non-league football particularly the lives of the players: 'All of the players are amateur and they fit in playing and training around their jobs. We have taxi drivers, civil servants, PE teachers, factory workers and dockers - there's even a local councillor Damián de Marco who plays for El Duende'. The teams all play at Ushuaia's municipal stadium - Hugo Lumbreras. In this year's competition the support was first and foremost Ushuaiaense in nature as opposed to split along individual team lines. In the case of the champions Los Cuervos: 'when they played in Argentino C the stands were pretty much full and they also took some fans to away fixtures'.

The emergence of Los Cuervos has also attracted attention from Buenos Aires, 2400km away. At the end of June they signed an agreement with Primera A giants San Lorenzo. El Ciclón will provide expertise in the field of sports medicine/injury management, they will supply kit and training materials, there's also the opportunity for Los Cuervos to train in the capital with the pros. Squad players from San Lorenzo will travel south to join Los Cuervos and gain valuable experience.

Football is pursued as enthusiastically and passionately as elsewhere in Argentina - have local players moved away to play at a higher level? 'Seventeen year old midfielder Franco Mendoza is a bright prospect, he played for Argentina Under-15's at the 2007 South American Championship in Brazil and this year he's joined River Plate'. There are other young players located at leading clubs throughout the country including Independiente, Gimnasia y Esgrima de la Plata and San Lorenzo. 'The Temporetti brothers, Francisco and Fernando played for Rosario Puerto Belgrano (Punta Alta) during the club's golden era all the way to Argentino A - they've since returned to Ushuaia with Los Cuervos'. The city's most famous son is to be found in Futsal - Alamiro Vaporaki has represented Argentina at senior level, his skill and achievements have also been acknowledged by the Argentine Sport Journalists Association.

Football in many forms is surviving and thriving at the End of the World - perhaps the AFA should have played the recent Brazil World Cup Qualifier in Ushuaia.....

Many thanks to Esteban Parovel from El Fin del Mundo ( for answering my questions. Thanks also to Fernando from ( who explained the complexities of the Argentine league system to me.

Hasta luego!

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Paraguay 1 - 0 Argentina

President Lugo of Paraguay was almost correct before Wednesday night's World Cup Qualifier when he predicted a 2-0 victory for the home side. It could have been even more as they hit the frame of the goal twice before half-time together with scoring a neat goal.

As expected Maradona made changes from the team humbled by Brazil with Romero replacing Andujar in goal, Emiliano Papa, Fernando Gago and Sergio Aguero all being called into the team. Mystifyingly Sebastian Dominguez who had the debut from hell on Saturday was retained in the heart of defence whilst Nicolas Otamendi was left out.

The most striking thing about this performance was Argentina's complete lack of ideas, especially after going a goal behind on how to salvage the situation given the wealth of talent on display. Paraguay's goal was well worked and expertly finished by Haedo Valdez after receiving the ball from Salvador Cabanas who was given acres of time and space to turn and turn again without being challenged. Veron was justifiably booked for a studs-up challenge on Christian Riveros, most likely born of frustration from having such a shocking first half - stuck out on the right he inevitably drifted towards the centre and looked every one one of his 34 years. Most of Messi's play was concentrated far too deep to cause any problems at all - once again the Agrentine press are questioning why he can't recreate his Barcelona form. Paraguay were content to let Argentina have the ball safe in the knowledge that they'd do very little with it. Debutant golakeeper Sergio Romero was tellingly Argentina's pick of a poor first half.

Right - half-time: cuppa (maté), inspired changes by Maradona and a rousing teamtalk. Wrong - the team had the look of condemned men as they sheepishly took the field for the second half. The only change was a bizarre one Ezequiel Lavezzi on for his Napoli teamate Jesús Dátolo, one of the better outfield players over the previous 2 games. Switching to 4-3-3 Maradona hoped 3 vertically challenged, nippy, similar forwards could do the job that 2 couldn't. Soon after Veron gets a second yellow and is off for a foul on Torres - this time he's sold a short pass by Mascherano which puts him in trouble. Back to the drawing board and Argentina unleash their secret weapon - 35 year old Martin Palermo back to exorcise the ghosts of his last visit to Paraguay with la seleccion and add some much needed height to the attack, Aguero exits. One final odd substitution remained - 36 year Rolando Schiavi another debutant replaced Dominguez. Finally some urgency from Argentina in the last 10 minutes, Palermo heads back across goal and Schiavi nearly bundles it home - but doesn't.

Maradona has vowed to fight on, Aguero assures the public that Argentina will still qualify meanwhile Real Madrid forward Gonzalo Higuain watches the whole campaign unravel from afar . Two games remain - Peru at home, a win (surely) and away against the old Old Enemy - Uruguay, themselves improving and looking solid. Argentina's World Cup qualification was stuttering long before Maradona was hired - appointing the world's greatest player was huge risk, his previous managerial posts had been spectacular failures - as each competitive game passes it looks like the gamble may not pay off.

Hasta luego!

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Argentina 1 - 3 Brazil

In the end it didn't really matter, it didn't matter that the crowd were closer to the action, it didn't matter that the playing surface was perfect, it didn't matter that Argentina were slick and incisive going forward (at least until they ran into Brazil's defence), what did matter was the home side's glaring inability to defend and in particular mark the opposition players at set pieces. Argentina's attacking prowess merely highlighted their defensive failings - Brazil held the line, stuck together and formed a wall of yellow to blunt the frequent forays forward. In contrast Argentina were pulled to pieces by Brazil's counter attacks.

For the first two goals (Luisao's header and Luis Fabiano's strike) Argentina's defence were so far away and their reaction so tardy they may well have been back in Buenos Aires. At 2-0 down the fans admirably stuck with the players. Very much like the first half Argentina started the second half well although all of their efforts were concentrated through the centre where they slammed into the Brazilian wall. Midfielder Jesús Dátolo provided a small window of hope when on 65 minutes he shot fast and straight from long range as Brazil stood off him. Dátolo's celebration was a lot more restrained than that which followed his goal in Moscow, a indication of the seriousness of the situation. Less than a minute later the counter attack which finally killed off the game - Kaka's run and pass through to Luis Fabiano to chip at an angle over an advancing Andujar, as cool as you'll ever see. Game over.

And what of Messi on the return to the city of his birth? He worked tirelessly and searched for openings, made probing runs and was a constant threat without any notable support - his second half jig into the penalty area was only halted by accurate Luisao tackle. The main talking point will be Maradona's decision to throw the inexperienced Velez Sarsfield pair of Sebastián Dominguez and Nicolás Otamendi into the into the defence for such a high profile game against the arguably the best team in the world.

Brazil have secured their place in South Africa, for Argentina the battle is only just beginning. Can Diego win this fight?

Off to Paraguay on Wednesday.

Hasta luego!

Friday, 4 September 2009

Pass the Water

Photo: AP
When the suits from FIFA deemed Rosario Central's stadium fit to host tomorrow evening's Argentina v Brazil World Cup Qualifier it's reasonable to assume one of the pre-requisites is fully functioning and reliable plumbing - toilets that flush, showers that are hot and water that is drinkable. It seems the CBF are not confident on the last point. If they were why on earth ship the stuff over the border. The answer of course goes back to Italia '90 and Argentina's 2nd round defeat of Brazil - the real Water-gate. Brazil's defender Branco was handed a bottle of water from the Argentine bench during a break in play which allegedly contained tranquilisers. Branco himself said he felt light headed and drowsy towards the latter stages of the clash. Argentina vehemently denied any wrong doing in what has since been referred to as the 'Holy Water' incident. Some 15 years later Maradona confirmed on a TV show that the dirty little affair had indeed taken place whilst stressing he had no direct involvement.

In 1990 Carlos Bilardo was the coach of the national side, today he's Maradona's side-kick and general manager - could this be why Dunga and his side are being so cautious? 'We're going to take our own water to avoid any problems. We'll only drink our own' Brazil's Dani Alves told Argentine broadsheet La Nacion. Tomorrow's game will no doubt have it's own talking points but thankfully the preamble and endless build-up is almost over. From Adriano spouting that Argentina are 'scared of me' to World Cup winner Nery Pumpido telling us 'the crowd will play their part' many have had their say, with some comments being more enlightening than others. The main event takes place in 24 hours.

The winner from 1990 (I'll have some of what Diego was on):
Hasta luego!

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Ortega Watch - Part V

Ariel Ortega has been the subject of more than one post on RFA over the last 12 months, indeed my very first foray into the 'blog-os-whatever' concerned El Burrito, his very public problems and subsequent shipping out to Independiente Rivadavia in Mendoza. Twelve months later and things appear to have come full circle - this afternoon's performance against newly promoted Chacarita Juniors confirms that that the old cliche about form being temporary and class permanent may have an element of truth.

Bubble-permed River coach Néstor Gorosito had been given assurances by President Aguilar earlier in the week that his position was safe until December although rumours persisted that this stance wasn't favoured by others on the board. A defeat in today's game against the Undertakers (Chacarita is home to the largest cemetary in Buenos Aires) may well have laid to rest Gorosito's mediocre time at River. A little over 20 minutes remained, River trailed 2-3 at home when Ortega slipped a superbly weighted ball through Daniel Villalba to round the 'keeper to equalise. On 87 minutes El Burrito received the ball from his own half and nonchalantly lobbed a stranded Nicolás Tauber in the Chacarita goal to secure River's first victory of the Apertura. An ecstatic bare-chested Ortega held his shirt aloft and received the adulation reigning down from the stands.

Watch the goals:

Hasta luego!

Friday, 21 August 2009

Transfer Chat - 2

'Does my bum look big in this?'
Cristina gets a free shirt for bailing out football.

Photo: Clarin

With the delayed Apertura finally due to commence within hours I’ll revisit the post about transfers from a few weeks ago ( Remember, this is Argentina – things are rarely as simple as the selling club receiving all of the revenue, previous clubs, business consortiums and various other parties may all get a share. Far from an exhaustive list, what follows are some deals and potential deals that have caught my eye.

I’ll start with the world’s most prolific striker – Lucas Barrios who’s moved from Colo Colo (Chile) to Borussia Dortmund for €4.5m. A significant intra-European transfer is Lisandro López – moving from Porto to Olympique Lyonnais for €24m in a four year deal. Back in Argentina – if you’re tempted to put some cash on Huracán to go one better this season think again, midfielder Javier Pastore has moved to Palermo for 5 years, with el Globo seeing little if any of the fee. Matias Defederico is on the verge of moving to Corinthians (of Brazil not England) although Huracán’s official website insists that he’ll be staying on for another 6 months. Reports in the English press also allude to an unnamed English club (Liverpool?) making an eleventh hour bid. Defender Carlos Araujo is on his way to AEK Athens subject to a medical. One positive for coach Cappa is that Mario Bolatti will continue to play for the team, albeit for 6 months. Without Pastore and Defederico to light up the play things will be a lot different.

Onto River where35 year old Matias Almeyda is the latest recruit to join Dads Army. Ariel Ortega is back from his Mendocino exile and raring to go after scoring in his return match against Everton (England). For now Diego Buonanotte remains but Colombian striker Radamel Falcao has departed for Porto at a cost of €4m. Paraguayan midfielder Miguel Paniagua has joined the Millionaires (surely time to change that nickname) from Guarani on a 1 year loan with an option to buy.

At Boca Juniors forward Rodrigo Palacio has finally moved to Europe with Genoa (the irony!) where Luciano Figueroa has also returned to. On the subject of Genoa Diego Milito has moved to Internazionale which should increase Palacio’s chances of getting some games. It is to be hoped the stylish Italians have a word with Rodrigo about ‘that haircut’. Hugo Ibarra was on the verge of quitting the club a few weeks ago but got all sentimental and decided to stay on much to the relief of fans. Chilean midfielder Gary Medel has joined on loan from Universidad Católica.

If further evidence were needed of the global appeal of Argentine talent Independiente are a great example – Daniel Montenegro has gone to Mexican side América for $3.5m, Hernán Fredes moves to Metalist in the Ukraine and Leandro Gioda goes to Jerez, Spain on loan. Forward Andres Silvera joins from San Lorenzo where he hopes to get paid on time – good luck. Neighbours Racing have lost a significant amount of talent (see earlier post) but have recruited from the dark side – Damián Ledesma arrives from Independiente. Defender Franco Sosa is the latest departure moving to Lorient of France for 3 years €800k.

San Lorenzo could have a page dedicated to themselves, interesting times for Simeone learning all those new names – I’ll keep it brief, Bergessio still remains the club will need his fighting spirit ( Midfielder Leandro Romagnoli puts heart over head and returns from Sporting Lisbon despite interest from Fluminense and goalkeeper Pablo Migliore joins from Boca. Cristian Ledesma returns to Olympiakos. Veteran Kily Gonzalez arrives from Rosario Central.

Some others: Clasura champions Vélez have been relatively quiet although striker Joaquin Larrivey has returned back to Cagliari after his loan spell. Lanús have lost prolific striker José Sand to the footballing mecca that is Al Ain in the UAE in exchange for $10m, another striker 19 year old Eduardo Salvio is also interesting Fiorentina who are ready to bid around €10m. Champions of America Estudiantes will continue to be inspirationally led by Verón who has taken a 40% paycut in order to fund youth football – what a legend! Gastón Fernández – scorer of the equaliser against Cruzeiro in the Copa Libertadores final has returned to Tigres of Mexico after his loan spell.

Transfer revenue may be less, but a similar pattern remains – young hopefuls go one way and the veterans come the other. Pastore could well have stayed at least another season with Huracán and earned himself a move to an A-list European club under the instruction of Cappa. Unfortunately the player was no doubt the last person to be aware of his next move.

Enjoy the season.

Hasta luego!

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Game On

AFA President Julio Grondona may not have been top of the popularity ratings with most football fans although developments this week have seen him recast as a rotund Argentine version of Bob Geldof. Nothing excites your average working man more than football and nothing exorcises him more than having to pay cash to watch his team on the TV. All that may change as the AFA, backed by the clubs and with Government support have broken their current broadcasting contract with Clarin/TyC in a row over increased TV revenues. The clubs need more money to settle debts with palyers and tax bills. It's now open season as to how games will be shown in the coming years but the most likely scenario is rumoured to be a $1.6bn deal from the state over 10 years to broadcast football with games being shown on free to air channels and the remainder sold to other networks. Expect this one to run and run with Contract Law professionals all over Buenos Aires and beyond salivating at the prospect of the forthcoming legal wranglings. Marcelo Bombau - head of TyC has been on the offensive and will be pursuing a multi-million dollar compensation claim against the AFA. Whatever the opinion of TyC's coverage, the way fixtures were spread over 3 nights at weekends or the amount of money they were putting into football there are two parties involved in a contract. It was after all Grondona and the AFA who negotiated the deal. TyC will have invested heavily in resources to broadcast games for the duration of the agreement, they have every right to seek compensation. How long before a club president who backed this action publicly criticises a player for breaking a contract?

It's a widely accepted fact that the current financial mess has been caused as much by club mis-management as by a depressed transfer market, the club presidents will again escape any serious repercussions and Grondona wont have to suffer the embarrassment of taking any action against his friends. Opposition politicians are also critical of the State involving itself in a private contractual dispute although their opinions may differ if in power. The season is now due to start on 21st August - who's going to ensure the extra cash is kept within the game? Stadiums need updating, security needs improving, barras don't need paying and neither do shadowy owners of players contracts. For now the game is on but the same problems remain.

Hasta luego!

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Take it as Red

When is red not red? When it's LG red of course. The Korean electronics company has what is to most people a red and white logo.....although to Boca Juniors President it's 'burgundy'. Jorge Ameal has qualified the exact shade of red in light of mounting criticism and vitriol from a proportion of Boca's fans, disgusted that the colours of Superclásico rivals River Plate should somehow find their way onto the sacred shirt.

Given the debt-ridden quagmire that most clubs find themselves in, not least Boca - the protesting fans could do worse than take heed of the ancient proverb 'Money talks and bullshit walks'. Firstly LG are paying the club in US Dollars to have their name on the shirt, not in the yo-yoing Argentine Peso, secondly it's not a bad deal - 3 years at $2m pa increasing by $250k per year too. Shirt sponsors are temporary whilst club colours are eternal.

Perhaps the fans would have other matters on their minds if the season was expected to kick off as scheduled next Friday. At time of writing that doesn't appear likely as unpaid salaries and taxes still remain. AFA President Julio Grondona should however be given credit for sucessfully shifting the focus and the blame for the current impasse from his organisation and club mis-management to the TV companies. Well dodged Julio.

Hasta luego!

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Gonzalo Bergessio - Prizefighter

Nothing dulls the senses and dampens enthusiasm for a forthcoming campaign quite like an insipid pre-season friendly the flip side being a humiliating and confidence shattering defeat, Newcastle United's 6-1 defeat at Leyton Orient springs to mind.

San Lorenzo's 'friendly' against Uruguayan amateur side Atlético El General last Thursday was anything but standard fare. Ciclón striker Gonzalo Bergessio took fighting for the cause all too literally following a tussle with Uruguayan defender Gusmán Elizarzú - punches were thrown mainly by Bergessio who used his not inconsiderable bulk to great effect (View here: Rumours that Elizarzú had made an ill-timed quip about bouncing cheques to the striker are as yet unfounded.... The match was abandoned following the ruck with the Argentines 2-0 up.

Bergessio, like most of his colleagues at San Lorenzo is the source of constant rumours about his future given the club's plight with Villarreal the latest club linked with him. More of a bar room brawler than a cultured fighter, Bergessio could however make some cash bare-knuckle fighting should the bailiffs come calling. With two World Cup qualifiers looming for Argentina the proverbial loose cannon could be a risk too far for Maradona, who hasn't called upon him for the friendly against Russia next week.

The 'opponent' 26 year old warehouse worker Gusmán Elizarzú was understandbly shaken by the affair 'You're crazy' were his final words to the raging Bergessio, later commenting on Bergessio's mass 'Have you seen the muscles on him?, He eats well, I weigh 68kgs and work 9 hours a day' he told Olé. As yet he hasn't spoken to anyone or received an apology from San Lorenzo, he is though willing to forgive but unlikely to forget his 'friendly'.

Hasta Luego!

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The Circus Comes to Town

Expect the collection plate to handed around in Moscow on the 12th August, with the game in Argentina firmly in the red some much needed dollars from filthy rich oligarchs would be most welcome. La selección travel East to face Russia ahead of their summer 2010 defining double header against Brazil and Paraguay in early September. The 23 man squad is near as damn it full strength, the major surprise for yours truly being the inclusion Jesús Dátolo from Napoli who's played a mere 9 games for the Italian side. Mario Bolatti of footballing team Huracán also gets a well deserved call-up with Clasura champions Vélez bringing up the rear courtesy of Emiliano Papa and Nicolás Otamendi the latter building on his first cap in the friendly against Panama (a game slated in an earlier post!!!). Juan Verón is included and once again proves that age aint nothing but a number particularly after his legendary performances in the Copa Libertadores for Estudiantes. The squad is as follows:

Juan Pablo Carrizo (Zaragoza –Spain) Mariano Andujar (Catania – Italy) Javier Zanetti (Internazionale – Italy) Emiliano Papa (Vélez Sársfield – Argentina) Gabriel Heinze (Real Madrid – Spain) Daniel Díaz (Getafe – Spain) Nicolás Burdisso (Internazionale – Spain) Nicolás Otamendi (Vélez Sársfield) Martín Demichelis (Bayern Munich – Germany) Javier Mascherano (Liverpool – England) Fernando Gago (Real Madrid – Spain) Sebastian Battaglia (Boca) Mario Bolatti (Huracán – Argentina) Maximiliano Rodríguez (Atlético de Madrid – Spain) Jonás Gutiérrez (Newcastle United – England) Jesús Dátolo (Nápoli – Italia) Juan Sebastián Verón (Estudiantes de La Plata) Lionel Messi (Barcelona – Spain) Sergio Agüero (Atlético de Madrid – Spain) Carlos Tevez (Manchester City – England) Lisandro López (Olympique Lyonnais – France) Diego Milito (Internazionale – Italy) Ezequiel Lavezzi (Nápoli – Italy)

Hasta luego!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Can't Pay, Wont Play

In days gone by one of the few events to break the tedium of a long close season was the publishing of the fixture lists. Argentine Apertura fixtures were released this week with eyes predictably drawn towards the numerous clásicos and Superclásico. The fun is set to commence on the 14th August although Secretary of the Players Union Sergio Marchi has called for the start to delayed.

The problem is debt, specifically the debts owing to players by their clubs from unpaid wages and bonuses. Almost half of all clubs in Primera A are in debt to their players including Racing, River, Independiente, Huracán and the two Rosario teams. With problems such as these it's understandable that Argentine players move abroad to inferior leagues and teams. These transfers are as much about the security of a contract that will be honoured as they are trophies and career progression.

San Lorenzo have one of the most acute debt problems in the league at present. One of the famed Big Five (the only one not to have won the Copa Libertadores) have exacerbated their own woes by spending too much money on players, paying too much in wages (when they pay them) and performing too poorly where it matters. Last season's dismal Copa Libertadores exit did little to help balance the books. Goalkeeper Agustin Orión is one such employee who's owed money together with others such as defender Cristian Tula and forward Hernán Peirone. With Orión he's the property of the club and not owned by a third party if his debts aren't settled in the next day or so he'll become a free agent. Currently with this debt San Lorenzo are unable to sell the player despite interest from Racing. Coach Simeone needs to take a roll-call before every training session at the moment, it's anyone's guess who's not turning up as a result of non-payment.

AFA chief Julio Grondona has called on the State to intervene and has also proposed that the FA loan money to San Lorenzo to clear the player's debts and enable him to be sold, thus generating income. Another form of assistance could be increased revenues from the football pools, the much maligned TV deal needs modifying for a more even distribution of the cash, however the current contract runs until 2014. Surely the State has bigger concerns than propping-up poorly managed football teams? Direct State intervention in various guises aka handouts is nothing new, Racing's three successive championships between 1949 -51 were helped immensely by their ability to retain their best players - then Finance Minister Ramón Careijo was a Racing fanatic. Perhaps Nestor could have a quiet word with his wife?

Those owed wages must be paid. Short-term loans maybe the answer but club presidents, boards and administrators need to be brought to justice when contracts are breached.

Hasta luego!

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Champions of America!

Photo: Placar

Looking through some of the scribbled notes that I made at 2am this morning whilst watching the 2nd Leg of the Copa Libertadores Final one sentence caught my eye 'they'll [Estudiantes] do this'. Granted it's hardly the most radical prediction in the world given the scores were 0-0 at the time. I wrote it about 20 minutes into the game after Cruzeiro had expectedly seen most of the ball, the possesion though didn't really threaten Andújar's goal. Whenever the Brazilians attempted to build an attack it was efficiently dismantled by the Estudiantes midfield and they began to grow in confidence. Can Verón be held in any higher esteem by his adoring fans? Before this game it was difficult to see how - however a Man of the Match performance by the captain has secured his place in El Pincha folklore prompting his father to comment 'my son is the best player in the history of Estudiantes' Nepotism? Not at all, high praise from an integral member of the club's first golden era. In tandem with the rest of the midfield and in particular Enzo Pérez who was once again snapping at the heels of the opposition the Argentines took control of the first half.

Cruzeiro took the lead early into the second half, a long range shot by Henrique took a massive deflection off Desabato to fool Andújar and 60,000 Brazilians celebrated. Unable to capitalise on the goal Estudiantes played with composure and inventiveness with Verón the the lion heart in the middle. The equaliser was instigated by Verón who with typical vision slipped a great ball to who Christian Cellay and the resulting centre was turned in by Gaston Fernandez. Mauro Boselli had misfired with a couple of first half opportunities for Estudiantes but his winning goal was a textbook downward header again from the perfect Verón centre, ensuring that he ended the tournament outright topscorer. Seventeen minutes remained in which the 4000 visiting fans won the vocal battle in the stadium. Cruzeiro hit the angle of post and crossbar in the dying minutes but their onslaught never really materialised.

With Carlos Bilardo looking on approvingly in the stands Estudiantes were crowned Copa Libertadores Champions for the fourth time after a 39 year wait. Remember too this is coach Alex Sabella's first managerial role after taking over earlier this year - in Belo Horizonte his team played the perfect game, composed, patient and above all together.

A difficult year for Argentine sides in the Copa Libertadores ends in well deserved victory for Estudiantes.

Hasta luego!

Relive the glory:

Thursday, 9 July 2009

One Game From Greatness?

No goals but plenty of intrigue to keep us European-based Copa Libertadores aficionados from drifting into a slumber. Pre-match talk was concerned as much with the Swine Flu pandemic sweeping Argentina as with the current Estudiantes team’s chances of recapturing past triumphs. Even President Lula of Brazil weighed into the debate regarding Swine Flu by seeking a personal guarantee from the Argentine Minister of Health about the welfare of the Cruzeiro party.

When the smoke cleared from the pre-match barrage of pyrotechnics I half expected the Brazilians to be sporting medical style facemasks in an effort to ward off the virus although being mid-winter scarves and gloves may have been more appropriate. With Veron back in the side after injury and without the away goals rule the home side set about imposing themselves on Cruzeiro. Defender Rolando Schiavi did his best to emulate some of the more negative aspects of past Estudiantes teams by aiming a sly kick at Kleber, he’d later on receive a yellow card for his efforts. It’s true that they had most of the ball in the 1st half but clear cut chances were few and far between, any that did come their way were well dealt with by keeper Fabio including a Veron freekick. No Copa Libertadores match would be complete without a moment of farce this time courtesy of leaky water main which began to flood Cruzeiro’s goal area much to the bemusement of Fabio et al. Thankfully an adjustable spanner was found in the nick of time. Midfielder Enzo Pérez was the pick of the Estudiantes team in the first half for his work and inventiveness.

The pattern of play continued well into the second half with Fabio once again preventing Mauro Boselli from becoming the tournaments outright leading scorer and also denying Desabato from the resulting corner. In contrast soon to depart Mariano Andújar in the other goal was relatively quiet until he pushed the ball in front of surprised Kleber who shot wide. The final quarter of the game belonged to Cruzeiro as they counter- attacked rapidly on a number of occasions and grew in confidence.

Nil-nil at home in the UEFA Champions League can be perceived as solid result taking into account the away goals rule. However in this two leg final the rule doesn’t apply. Cruzeiro can attack more freely in the absence of this massive restraining factor. Of the eleven previous finals between Argentine and Brazilian sides in this competition only three have been won by the Brazilian teams. If Estudiantes are to prevent this from becoming four in Belo Horizonte they’ll need to draw inspiration from what has gone before.

Hasta luego!

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Copa Libertadores: Argentina v Brazil

Photo: Clarin

There are some matches when you simply have to be there, whatever the hurdles to be overcome. Last night's Copa Libertadores semi-final 2nd leg between Nacional (0) and Estudiantes de la Plata (1) in Montevideo was one such example. This was made all the more difficult for supporters of Estudiantes as away fans were banned from both legs after the two clubs were unable to agree on ticket allocations. It would be a game that separated the fanatics from the fans. For the Estudiantes fanatics who were present their tales will be told and re-told in the years to come and form part of Pincha folklore.

It's estimated that around 300 plain clothed away fans covertly found their way into the Centanario stadium sprinkled amongst 50,000 Nacional supporters. Tickets were most likely acquired by Uruguayan contacts or Penarol fans (my enemy's enemy is my friend). With both teams sharing 6 Cups between them including 2 previous final encounters in 1969 and 1971 this was an opportunity for today's players to forge their own places in history. Once the largest stadium outside of the British Isles the Centanario was lit up with fireworks and flares prior to kick-off, only a win would see the Uruguayans through to the final. Estudiantes controlled the game for long periods and took the lead just after half time when Mauro Boselli calmly lifted the ball over the advancing 'keeper. Nacional were finally stung into action and equalised - Mariano Andújar conceding his first goal in 801 minutes of Copa Libertadores football. Boselli killed the tie in stoppage time and in doing so became joint top scorer in this years competition ( Far from being the classic smash and grab raid this was a composed and professional performance by Estudiantes who were without South American Player of the Year Juan Verón.

For the 300 daredevils who ran the gauntlet in Montevideo one can imagine outward signs of celebration being sensibly curtailed at the final whistle in view of surroundings.

Estudiantes won this competition 3 times between 1968 and 1970, that infamous team (together with Racing) ensured that any reference to Argentine football in the UK media thereafter would usually be prefixed with the word 'cynical' as a result of two bad tempered and dirty Intercontinental Cup clashes against Manchester United and Celtic respectively. Later on today the present side will discover whether they face Brazil's Cruzeiro (3) or Gremio (1), having already faced Cruzeiro in the group stages.

In a cruel twist of fate it's possible that Estudiantes fans could even be prevented from seeing the home-leg of the final due to the HN1 flu virus sweeping Argentina, a decision will be made by the authorities.

Hasta luego!

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Transfer Chat

Staying on? River's Diego Buonanotte

January was on the whole a quiet month in terms of Argentine talent moving to Europe with the one major transfer being midfielder Jésus Dátalo moving from Boca Juniors to Napoli for $8.3m. In the other direction Maxi Lopez escaped the Russian winter and joined Gremio on loan. This close season already looks a lot more hectic if the chatter is anything to go by. Maybe the agents are feeling the pinch. What follows is a far from complete breakdown of who's going where and who's being touted around with a view to a move, all compiled with the help of some exclusive sources (newspapers, websites, TV, radio). Remember: if it happens you read it here first............................
We'll start with a done deal in Europe, Javier Saviola (remember him??) has finally ended his Real Madrid bench-warming session and has moved to Benfica for 5m Euros. Back in Argentina: With just over a week to go before Huracán's title showdown with Vélez Sarsfield 20 year old playmaker and golden boy Javier Pastore may have so far escaped the attention of Maradona but has caught the eyes of Serie A side Palermo. Club president Maurizio Zamparini told El Grafico magazine 'Pastore is practically ours, all apart from the official seal, but we're waiting until the end of the Argentine championship'. All of which maybe news to Huracán, although this being Argentina the club may not have it all their own way in negotiations. In the murky world of 3rd party player ownership 45% of Pastore's contract is in the hands of private individuals whilst the remainder is with Huracán in addition Talleres de Cordoba are in line to receive 10% of any transfer fee. On this occasion the Palermo president's words may be just posturing.
Over to Avellaneda where Racing have celebrated avoiding the relegation play-offs by off loading 18 year old midfield dynamo Franco Zucculini to Bundesliga upstarts Hoffenheim for $6.7m where he's signed a 5 year deal. Still at La Academia defender José Shaffer returns to Europe to join up with compatriot Saviola at Benfica. Independiente's fantastically named goalkeeper Fabian Assmann (!) is rumoured to be interesting both Chelsea and Aston Villa although with 25 goals conceded in 11 games (including three 5-0 thrashings) the attention seems to have waned.
To the firesale at Boca Juniors where most of the current squad seem to be on the market following their failure to progress in the Copa Libertadores and current financial plight. General Manager Carlos Bianchi has recently taken a 50% pay cut to help balance the books. New coach Alfio Basile's first job will be to build a new side. Battling Colombian midfielder Fabián Vargas (29) has departed after almost 6 years and joined Spanish side Almeria on a 3 year deal. Onto some other potential movers, striker Rodrigo Palacio the owner of the worst rats-tail haircut in football may also be moving to La Liga, this time to Galicia with Deportivo La Coruna the deal by all accounts is done bar the signing. Fellow striker Lucas Viatri has been the subject of interest from Italian side Siena who are willing to pay upto $4.5m for him. Maybe only the mercurial Martin Palermo will be leading the line for Boca next season as Luciano Figueroa has ended his loan spell and will be returning to Genoa, although he's likely to be farmed out again but he's quashed any rumours of a return to River Plate.

With River Plate also having failed dismally both domestically and internationally in the last year you may expect the vultures to be gathering to pick-up the talent gracing El Monumental. With club president Aguilar up for re-election later in the year his two most prized assets could well be staying on at least for the time being. Diego Buonanotte, the latest 'next Diego' and the cause of much speculation about his future over the last 12 months has once again attracted more than a passing glance from teams such as Lazio and Benfica, together with unnamed French and Russian sides. The player has admitted that one day Europe is his ultimate goal but as it stands only a big offer and/or a President not wanting re-election would see him leave in the close season; although if he does exit it would certainly ease the financial worries of the club and the propaganda machine would swing into action. Colombian striker Radamel Falcao Garcia (23) who has been one of the few shining lights; according to reports this week he is on the verge of staying with River for upto 3 years although the reality is likely to be an additional 12 months.

Some others........Estudiantes have one foot in the Copa Libertadores final but that hasn't stopped goalkeeper Mariano Andújar joining Serie A's Catania on a 4 year contract. The newly capped international previously played for Sicilian rivals Palermo. San Lorenzo's striker Gonzalo Bergessio, another player owned by numerous investors may well join the boat to Europe with Porto showing interest.

So there you have it, I'll try to revisit this in a month with updates and apologies for getting it totally incorrect.

Hasta luego!

Monday, 22 June 2009

Violence Overshadows Huracán's Title Charge

Bad pitches, Maradona’s psychological state, ex-Presidents showering gifts on players……after a crazy 10 days the football finally threatened to grab the headlines this weekend with crucial games at both ends of Primera A. Sadly violence has once again appeared at football with two fans paying the ultimate price.

With Huracán closing in on their first title since 1973 and by general consensus playing the best football in the league their 3-0 home victory over Arsenal should be cause for celebration. However this being Argentina the presence of the Barra Brava is never too far away. At the end of the game fierce fighting took place involving differing factions of Huracán’s barras, the end result being two shot dead and four injured. To fans in Europe this in-fighting is a relatively alien concept where problems generally occur between different clubs. To control and lead a club’s gang in Argentina doesn’t just provide free entrance to matches, a great deal of money can be made engaging in other shady activities – to be a ‘capo’ is a fulltime job of what is in effect a criminal organisation. The battle of McDonald’s which took place earlier this year was for control of Boca Juniors infamous ‘La Doce’ also involved firearms and saw an innocent pensioner caught in the crossfire.

The final game and title decider sees Huracán travel to Vélez where a draw would be enough to secure the Clasura. It's sad that for all the sparkling football played by El Globo under the stewardship of Angel Cappa off the field activity grabs the headlines in what could be an historic season.

Hasta luego!

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Lies, Damned Lies and Relegation Statistics

Coach Caruso Lombardi of Racing has an awful lot on his mind at present. With his team still not mathematically safe from a second relegation playoff in two years against a Primera B side many of his players have been struck down by the flu, reports speak of around twelve players in the sick-bay including Marcos Cáceres, Lucas Castromán and José Shaffer all of whom failed to train yesterday. Hope is high that many of these will recover sufficiently to make the trip upto the North West for Saturday's clash against already relegated Gimnasia Jujuy. It really wasn't supposed to be this way, Argentina's Promedio relegation system where average points per game are worked out using results from the preceding three seasons (both Apertura and Clasura) is supposed to protect the 'Big Five'. Surely none of these grand institutions could have 6 bad campaigns in a row? Perhaps the AFA didn't factor in the farce that has beset Racing Club over the last few years [see earlier posts]. A win against Gimnasia will be enough to steer them clear of the playoff this time round. As for the other teams in the mix San Martín de Tucumán are relegated bar divine intervention whilst any 2 from 4 could sink into the playoffs (Gimnasia de LA PLATA, Godoy Cruz, Rosario Central, Racing). I think this is correct but I don't have a degree in Statistics and the permutations are endless, so if this is blatantly wrong please feel free to put me right.

Lombardi is also not very happy with the schedule of this Saturday's games, with la Academia's kicking off 6.20pm whilst relegation playoff rivals Rosario Central's game at Tigre kicks off at 9.10pm. His thinking behind this is logical enough, Central will know what they have to do against Tigre. As we all know logic and formula go out of the window and TV executives are responsible for dictating the times of many games.

The final monkey on his back is ex-President and husband of current incumbent, Néstor Kirchner who being a Racing fan has been turning up at training in recent weeks for photo shoots with the players. He visited in the week preceding their victory against Boca Juniors (3-0), perhaps it was the promise of LCD TV's which inspired the team's win? Not wanting to miss a photo op Sr. Kirchner turned up earlier this week to deliver the aforementioned televisions.......but only four of them???? Surely he could have stretched to one each???

At the other end of the table things are getting almost as exciting as last December only with different teams. Huracán who are looking for their first title since 1973 take on Arsenal who were unlikely 4-1 winners last weekend against other title contenders Lanús. This Sunday top of the table Veléz are away at Lanús where a defeat for the home side will see the end to their championship hopes.

Hasta luego!

Friday, 12 June 2009

Altitude Sickness: Ecuador 2 - 0 Argentina

Bad news for Argentina, and contrary to what some commentators have been spouting over the past 12 months – Lionel Messi is human. His first half miss against Ecuador proved that even superstars can have off days. The penalty miss from Carlos Tevez in the same half demonstrated that he’d been taking lessons from Manchester United teammate Dimitar Berbatov. At this level you have to take your chances – never was a cliché more apt as La Selección were beaten 2-0 in the monsoon like conditions of Quito. The classic game of two halves saw Argentina make a composed and solid start playing with a back four as opposed to the back three which started against Colombia. Ecuador threatened much more in the second half as Argentina were pushed further and further back with the thin air taking it’s toll, possession was ceded far too often. Two goals in 10 minutes reawakened memories of La Paz and a 3rd goal was only prevented by the post. This was by no means Bolivia Pt II, however the manner in which the team folded in the 2nd half is cause for concern.

‘Yesterday we lost the game and we should have won it, we lacked a goal. We played well’ Carlos Tevez in bullish mood, although this positivity was tempered by a more sobering ‘we have to be worried [about qualification] although it’s all in our own hands’. September sees them take on Brazil at home and Paraguay away.

To make a bad night worse the team’s aircraft suffered technical problems and as a consequence the players were condemned to spend another night Quito to contemplate how it all went wrong.

Hasta luego!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Argentina 1 - 0 Colombia

A win is a win. Argentina's victory over Colombia last night put qualification for South Africa back in their own hands but the doubts still remain. Diego's jig of delight at the end of the match must surely have been one of relief as opposed to unbridled joy as his team huffed and puffed towards 22 points. The winning goal when it finally did arrive came as a result of Colombia's inability to defend a corner although the volleyed finish from defender Cata Diaz was extremely well taken.

By all accounts Diego gave his charges a damn good telling off at half time and with the addition of Zanetti they started the second half much stronger. Alarm must surely be raised at the lack of chances created from open play during the game given the talent on the park. Colombia were definitely up for it and certainly put themselves about - Aguero was clattered by Vargas of Boca Juniors, and limped off replaced by Milito. Given the time difference I was a little bleary eyed but I don't remember Milito having a shot on goal. Messi also seemed to be uncharacteristically rattled by the approach of Colombia although any protection from the Bolivian referee was non-existent. River's Falcao was a studs touch away from scoring on his club ground on one of their rare attacks.

Hopefully in the interests of AFA harmony Maradona was on the phone to Batista after the game giving him a detailed report. For now the ghosts of La Paz have been exorcised next stop is Ecuador at altitude.

Hasta luego!

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Goodbye Matador

Photo: AP

On retirement many of us will be lucky to receive a pension. Things on Planet Football are somewhat different, sixty thousand Chilean fans packed into Santiago's National Stadium on Tuesday night to show their appreciation and pay thanks to a special talent: Marcelo Salas. Chile's record goalscorer bowed out in a testimonial between members of Chile's 1998 World Cup squad and the 'Friends of Marcelo' comprising some of the player's ex-club teammates including Enzo Francescoli, David Trezeguet and Ariel Ortega. As is customary on such occasions the game ended in a diplomatic 3-3 with El Matador scoring a hat-trick. 'This is a very special moment. I only want to thank everyone who came to this match. I will never forget this night. I quit happy. I am done' - Marcelo Salas.

One of Chile's greatest exports (along with Iván Zamorano and the bottle of Carmenére I enjoyed over the weekend) Salas moved from Universidad de Chile to River Plate in 1996 and effortlessly continued his goalscoring form making him an idol of the fans. River dominated the domestic game in 1996/97 and won 3 championships during this time with Salas contributing almost a goal every other game. Salas couldn't be described as a pin-up, looks wise he's the antithesis of today's waxed and moisturised pros. His talents as a striker however are deadly and no better demonstrated than in the first of his two goals against England at Wembley, fantastic close control and a bullet of a left foot:

After a successful spell in Italy winning the league with Lazio a serious knee injury meant that his most prolific period would forever be consigned to memory. He played a lowly 18 games for Juventus. His second phase at River was greeted ecstatically by the fans and in spite of injury he still managed to win the Clasura in 2004. His playing days ended back at his old stomping ground of Universidad de Chile.

What would River and their legions give now for an even half fit Salas to lead the attack?

Argentina is renowned as an exporter of fine football talent, occasionally an import makes a splash - El Matador we salute you.

Hasta luego!

A selection of goals from his first spell at River:

Friday, 29 May 2009

Luis' Lanús

The compliments and praise justifiably rained down on Pep Guardiola of Barcelona on Wednesday night after winning the Champions League to secure an unprecedented treble. At 38 and in his first year as first team coach the achievements are even more remarkable. In Argentina a coach ten years younger than Barca's has quietly and effectively led his side to the top of the Primera Division.

Luis Zubeldía, 28 is the man in charge of CA Lanús who are based at the southern end of Greater Buenos Aires. One of the less well known teams in Argentina the Maroons have only one domestic title to their name, an Apertura won in 2007. The former Lanús midfielder played 57 times for the club before being forced to retire early at the age of 23 after enduring years of treatment on an injured left knee. During his convalescence he also studied for a qualification in sports journalism. Lanús steadfastly stuck by their man throughout and offered him a coaching role in the lower reaches of the club. He became assistant to Head Coach Ramon Cabrero and the two bagged 2007's Apertura. When Cabrero stepped down in 2008 Zubeldía took his place and has demonstrated that age is merely a number. Lanús narrowly missed out on the play off for Clasura '08 on the final day and at time of writing are top of the league. There is however still much work to be done as the good form of his young team hasn't yet transferred to the continental stage, they finished bottom of their Copa Libertadores group although 4 of the 6 games they played ended all square.

The success of Zubeldía has gone some way to exploding the myth that good Assistants rarely make effective Head Coaches, particularly at the same club. He highlights his relationship with the players and his ability to empathise on a personal level as one of his most effective management tools 'I understand if a player is having a bad day or is annoyed because they don't play, they're not machines' he told El Grafico magazine. Very much the modern coach he attaches equal importance to training and exercises that stimulate both the body and mind together with the tactical and technical aspects of the game.

Make way for the youngster Pep!

Hasta luego!

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Montevideo 2 - 0 Buenos Aires

Photo: AFP
The game in Uruguay is widely acknowledged to be in irreversible decline with falling gates and violence in the stands. Great clubs such as Penarol, 5 Libertadores Cup wins and Nacional, 3 Libertadores Cup wins have been unable to capture past glories on the continental stage and the days when the national team ruled the world will never return. Results in this seasons Copa Libertadores demonstrate that this tiny nation can still give it's more illustrious neighbours a bloody nose.

Both River Plate and now Boca Juniors have fallen victim to teams from the other side of the Rio de la Plata. In River's case Nacional contributed to their failure to reach the knockout stages (Los Millionarios beat the Uruguayan's at home but lost 3-0 in Montevideo) although they sealed their own fate by losing in spectacular fashion to already eliminated Nacional of Paraguay. Boca's exit from the competition can be attributed soley to champions Defensor Sporting and their own inability to hold on to a lead. After conceding twice in Uruguay but still having the cushion of 2 away goals the Xeneizes were one decent performance away from meeting Estudiantes in the Quarter Finals. That decent performance was sadly lacking on Thursday, after going 1-0 down to an neat and excellently crafted Diego de Souza goal in the 27th minute ( the home side didn't exactly lay siege to Defensor's goal. When they did get through they were up against 'keeper Marin Silva in fine form. To put Defensor's victory into perspective it was Boca's first home defeat in this competition since 2003. Uruguayan daily El Pais hailed the 'History Makers' and eulogised about the performance of Martin Silva. Not bad for a club who didn't even exist in their current guise until 1989.

Questions now inevitably turn towards the future of coach Carlos Ischia who is contracted until December and has Carlos Bianchi's excellent Copa Libertadores achievements as a constant reminder - he returned to the club as Technical Director in December. Unfortunately he doesn't even have the clubs league form to fall back on as four wins out of fourteen see them flailing in seventeenth place. Maradona has commented that 'ever since Bianchi returned Ischia has been at the doors of the cemetary'.

Away from the navel gazing at La Bombonera alarm bells should be sounding in the country as a whole, of the five representatives for Argentina in the Libertadores this season only one now remains - Estudiantes. Three of the teams failed to make even the knockout stages, including league leaders Lanús. Contrast this with Brazil's five teams in the last 16. It's now down to Estudiantes and Verón to fly the flag against Defensor.

Hasta Luego!