Madness and magic from Maradona’s motherland
Argie Bargy recently braved a freezing Buenos Aires evening - is it always four degrees colder on a football terrace? - to watch the national side take on Ecuador in a World Cup qualifier; the sold out River Plate stadium shaking with the excitement of 50,000 gregarious Argentines awaiting the return of the nation's favourite sons.
Once through the rigorous police frisks, I walked out into a packed stadium swathed in celestial blue and white; the balloons, flags and ticker tape an overwhelming experience. Although when fans' favourite 'If you are not English then jump up and down' got an airing, me and my fellow Brits coughed mildly and looked down at our feet – we were so English it hurt.
Fans gather outside River Plate's Estadio Monumental
And then before us: Messi, Agüero, Verón, Riquelme, Zanetti, Heinze, Mascherano. I was, I have to admit, star struck. Only Verón, Riquelme and Palacio - who later made a goal-scoring appearance - play in Argentina and after several seasons of watching players bugger off to Europe it was great to see them back in the country.
Ecuador had, erm, that bloke there and him, you know from Liga de Quito. This was going to be a whitewash.
But 20 minutes into the game hands became colder and the crowd silenced (which takes some doing in Argentina). This was poor. Nay, it was embarrassing, even for an honorary Argentine like myself.
Verón, earlier scorned by Argie Bargy, was playing his heart out even though he was roundly booed everytime he touched the ball - he is still blamed for Argentina's 2002 World Cup disaster among other misdemeanours. Playing in centre midfield he controlled the team, while captain Zanetti, stuck out on the left wing, failed to impress.
Boca's Riquelme, slaughtered in the following day's press, was simply outplayed. But all eyes were on Messi. The 'little flea' barely moves around the pitch, and even when he is jogging it seems to be in slow motion. But then he gets the ball at his feet. And when that happens 50,000 people stand up.
Excuse me for gushing, but the man is a genius. He may not have scored, but his dribbling is consistently stunning. How easy football must be for him, effortlessly beating every defender. But even partnered with the workmanlike Agüero they simply failed. Messi: bored. Agüero: frustrated.
And 23 minutes into the second half Ecuador's Urrutia stunned the home faithful after finishing off a superb move (see 2:09mins). Argentina had constantly threatened but failed to capitalise and it took going a goal down to urge them on. But Agüero's poor finishing and Riquelme's even poorer set pieces were stalling an increasingly desperate Argentine side.
Urrutia celebrates giving Ecuador a surprise lead
However, deep into added-time Palacio, on for the injured Verón, scored a goal (see 4:10mins) that saved some, but certainly not all, of Argentina's dignity.
As Argie Bargy wandered back into the night, no longer quite as star struck, it wondered how a team with such characters could fail, on home soil, against Ecuador. Their biggest test will now come on Wednesday away against Brazil, Argentina's greatest enemy – even more than England.
Latest South American Football News
Santos sack Ramalho days after losing Neymar
I know what I'm doing, says Socceroos coach Osieck
Kennedy's late header sends Australia to Brazil
Biggest protests in 20 years sweep Brazil
Prandelli: Japan will have edge over Italy
75% of all TV is Bale
On the road to ruin
FourFourTwo is brought to you by Haymarket Consumer Media & FourFourTwo is part of Haymarket Sport
| International Licensing | © Haymarket Media Group 2010