Madness and magic from Maradona’s motherland
1) Estudiantes vs Barcelona
Two minutes. That was how tantalisingly close Estudiantes came to writing the most glorious chapter in the club’s already-impressive history at the weekend.
The Club World Cup final wasn’t just the meeting of South American and European champions, and it wasn’t the classic case of the South American side being the only one to take it seriously.
For the Catalans, it would be the crowning moment of 2009, the sixth title won by Pep Guardiola’s side in a stunning year.
For Estudiantes, they weren’t just up against The Best Team in the World… EVER!™ and weren’t just representing all Argentines in the David against Goliath mismatch, they were also up against their own history.
Winning three consecutive Libertadores trophies in the late 1960s was one thing, but beating Best, Law, Charlton & Co. at Old Trafford in 1968 is still the pinnacle of the Pincha’s achievements.
The son of one of the goalscorers from that night in Manchester was captaining the team that faced Barcelona, but it would be too much to expect of Juan Sebastián Verón to win the final alone.
Yet after Mauro Boselli rose to give the Argentines the lead, supporters dared to think their side could provide one of the biggest upsets in club football and emulate Verón senior and company.
Estudiantes had contained Barcelona in the first half, and were good value for their lead.
In the second half, however, the team and fans crashed back down to reality, and holding Barcelona till the 88th minute was in itself a victory.
"Judging by how they celebrated, we managed to give them a fright," noted Verón junior afterwards.
Barcelona’s winner came, predictably, from Leo Messi - the right player to crown the Catalans' year, the wrong player to score the winner against an Argentine side.
More on that in a moment.
2) Catalunya vs Argentina
While the festivities continue in Barcelona, the national side prepare to take on Maradona’s men.
There’ll be no Spanish anthem in earshot, though, nor will Diego be seen puffing his chest out while the Argentines sing theirs.
The Catalan national side get a run-out, with Dutch maestro Johan Cruyff making his debut in the dug-out.
As soon as news broke of the appointment, sponsors dreamt of a Cruyff-Maradona duel.
Diego soon put paid to that idea.
FIFA’s 60-day ban for his comments in Uruguay meant that, as Olé’s characteristic hyperbole has it, "Diego has virtually been kidnapped."
Given that Catalunya are not affiliated to FIFA, it's perhaps a surprise that a loophole hasn’t been discovered, or invented, so that the ban wasn’t enforceable.
But the suits in Zurich would be unlikely to see the funny side of Maradona swerving his ban.
Besides, the Argentina coach has gone to extreme lengths to avoid provoking FIFA into a ban that actually makes a difference – i.e. missing the World Cup.
So it is that he avoided the press, and is nowhere to be seen.
Or he’s been kidnapped.
Cryuff and Maradona did, however, meet briefly in the Argentina team hotel, without a photographer in sight.
"We only talked about the family, because football is off limits," joked the Dutchman, who knows that the friendly is likely to be of as little consequence as Maradona’s ban.
3) Leo Messi vs Argentina
"Messi isn’t Argentine."
"Let’s see if you do that in the World Cup."
Just two examples of graffiti seen in La Plata after the final between Estudiantes and Barcelona.
Are Estudiantes fans guilty of being bad losers, or have they captured the mood of the nation?
It could well be the latter.
Argie Bargy has an uncanny ability to bump into the same neighbour while going to pick up the morning’s papers, a meeting which without fail turns into a monologue about why Messi must never return to Argentina, should change his passport, and should essentially go to hell.
Needless to say, it is not this blogger who does the talking.
Those who are more inclined to study stats rather than anecdotal evidence need only look at the striker’s goal scoring record.
In 2009, Messi has scored 38 goals. One of those came while wearing the blue and white of Argentina.
The other 37 came in the blue and red of Barcelona.
"They don’t know how I feel [about Argentina]," Messi told El País, responding to criticism from his homeland.
That may be true, but in Argentina few people care about Messi’s remarkable year, or indeed how he feels.
They just want him to score goals for the national team. It's that simple.
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Good to see at least one continent actually caring about this competition. (about point 1)
In an alternate Universe, Barcelona gets their hooks into Messi before the age of nine, convince him to renounce his Argentinean Citizenship and plays for Barcelona and the Catalunya (once every 4 years)... Barcelona would've been happy, Messi would have been happy since he wouldn't have to worry about the pressure to score for Argentina and FIFA would've been ticked off.
But Fantasy out the way, who cares about Argentina vs Catalunya????
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