Madness and magic from Maradona’s motherland
The Turk had his feet up at home, sat on the sofa with his son, watching Wrestlemania and eating croissants. The trip to Miami was booked for this week, and after two years in charge of Colón it was time for some R&R, time with the family, time away from football… some down time. Time to take stock, reappraise, recharge, and prepare for the next job.
Over in Mendoza, however, things were looking distinctly grey for Independiente. Although they had taken the lead, Godoy Cruz replied with three before the break, making the Rojo presidente Julio Comparada decide there and then, at half time, to bring in a new coach.
Comparada had already said 'Thanks but no thanks' to Daniel Garnero, after a terrible start to the season with no win in seven games for the seven-times Libertadores winners. Ricardo Pavoni came in while Independiente sounded out various coaches, with the Uruguayan Jorge Fossati in pole position to take over. The problem was that Fossati is currently in charge of Al-Shabab in Saudi Arabia, and might not have been able to get out of his contract for another couple of months.
The board, meanwhile, were hoping to protect the new coach from the result of this weekend’s clásico. Pavoni had won his first game in charge with a late goal. 1-0, three points, breathing space.
But then the following week Godoy Cruz scored three in the first 45 minutes, added another before the final 90, rushing forward the need for a decision. The lycra-watching weekend was over, the holiday in Miami was cancelled, the offer was made, the meeting was set up, and hands then shook.
Antonio ‘The Turk’ Mohamed was the new Independiente coach. Having never lost to Racing in his coaching career helped boost the feel-good factor in the red half of Avallaneda. ‘We can negotiate what system we use,’ he said upon taking over, ‘but not the side’s attitude.’
As if the team needed any extra motivation ahead of this weekend’s derby with Racing, the fans offered it at Thursday’s training session. A 50 metre banner read ‘we want commitment and sacrifice from the players. On Sunday whatever it takes, play like fans. Win or die.’ The spelling mistake on the banner only slightly detracted from the menacing tone of the message.
Mohamed quickly identified what he’d need to do – find the backbone of players around which to build his side. Hilario in goal, Eduardo Tuzzio at the back, youth team product Fernando Godoy and legendary striker Andrés Silvera are the chosen four.
While Independiente gee themselves up for the derby, just 100 metres from their half-finished stadium are Racing. The Academy haven’t conceded in three games, with a 4-0 and a 3-0 win either side of a goalless draw, and should go into the game as favourites.
There are two problems with this.
First is recent history. Racing haven’t won the Avellaneda clásico since 2005. They have lost six and drawn four with their neighbours in the last ten meetings. Players say these things don’t matter, but fans can’t forget it. Nerves are on edge.
The other problem is Gio. Giovanni Moreno is turning out to be something of a revelation this season. Brought over from Colombia in the preseason, the classic number 10 has scored three and set up several other goals too. He strolls around the place, perfectly happy in the knowledge that it is up to lesser beings to do things like mark, run, or stay in position. His job is to be brilliant, and he does it really quite well. Think of a cross between Peter Crouch, Riquelme, and Guti – physique, languid (ahem) nature and gloved left foot, respectively – and you are more or less there.
Gio has fast become Racing's key player since joining. So when the Colombian national team decided they simply had to have him for their friendly with Ecuador, it doesn’t take a genius to work out how that news went down at Racing.
Miguel Angel Russo will have to reshuffle his deck and do without Gio, but if Racing can put an end to the awful run of form against the local enemies, they’ll make Mohamed wish he was still at home watching men in lycra.Matchday 10 fixturesEstudiantes – OlimpoArsenal – BanfieldHuracán – All BoysLanús – San LorenzoArgentinos – Godoy CruzNewell’s – QuilmesIndependiente – RacingVélez – ColónTigre – BocaRiver - Gimnasia
Good thing that Gio Moreno is fitting in... and even if I'd have loved to see him play the clásico/derby, it IS crucial for the Colombian national squad to revolve around him. Ecuador will be a tough and good match, and this clásico without him will have to be Racing's statement that they can do it without him... yes, Colombia, after he establishes himself, will have to go through exactly the same statement.
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