From Russia, With Injuries

The injury list for Argentina players for next Wednesday’s friendly against Russia in Moscow has now reached four. Carlos Tevez, Juan Seba Veron, Fernando Gago, and Martin Demichellis have all dropped out of Diego Maradona’s squad. Thus far, only Nicolas Pareja, an olympic gold medalist from 2008 now playing with Espanyol, has been 6274183brought in as a replacement. I like the call of Pareja, but I would have really liked to have seen Garay been given a chance instead. I really insist that Ezequiel and Otamendi are the duo to lead the defense in the future. I have to think that Maradona will call a couple more players, especially considering how injuries could be disastrous so close to the Brazil game, so one would think that substitutions would be plentiful at half time. Javier Pastore should be the one called up to replace Veron in my opinion. He is the most dynamic central midfielder Argentina have at the moment, and there is no better time to ween him into the first team that a friendly such as this. New Chelsea target Cristian Ledesma would be ideal to replace Gago, and even more ideal to partner Javier Mascherano in front of the back line. I don’t think Maradona will be as desperate to replace Tevez since he already has so many forwards in the team, but if he does I would like to see Mauro Zarate brought in. The Lazio striker was Aguero’s strike partner in the 2007 U20 World Cup, and he scored the winning goal in the final. He is a great player and can be the natural finisher that the National Team lacks at the moment…In preseason action, Leo Messi put on another great display for Barcelona last night, scoring two great goals. The first was a sensational strike from outside of the area that curled around Casey Keller in the net. I love how Messi rarely shoots for power, always for precision, and this side footed shot was a perfect example of that. One of the only goals I remember Messi really hitting the ball with some “violence” was against Venezuela in a World Cup qualifier all the way back in October of 2007, but what a goal that was (seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PpL667gvFfw ) Messi added another right before the break, when he brought down Xavi’s pass before slotting it under Casey Keller. Leo was denied his hat trick by a shot that hit the post shortly before that. A replay of the game can be seen at ESPN360.com (i recommend fast forwarding to at least see Messi’s goals at ’21 and ’41). Messi was also seen at the top of the space needle as Barcelona’s representative to hype the match, and we can see that his “fandom” if you will is really rising. messiHe may not have the charisma of Ronaldinho, but he is certainly more likable than Cristian Ronaldo, and he is, or will soon become the biggest star in the game. I heard a Sportscenter anchor doing the highlights of the match, and he said “Messi will feature much for Argentina in the World Cup next summer” (a nice little advertisement for his network, that will broadcast the World Cup), but I had to think to myself “if we make it.” In other news, the injured Gago is being linked to Atletico Madrid according to Cancha Llena. I think this move would be great for him considering first team football will be far from guaranteed for the former Boca man. Atletico is still a big club and he would play regularly, and it could bring Champions League Football, if they manage to make it through the qualifying rounds. I know Gago has not progressed the way people hoped he would, but I still think he can offer a great deal to la seleccion, but he will only improve with first team football. Anyway, here is how I think Argentina should line up against Russia as of now, although I do not know what other players, if any, will be called in to replace the injured lads:

——————————————————-Andujar

Zanetti—————————–Otamendi——————-Burdiso—————————–Papa

——-Maxi—————————————–Mascheran0 (c)——————————–Bolatti————————

———————————————————–Messi———————————————————————————————————–Milito——————————Aguero

I do not really see Messi as playing at the top of the midfield diamond, as he does at times for Barca, as a true enganche, but rather in a free role, allowed to play through the middle, or drift off to the flanks. I’m sure Heinze will be picked by Maradona, but I can be hopeful can’t I?

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Messi, Barca in Action on US Tour

I am watching the Barcelona vs. LA Galaxy on Fox Soccer Channel, and the announcer made a joke that the only person in the world that can shut down Messi is Maradona. It kind of reminds of the saying that Dean Smith (long time coach at the University of North Carolina) was the only person who could keep Michael Jordan under 20 points a game. Any way, Barca are playing with a largely reserve team, although Messi, Alves, Keits, and Yaya Toure are playing. Messi is playing the role at the top of a midfield diamond, something he did in the Champions League Final very well. I think this really shows how Messi is progressing as a player, with the ability to come back deep and get others involved, rather than playing as striker or winger. Last year, Basile tried to play Messi in that position for Argentina against Chile while Riquelme was suspended, but it did not work out. I’m still not sure he’s ready to play there at the World Cup level, but you have to think that over time, Messi’s vision and passing range will grow to the point that he can do that for Argentina. Messi is looked good wearing the captain’s armband, and was involved in the run up to the first goal. After the LA goalkeeper fumbled Pedrito’s shot, Messi had his effort cleared off the line, but the rebound fell kindly to Pedrito who finished coolly. Messi at his best through out, making his usual darting runs at the LA defense. He was freed up by Yaya in the 40th minute, but had his effort saved well by Saunders, the LA keeper. What a goal from Beckham by the way, silencing the boos at the Rose Bowl.I know its only preseason but I guess it is because we haven’t had any live matches for so long, but I just get so excited every time I see Messi play. If Messi is at his best and can link up with Veron, Aguero, Maxi, and co., there is no reason Argentina couldn’t win the World Cup, even with these recent struggles. I just hope we can get there. I can’t wait til Auguest 12th to see him with the National Team. Russia will be a strong test before the Brazil game. I got to see Zhirkov play for Chelsea in a friendly here in the US against AC Milan and he looked very dangerous playing in the left midfield, rather than at left back as Guus normally plays him. I think we all know how good Arshavin is, so Heinze will be given yet another chance to prove he is not NT worthy. No matter what happens, I bet we’ll still see him in Rosario next month.

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Thoughts on Call Up List

If you haven’t yet seen it, here is a list for the upcoming friendly against Russia:

GK – Juan Pablo Carrizo (Real Zaragoza)
GK – Mariano Andujar (Catania)

D – Javier Zanetti (Inter Milan)
D – Emiliano Papa (Vélez Sarsfield)
D – Gabriel Heinze (Real Madrid)
D – Daniel Díaz (Getafe)
D – Nicolás Burdisso (Inter Milan)
D – Nicolás Otamendi (Vélez Sarsfield)
D – Martín Demichelis (Bayern Munich)

M – Javier Mascherano (Liverpool)
M – Fernando Gago (Real Madrid)
M – Sebastian Battaglia (Boca Juniors)
M – Mario Bolatti (Huracán)
M – Maximiliano Rodríguez (Atlético de Madrid)
M – Jonás Gutiérrez (Newcastle United)
M – Jesús Dátolo (Nápoli)
M – Juan Sebastián Verón (Estudiantes de La Plata)

F – Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
F – Sergio Agüero (Atlético de Madrid)
F – Carlos Tevez (Manchester City)
F – Lisandro López (Lyon)
F – Diego Milito (Inter Milan)
F – Ezequiel Lavezzi (Nápoli)

As suspected, players such as Tevez, Lavezzi, Battaglia, Diaz, etc are still in the squad. Yet most puzzling of all, is Jonas, who is playing for a 2nd division club that lost to a third division side 6-1. I have given up on debating why Heinze is there. He is one of Diego’s favorites, and is vice-captain above Zanetti, Veron, and more deserving players. After looking at this pathetic list, I thought it may be interesting to think about who would win? Diego’s Argentina or a team of Argentine players not being called up? I think Diego will probably line up:

—————————————–GK Andujar

RB Zanetti———-CB Demichellis—————-CB Heinze—————–LB Papa

——————————————-DM Mascherano (C)

RM Maxi—————————————————————————LM Jonas

———————————————F Messi

————————–F Tevez——————————–F Aguero

I think it could be argued that under a normal manager, only Zanetti, Mascherano, and Messi would start. I still think Maxi has much to offer to the NT, but he hasn’t played well of late. Sadly, with Maradona’s current set up, he is the only legitimate creative midfielder we have. Considering how sad and pathetic Diego’s side is, here is how I would line up a team of Argentine players being left out:

——————————————-GK Romero/Ustari/Franco/Navarro (whoever is healthier, but they are all better than Carrizo)

RB Zabaleta——————CB Garay———————-CB Gonzalo Rodriguez—————LB Insua

RM Aimar/Moralez——————–CM Cambiasso————CM Ledesma——————–LM Di Maria

——————————–F Higuain——————————-F Zarate

I understand Di Maria is suspended, but this is a friendly, so he could play against Russia. Look at Lavezzi, he scored only seven goals last season. Napoli’s president recently discussed this and how he is not needed at the club any longer. I consider Jose Mourinho to be the best manager in the world, or at least in the top three, and he considers Cambiasso the rock of his team. He also considers Burdisso surplus to requirements, which is why he tried to off load him. However, there were no real takers, so Mourinho went out and signed Lucio, which will keep Burdisso entrenched further down the list of defenders he will use. I think I trust the special one over Diego. I have also said it time and time again, but Tevez hurts our team more than it helps us. Sent off twice in the first half, which essentially left Messi up top alone, and a missed penalty. When he first played for the full time at the 2004 Copa America, I thought he would be the next Maradona. Well, five years later, he has only played one good game for the National Team, which was a 0-0 draw against Holland when both teams had already qualified for the next round at Germany 2006. Sure he has scored goals, against the Venezuela in the 2010 World Cup Qualifiers,against the US in the Copa America 2007, a penalty against Algeria in a friendly, a header against Switzerland in a friendly, and a fine individual goal against Serbia and Montenegro in a 6-0 route. He did bring us the Olympic Gold in 2004, and was sensation in the Copa America the same year, but since then, he has done nothing. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tevez lost his spot at City as well. Adebayor, Robinho, and even Santa Cruz have better goalscoring records than Carlitos. I hate to rip on him, as he was my favorite player for a while, but his form has been poor since he went to Europe. I hope he can turn it around, but I’m not to helpful..

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Argentina Team of The Decade

Messi, Crespo, and Zanetti celebrate at the 2007 Copa America

Messi, Crespo, and Zanetti celebrate at the 2007 Copa America

Goal.com recently published a Argentina Team of the Decade from 2000-2009. Obviously we have not had the best of runs during that time, which makes selecting team of the decade more difficult. Although we breezed through the qualifying rounds for Japan/South Korea 2002, we fizzled out of that tournament in the group stages. We did well in qualifying again in 2006, tying Brazil for the most points although they edged us on goal difference, and we were the top team of the group stages only to go out to the hosts despite providing the world with the best and most beautiful goals (Maxi Rodriguez and Esteban Cambiaso anyone?) Aside from World Cups, we suffered heart break to Brazil in three finals: 2004 Copa America on penalties after a late Adrian equalizer, falling 4-1 in the 2005 Confederations Cup Final to a Ronaldinho inspired side, and finally, losing 3-0 in the 2007 Copa America Final to a cynical Brazilian team under Dunga. There have certainly been some highlights, but for the most part we will leave this decade with a bad taste regarding the full National Team, and it is safe to say we have underachieved more than other side in the world. At the youth levels things were different, winning three U20 World Cups and two Olympics, an U23 competition. The likes of Javier Saviola, Maxi Rodriguez, Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano, Lionel Messi, Pablo Zabaleta, Fernando Gago, Sergio Aguero, Maxi Moralez, and Mauro Zarate starred on those teams, but they have been unable to translate their success to trophies at the senior level. Hopefully, 2010 (if we qualify) will lead to glory with some of those young stars, but if not we can always look to the 2011 Copa America, in Argentina. Anyway, here is my Argentina team of the decade from 2000-2009, I have excluded undeserving players such as Ariel Ortega and Seba Veron from my team. Unfortunately, I have also omitted Gabriel Omar Batistuta, my favorite player of all time. Batigol would be in my team from the 1990’s as well as my all time Argentina Team. I have decided to leave him out here because even though he scored 20 goals in leading Roma to the 2001 Scudetto, he only managed 9 games for Argentina in the 2000’s.:

GK- Roberto “El Pato” Abbondanzieri- The ineptitude of our goalkeeping situation is brought to fruition by the fact that El Pato has obtained 49 caps since 2004. He has been error prone (a 2006 World Cup qualifier against Venezuela in Buenos Aires and a friendly against Algeria in Barcelona in 2007 were laughable), has lacked communication with his back line (2007 Copa America Final, 2010 World Cup qualifier against Paraguay), and has been injury prone in tournaments (2005 Confederations Cup, 2006 World Cup). While his errors are more apparent than his brilliant saves, he has done his best, but unfortunately, his best was none too good. He is a legend at Boca, a true idol, but for La Seleccion, he has disappointed.

RB- Javier Zanetti- Our all time leaders in caps, El Pupi was a mainstay in qualifying for 2002 and 2006, although Jose Peckerman excluded him from the side for the latter. Had he made the trip instead of Lionel Scaloni or Fabricio Coloccini, things could have been different for Argentina against the Germans. None the less, he played in two Copa America Finals, a Confederations Cup Final, and has returned to the national team under Coco Basile and Diego Maradona. In my opinion, we have not had a better servant to the shirt in our history than Pupi, and congrats to him for his 133 caps and 4 straight scudetti for Inter. I hope his career can be capped with a World Cup next summer.

Roberto Ayala

Roberto Ayala

CB- Roberto Ayala- The second most capped player in our history with 115, El Raton was the captain under Bielsa, but tragically missed the tournament in South Korea/Japan through injury. Another humble cervant, Ayala was also the lynchpin of Valencia’s La Liga winning sides in 2002 and 2004, and Champions League finalists in 2000 and 2001. He lost his captaincy under Pekerman, but still featured with the 2004 Copa America finalists, and in the 2006 World Cup, where he made the tournament all star team. He regained the captaincy and led Argentina to the 2007 Copa America final under Coco Basile, but it ended with a 3-0 loss and a tragic own goal. Despite this, his leadership, desire, and heart will not be forgotten, and are still what Argentina miss. In some ways, a modern day Passarella, the man he admired most. He has worn the armband for Argentina more than any other player.

CB- Gabriel Milito- Gabby may be a some what controversial selection, considering all the players we have had in that position this decade. Although Heinze started over him in Germany 2006, the Real Madrid stopper has been error prone, and quite frankly, Argentina’s worst player during the campain to South Africa. Milito formed a fantastic partnership with Ayala in the 2007 Copa America, and appeared to be on the verge of becoming a truly world class defender with both Argentina and Barcelona before a disastrous knee injury has seen him sidelined for over a year. Without Milito, Argentina’s defense has been shaky, including the famous 6-1 drubbing at the hands of Bolivia. If he can regain fitness, and then form, there is no question that Milito can still be the man for the job. One thing is for sure, Argentina will win nothing with Heinze and Demichellis in the center of defense.

Juan Pablo Sorin

Juan Pablo Sorin

LB- Juan Pablo Sorin- Jose Pekerman’s captain Sorin could be employed as left back, wing back, or on the left side of midfield. Although me missed chances in the 2002 World Cup, he was one of many who underachieved. He was however in fine form leading his team to the finals of the 2004 Copa America and 2005 Confederations Cup, although both ended in losses to Brazil. He was also playing well in the 2006 World Cup, providing the ball for Maxi Rodriguez’s fantastic goal, as well as being the swashbuckling force up the left side in each game. Sorin was also a threat in the air, and has scored 12 goals in 75 caps, quite a successful record for a player deployed in defense most of his career. Like Ayala, his position has been the most difficult to replace during the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign, as both Emiliano Papa and Gabriel Heinze have not been able to get forward or provide the aerial prowess of JPS.

Messi pays homage to his father after scoring against Uruguay

Messi pays homage to his father after scoring against Uruguay

RM- Lionel Messi- Although he is only 22, and his best years lie ahead, it is impossible to leave Messi out of my team. He has won a world championship for Argentina at the U20 and U23 levels, and the logical progression would be to win in 2010. In 2006, Messi exemplified the role of super sub, scoring against Serbia and then adding a spark in the victory over Mexico. Against the Germans, he was left on the bench as Jose Pekerman brought on Julio Cruz instead. Hindsight may be 20/20, but had Messi come on, it is hard to see the Germans being able to shackle him. Although he has been up in down during this qualifying run, Messi is Argentina’s joint top scorer, as well as being the most fouled player, and the only player to start all 14 games. In the 2007 Copa America, Messi had his best run for the National Team, and scored a miraculous chip against Mexico in the semifinals, and had a goal incorrectly ruled out for offside in the final against Brazil. If Argentina are able to qualify, and ultimately win in 2010, Messi will be the man holding the key.

Mascherano celebrates at the 2008 Olympic Games

Mascherano celebrates at the 2008 Olympic Games

CM- Javier Mascherano- Diego Maradona’s captain has been a lock to start under Bielsa, Pekerman, and Maradona, who made him captain. He is only 25, but has established himself as one of the best midfielders in the world. He is the only Argentine to have two gold medals in any sport, winning gold in 2004 then again in 2008 as an over age player. His exploits in the 2006 World Cup earned him a move to Europe with West Ham, and ultimately to Liverpool, where he played in the 2007 Champions League final. Although not know for his goalscoring, Mascherano scored the game winning goal against Paraguay in the 2007 Copa America group stage, before adding another goal against Peru in the quarterfinals, helping Argentina to the final. Maradona has called his team “Mascherano plus 10”, and the former River Plate star has been the most dependable performer during a rough period for the National Team.

Cambiasso scores against Serbia after Crespo's backheel

Cambiasso scores against Serbia after Crespo's backheel

CM- Esteban Cambiasso- Although some have been critical of Cucho, it was only after the Inter man was left out of the National Team that the struggles came to their peak. A member of the team that reached the 2005 Confederations Cup final and 2007 Copa America Final, Cambiasso will forever be remembered of scoring what is perhaps the best team goal of all time in the 2006 World Cup against Serbia. Even though Cambiasso has been played out of position at times, his strength and intelligence have allowed the team to keep its shape and balance. Hopefully, Diego Maradona will remember this, and bring him back to the team to replace more attacking minded players.

Riquelme in action at Germany 2006

Riquelme in action at Germany 2006

AM- Juan Roman Riquelme- Although he was not a member of the 2002 World Cup team, or the 2004 Copa America side, Riquelme came into his own under Pekerman, who built his team around the Boca legend. A record of 18 goals in 54 games would be great for some forwards, but coming from midfield, Roman’s record is astounding. He was criticized by many for the exit in 2006, but Riquelme before being withdrawn, Roman had provided the assist for Ayala’s goal. In 2007, Riquelme reached his peak for Argentina, scoring 5 goals on the way to the Copa America Final, including 2 against Colombia and Peru, and a cheeky penalty against Mexico. In the final, Riquelme was again made the scapegoat for Argentina’s loss, though many forget the fact that he struck the post and had a shot kept out by a world class save from Doni. Had luck been on his side, Argentina would have lifted the Copa, and Riquelme would have been the hero. He also added four goals in Argentina’s first 3 World Cup qualifying games for South Africa 2010. Roman was also on hand at the 2008 Olympic Games as an over age player, captaining Argentina to the title. Since he retired, Argentina have been unable to find a creative midfielder, while also lacking a player with the set piece repertoire of Riquelme.

LM- Pablo Aimar- Sadly, Aimar has never been an established starter in a big tournament, although he has proven himself as one of the best subs in the world at Germany 2006 and Venezuela 2007. Aimar was also part of the squad that played in the 2005 Confederations Cup, coming off the bench to score a goal in a losing cause in the final. Sadly for Pablito, Jose Pekerman and Coco Basile both felt that Aimar and Riquelme were too similar to play together from the start, even though he they did it together in the 1997 U20 World Cup, a team that also contained Esteban Cambiasso.

S- Hernan Crespo- Sadly, Hernan has not played for Argentina since he hit a penalty with such ferocity against Colombia in the 2007 Copa America that he sustained a nasty quadriceps injury. That goal had just put the former Lazio and Chelsea striker past Diego Maradona into second all time in the Argentina goalscoring charts. He has been a phenomenon for Argentina, scoring 35 goals in just 64 games, including 19 in World Cup qualifiers, making him Argentina’s top scorer in that competition. A substitute to Gabriel Batistuta in the 2002 World Cup, Crespo led the line in 2006, winning the Adidas Silver Shoe as the tournaments second leading scorer. He was also a member of the 2006 World Cup All Star Team, joing Ayala as the only Argentines. If Crespo can regain his form at Genoa, Diego Maradona will have a difficult time not calling up a player who would quench Argentina’s desire for a true number nine to play along side Messi.

My team would use a similar formation to the team that won the 2008 Olympic Gold Medal under Sergio Batista. Messi would be able to cut in from the right onto his favored left foot, while Aimar would also be able to push forward in support of Crespo. Sorin and Zanetti would add the width to the side.

—————————————GK Roberto Abbondanzieri

RB Javier Zanetti ———-CB Roberto Ayala (c) —————–CB Gabriel Milito

———————————————————————————————-LB Juan Pablo Sorin

—————————DM Javier Mascherano —————-DM Esteban Cambiasso

RM Lionel Messi——————— CAM Juan Roman Riquelme ——————–LM Pablo Aimar

————————————————S Hernan Crespo

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What has Higuain done?

With the match with Brazil looming and a friendly against Russia scheduled for August 12th less than a month, it seems that Gonzalo Higuain will again be left out by Diego Maradona. With that being said, it is important to examine why Maradona is excluding the former River Plate man from his squad. 

The first reason appears to be that Higuain turned down a chance to go to the 2007 U20 World Cup in Canada. While I do not commend him for the decision, concentrating on Madrid has certainly helped him gain a starting place. It is also worth noting that Argentina won that tournament with Kun Aguero, Mauro Zarate (another player left out by Maradona despite a great season), Maxi Moralez, Angel Di Maria and others. Higuain also missed the 2008 Olympic Tournament, also won by Argentina with Messi, Aguero, and Di Maria leading the way. While skipping any event with the National Team should be seen as a serious offense, other players have done so and are still in the team. 

Carlos Tevez asked Coco Basile to leave him out of the 2008 tour of the US and two World Cup qualifiers against Brazil and Ecuador later that summer. Tevez asked to skip a game against our biggest rival, but Maradona makes no mention of that. Juan Roman Riquelme retired from the National Team all together in 2006, but Maradona still had plans of using him. Even after he retired for a second time, Maradona has left the door open for Roman to come back if he explains to his teammates why he left them. 

Although Maradona has instilled a “die for the shirt” mentality, Higuain has served his time and is deserving of joining the full National Team. Some have said that Maradona does not like the fact that Higuain thought about playing for France. He has turned down calls to the French team, and he doesn’t even speak a word of French. Therefore, it is unlikely that a man who only lived in a country for the first ten months of his life would ever consider playing for their national team. 

Maradona may also hold a vendetta against River players. Although he made Javier Mascherano his captain, Esteban Cambiaso has been excluded for no apparent reason after a great season with Inter. Maradona’s hatred for River can be seen through the legal action he is taking against the club for comments the president made about Maradona’s mental condition. 

Perhaps the most probable reason is that Maradona does not want to drop his pals from the squad. Messi is the best player in the world and has personified Maradona’s idea about love for the shirt. Messi fought his club in order to go to the Olympics last summer when they did everything to keep him from going, including taking legal action. Messi eventually went to Beijing and won gold, adding to the U20 World Cup he won in 2005 as the tournaments top scorer. Messi has won at every level he has played at for Argentin (U20 and U23) and now winning at the senior level seems to be the logical progression. Messi’s love for the shirt and play on the field make him untouchable. 

Carlos Tevez is a player who has certainly struggled to score goals for Argentina. He has also been undisciplined receiving 2 red cars in recent games. Tevez spent almost all of last season coming of the bench and scored most of his goals in the Carling Cup. Despite this, Tevez has played each game since Maradona took over. Tevez used Maradona as an advisor even before he became the manager, and they are known to be friends. Maradona is an admirer of Tevez’s fight style of play, and he loves the fact that Carlitos came from a similar background and played for Boca. Under a normal manager, Tevez would be dropped, but Diego has made it clear Tevez is very much in his plans.

Kun Aguero, the father of Maradona’s grandchild, will most likely not be dropped while Maradona is boss. Although El Kun has not been at his best for the National Team this past season, I do not think he should be dropped. Playing him with Higuain up top would be scary combination for any team to face. Aguero has certainly struggled playing alongside Tevez, who is very similar in style to him in the fact that they both like the ball played to feet. If Aguero could play off of a more traditional center forward, like he does with Diego Forlan at Atletico, we could see the best of El Kun. It is very hard however to see him reaching his best playing with Tevez and Messi.

Higuain must also be aware that Hernan Crespo’s move to Genoa, where he will be a starter, which could see the former Inter star back in the squad. Hernan has scored 35 goals in 64 games for his country, and his been a reliable scorer in every team he has played for.

Javier Saviola will also be a full time starter again at Benfica. If El Conejo can find some of the form he had during his days at River, he could be a possible call up. It is obvious that there is plenty of competition, but if Pipita put in another 20 goals at Real this season amongst their Galacticos, could Maradona sill leave him out? Surely not, but who knows with Maradona

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What Will Copa Libertadores Mean For Veron?

Tomorrow night, Juan Sebastian Veron will lead out Estudiantes de La Plata in the Copa Libertadores Final, the first such occasion for the club since 1971. Despite losing to Nacional in that Final, the legacy of Estudiantes lives on through the three Copa Libertadores they won from 1968-1970 after becoming the first Argentine club outside of Buenos Aires to win the Primera in 1967.

Juan Roman Veron, Seba’s father, was a key man for those Estudiantes teams that also won the 1968 Intercontinental Cup in 1968 over Manchester United, a team the younger Veron went on to play for during the early 2000’s. Carrying on the legacy is something dear to Seba’s heart, not only for what it would mean to him personally or to a possible trip to the world cup next summer, but to the club he supported as a child: “I would give everything I’ve won to be Libertadores Cup champion. That is the ultimate because I grew up here,” Veron junior said. That is quite a statement from a man who has won an English Premier League, two Serie A’s, and a UEFA Cup amongst other trophies in Europe

Seba’s love affair for Estudiantes began when he helped them win promotion in 1995, before he left for Buenos Aires based Boca Juniors where he played with a certain Diego Armando Maradona. He then left for Europe and played for Sampdoria, Parma, and Lazio in Italy before setting an English football record with his move to Manchester United in 2001. Although things started well at Old Trafford, his play declined and along with a disastrous 2002 World Cup group stage exit with Argentina, many pundits and fans felt Veron’s best was behind him. An unsuccessful spell at Chelsea and a subsequent loan stint at Inter seemed to verify such assumptions. In 2006, “La Brujita” was loaned back to his boy hood club despite interest from his other former club Boca and River Plate. In his first season back in La Plata, Veron captained Estudiantes to the 2006 Aperatura crown after a dramatic playoff victory over Boca

Seba and Ramon Veron: Two Estudiantes Legends

Seba and Ramon Veron: Two Estudiantes Legends

Veron seems to have been reinvented at Estudiantes which led to a recall to the Argentine team for 2007 Copa America. Although members of the press disagreed with Veron’s inclusion, and some fans have greeted him with boos and whistles in recent World Cup qualifiers, it seems as though a win in Belo Horizonte on Wednesday will all but secure Seba’s ticket to South Africa next summer, if Argentina make it.

Since his return from Europe, Veron has been handed the armband under each manager, from former National Team colleague Diego Simeone to Alejandro Sabella, the current boss. Each manager has also built his team around the former Manchester United star with his ability to control the game with his passing range and tactical intelligence picked up through many seasons playing for some of the game’s best managers in Europe. Veron’s vision and long passing has allowed him to create space and opportunities for strikers Gate Fernandez and Mauro Boselli. In the December, Veron helped take Estudiantes to the Copa Sudamerica Final, where they lost in extra time to Internacional, also of Brazil. Another heartbreaking defeat to a Brazilian side would be a crushing blow to a team that has improved so much since its struggles during the group stage.

For Veron, it is a chance to bring continental glory to a team not considered a “giant” of the Argentine game for the fourth time. Joining Veron in the side is fellow Argentina international Mariano Andujar, Maradona’s number one goalkeeper at the moment, who has been in fantastic form this term. Veron had a searing free kick saved by Fabio in the first leg, but he will feel confident heading to Brazil. Estudiantes beat the Brazilian 4-0 earlier in the tournament, although it is worth noting that due to poor travel arrangements Cruzeiro had almost no time to warm up. The 0-0 draw in La Plata saw Estudiantes create chances early, but as the Brazilians kicked the Argentines (Veron himself was left with a gash on his head) the tides turned, Cruzeiro ended the game with the upper hand.

While his father’s team’s under Osvaldo Zubeldí were known for violence and cynicla tactics, particularly from those in Europe, this Estudiantes has used the abilities of Veron to play a passing game more pleasing on the eye. Without Veron, much of that strategy is lost, as seen in the second leg of the semifinals when Veron was out injured. With him, Estudiantes can achieve the Cup that has eluded them for 39, as well as showing those in Manchester, Chelsea, and Buenos Aires, that Juan Sebastian Veron is not finished.

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Benitez Tightens Stranglehold Over Want Away Masch

With various Argentina internationals such as Lucho Gonzalez, Lisandro Lopez, and Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano looks to be the latest to leave his current club in search of greener pastures. Argentina’s captain has stated that his wife has not settled in Merseyside and would prefer to remain in Argentina rather than move back to Liverpool. Mascherano has also made it clear that he is an admirer of Barcelona, while the Blaugrana President Joan Laporta has since said that the feeling is mutual. How good would Javier look wearing the famous shirt of Barcelona worn by some of the all-time giants of the game: Kubala, Cruyff, Maradona, Romario, Ronaldo, and of course Messi, just to name a few. Messi himself has recently made a plea for his friend and international colleague to join him at the Nou Camp, stating: “I hope Mascherano can come and we can form a solid partnership.” Even Sergio Busquets, who plays a similar role, said he would welcome the former West Ham man to Barca.

Could the Olympic Gold Medalists be reunited at the Camp Nou prior to a World Cup run? Not if Rafa has anything to say about it.

Could the Olympic Gold Medalists be reunited at the Camp Nou prior to a World Cup run? Not if Rafa has anything to say about it.

Having two of Argentina’s biggest stars on the same pitch competing against Real Madrid’s “Galacticos” is appealing to any Argentina fan, while seeing Mascherano sit behind Xavi and Andres Iniesta would be fantastic for Barca supporters as well as boss Josep Guardiola. It seems like a match made for everyone, except Rafa Benitez. Liverpool came so close to winning the title last season, but have only been able to strengthen his squad with the purchase of the ridiculously overpriced Glenn Johnson for 18 million pounds from Portsmouth. Liverpool are also hit by financial troubles of late, and American owners George Gillet and Tom Hicks may want to cash in on Mascherano and Xabi Alonso, but losing both central midfielders would be catastrophic for Rafa. The financial situation could make it very difficult for the club to sign many more big names, which would make Masch and Alonso almost impossible to replace, although Esteban Cambiaso, another Argentina international, as been linked with the club.

Benitez has made it clear that he would like to hold on to both players, and that they “owe” both him and the club. Although Benitez clearly saved Masch from a disastrous situation at West Ham, few can argue that Barcelona has been a home to many Argentine players who have settled well in the Catalan capital, while fewer Argentinos have settled in the industrious Northwest of England. The prospect of playing for the best team in the World ,as well as keeping his wife happy, makes Barca an ideal place for any player, but Rafe must budge first.

Unfortunately for the former River Plate star, his fate may also rest on the future of Alonso, who is creeping ever closer to a move to the Santiago Bernabeu as the latest Galactico. Benitez has also gone as far as to say that he would not sell Masch for any less then 40 million euros. The club are apparently also willing to pay him triple his current salary to keep him at the Anfield outfit. Clearly Benitez is doing all he can to keep hold of Mascherano, especially since Alonso has one foot inside the Bernabeu door. The loss of Alonso will be enough of a blow, especially after Benitez failed to sign Gareth Barry, who went to Manchester City.

Unfortunately, it looks like Mascherano, who is set to meet up with the club on Thursday in Switzerland, will remain in England this season. It would certainly be a dream to see Masch and Messi on the same team, but unless Rafa loosens his grip over the hard man, Masch will again be wearing a red number 20 shirt this season.

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