Tag Archives: Argentina

Lionel Messi retires from international football.

When headlines should have been about Chile’s triumph in the Copa America final, it was instead all about the world’s greatest player calling time on his national team.

Lionel Messi, who turned 29 just three days ago, won’t be wearing the Argentine shirt again after missing in a penalty shootout as La Albiceleste lost a fourth major final in nine years.

“For me, the national team is over,” he said after his 113th and final appearance for his country. “I’ve done all I can. It hurts not to be a champion.”

There may be more to it than that.

The blog was in Buenos Aires recently (making a pilgrimage to Boca’s La Bombonera), and the opinion of Leo Messi is a lot lower than it is in Europe. Here, we adore him. There, the general opinion is that he is a great player who doesn’t love Argentina.

While in the Argentine capital, I was speaking with many locals about the Barcelona star who they told me that they don’t really consider him on of their own. That’s a bit strange? Indeed Messi has been living in Catalonia on a full time basis since February 2001 and spent no time playing in Argentina’s league beyond a youth career with Newell’s Old Boys.

Yet the Barcelona fans also certainly don’t consider Messi as truly theirs. Catalans are very proud people, as patriotic about the autonomous commuinity as the Argentines are about their country. If you were to say to a Catalan that Messi is “on of your own”, they’d certainly laugh at you. It simply doesn’t work like that. Poor Leo is in limbo.

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He’s also fed up of the Argentine FA (AFA), who a Buenos Aires taxi driver told me “is run by absolute crooks and gangsters”. Leo even posted an Instagram photo of himself (looking less than pleased) and Sergio Aguero sitting on a plane with the caption “Once again waiting on a plane to leave for our destination. What a disaster AFA are, my God!!!!”

But it’s also worth considering that it’s exactly the national pride Argentines feel that may cause Messi to reverse his decision. To try and win the 2018 World Cup and the Copa America in Brazil a year later could be preferable as opposed to regretting it years later in retirement. At club level, he has won all there is to be won. At international level, far from it.

One of the most decorated players in the game, Messi’s only international honour is a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics. Let’s hope he changes his mind and gives us one more World Cup. It could be the one.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

What a World Cup: And then there were two

Now we are down to the very last of it – the final of the 2014 World Cup. And what a competition it has been: the sheer quality of football from certain players, the bravery from certain teams, the glory of mind-blowing goals, the controversy, the glory, the unpredictability. Good heavens, can we get rid of league football and just have nine World Cups instead?

Last Tuesday witnessed the unpredictable: Brazil were beaten – no, completely outplayed and destroyed – by Germany by 7-1. Yes, seven!

Brazil-Germany-records

The ridiculously brilliant Thomas Müller opened the scoring after eleven minutes, followed by another four before I had even blinked. Five-nil at half-time was followed up by André Schürrle’s two second-half goals making it seven before Oscar’s last minute consolation pulled one back for Brazil. Far too little, way too late. Brazil haven’t been this humiliated since, well, ever!

Wednesday was the other semi-final between The Netherlands and Argentina which wasn’t the most exciting of games to watch, but for me the Argentines looked like the only team truly keen to win it. And they just about did.

After 120 minutes, the Dutch had to look to Jasper Cillessen as their keeper for the shoot-out as LVG had used up all his substitutes so was unable to bring on Tim Krul, who was the hero Costa Rica in the quarter-finals.

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But it wasn’t to be as Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero saved Ron Vlaar’s and Wesley Sneijder’s penalties, and it was former-Liverpool winger Maxi Rodriguez who scored the penalty to put Argentina into the final.

The final in Rio on Sunday will be Lionel Messi’s greatest test at international level, and the opportunity to silence critics who forever compare him to the great Diego Maradona by lifting the World Cup as captain of Argentina – just as El Diego did in the peak of his career in 1986.

But Messi & co. will be facing an extremely organised and tough Germany side and, if I’m honest, a Germany side who could cause Argentina severe problems. Maybe not beating them 7-1 as they did against Brazil, but certainly enough problems to score early, outplay and dishearten the Argentine defence. The South Americans will have to play better than they did all tournament in my opinion.

The Argentine press have been giving FIFA stick about how Germany have had an extra day’s rest and to prepare, but are still heavily relying on Messi to deliver the goods. Germany, who are the bookies’ favourites, are already planning their homecoming by announcing a parade at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Argentina could spoil the party. Literally. 

The third place play-off is on Saturday at 9pm as Brazil face The Netherlands at the Estádio Nacional de Brasilia. The final between Germany and Argentina kicks off 24 hours later in the Maracanã.

P.S. – If you fancy watching the match with the blog, Whelans of Wexford Street in Dublin are throwing a little shindig in their main room with the match being shown on a large screen, some cheap drinks on offer and even a short DJ set from yours truly. Check out the poster below and do come down from 8pm – it’s free in.

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Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

 

Alfredo di Stéfano R.I.P.

Football today lost of the true greats in the history of the game following the news of the death of Alfredo di Stéfano, aged 88. The former player and manager, nicknamed “Saeta rubia” (“blond arrow”), is very often listed as one of the greats alongside names such as Pelé, Maradona and Cruyff. 

Di Stefano, twice a Ballon d’or winner, will be remembered for his sheer brilliance on the pitch as well as his performances which helped his beloved Real Madrid win five consecutive European Cup trophies.

Arguably the greatest player in Real Madrid’s history, his memory won’t be forgotten by the footballing world.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyTfcoMPDXg

Here was the reaction on Twitter:

Rest in peace, Señor.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

 

 

World Cup semi-finals: Then there were four…

Football fans’ mouths are watering worldwide as two very tasty World Cup semi-final fixtures are set to be played. The last four will see Brazil take on Germany tomorrow night at the Estádio Mineirão in Belo Horizonte, while on Wednesday The Netherlands face Argentina in the Arena Corinthians in São Paulo.

Brazil overcame Colombia in Fortaleza in the quarter-finals. Many, myself included, were doubtful if they would. Colombia have been playing some excellent football led by 22-year old superstar James Rodríguez. Two goals from defenders Thiago Silva and David Luiz put the hosts ahead before Rodríguez’s 80th minute goal pulled one back for Colombia but it wasn’t enough.

Brazil Soccer WCup Brazil Colombia

Germany squeezed into the semis after their 1-0 victory against France. The goal came within the opening quarter of an hour as Mats Hummels’ header shot past Hugo Lloris from (future Real Madrid player according to the Spanish press) Tony Kroos’ free kick. Didier Deschamps’ men failure to produce an equaliser meant that they were eliminated disappointingly early, while Germany reach a record fourth straight World Cup semi-final. 

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Argentina deservedly went though to the semis following the 1-0 victory over Belgium in the Brazilian capital Brasília. It’s the South American nation’s first time to reach a semi-final since finishing runner up at Italia ’90. Belgium didn’t have the wit to overpower Argentina who could have scored more than the one goal. 

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The Netherlands just about made their way into the semis, following a dramatic penalty shoot-out against everybody’s second favourite World Cup team Costa Rica. After a goalless 120 minutes in the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Louis van Gaal made the gamble of bringing on goalkeeper Tim Krul in place of Jasper Cillessen. It was a gamble that paid off as Newcastle ‘keeper Krul saved penalties from Bryan Ruiz and Michael Umana to put the Dutch through. Cue every newspaper praising both van Gaal and Costa Rica, even if it was a Krul way to be eliminated from the World Cup.

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This festival of football is in my opinion without a doubt the finest World Cup from memory. It has had so much memorable moments from the good, the bad, and the ugly – but we’ll talk about that next week.

Now we are down to the last four. Imagine if we got a Brazil v Argentina or Netherlands v Germany final. Two historic and geographical rivalries. These really are tasty fixtures coming up.

This week it is:

Tuesday
Brazil
21:00
Germany
Wednesday
Netherlands
21:00
Argentina
All times are Irish times.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

And then there were eight…

I must say, and I know I’m not alone in saying this, but the standard of football and the entertainment value in the matches during this World Cup is, from my memory, the best one yet.

I’ll start off with James Rodriguez‘s smashing goal against Uruguay last Saturday is not the firm favourite for goal of the tournament (sorry, RVP). And what a talent the Colombian is. Just don’t expect him to move anywhere after the tournament – Monaco only signed him last summer – for €45 million. Forty-five million!

Speaking of players moving, you can be guaranteed that Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa will easily find a new club having run out his contract with French side Ajaccio. His performances in the tournament have been frankly unbelievable. (You remember Guillermo from this blog back in 2010, right?)

Another player on the move is the most talked about player in it – and not for the right reasons. Yes, Luis Suarez seems to be likely on his way to Catalonia to join giants Barcelona from Liverpool. The Uruguayan was, as you know, banned for four months for biting into Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini‘s shoulder last week but Suarez apologised publicly 24 hours after dismissing the incident as malicious.

The apology is widely reported as being at Barça’s insistence for the transfer to go ahead which seems likely as being the case. The deal could mean that Chilean superstar Alexis Sánchez could be on his way to Anfield as part-exchange. Which, believe me, is a serious addition for Liverpool. (In fact, when Alexis was at Udinese, I wrote on this blog: “Lucky the club will be that signs Alexis Sánchez“)

But back to the World Cup itself…now there are just eight teams left:

Brazil, who haven’t been amazing this tournament except Neymar, will face Colombia in Fortaleza on Friday. It will be one tasty fixture. As will be the day’s other fixture – France v Germany. Can the French upset the mighty German team who many pick as favourites to make it to the final? Don’t write off Les Bleus just yet.

Salvador will play host to an interesting fixture in The Netherlands versus everyone’s new second favourite team, Costa Rica. The Dutch are still a powerhouse in international football, but aren’t without their flaws as the Mexicans exposed last Sunday. In fact, the Dutch were lucky to get through. What Costa Rica lack in technical skill, make up for in heart. And that can win games this far into a tournament. The pressure is on The Netherlands, not Costa Rica. And both managers will know that.

Finally the other quarter final is Argentina v Belgium. It’ll be an interesting tie, and Argentina will be favourites. But I’m not so sure. They seemed weak at the back at times and their superstar player Leo Messi made a few mistakes that had previously been unseen at club level. But they’ve got some ridiculous amount of talent. Even their bench is made up of superstars. Belgium, on the other hand, are hungry for success. They can be pushed in a corner and put under pressure, as the USA showed last night against them. This one, I predict, might go to extra time and possibly beyond.

So to recap:

Quarter-finals
(Friday)
France
17:00
Germany
Brazil
21:00
Colombia
(Saturday)
Argentina
17:00
Belgium
Netherlands
21:00
Costa Rica
All times are in Ireland Time
Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

World Cup heroes #7: Maradona

The Vatican has the Pope, Argentina has Diego Armando Maradona. There is nothing that can be said about el Diego that hasn’t been said before. I am not sure if I even have the words to correctly sum up his genius. I can only show you a video of his sheer brilliance.

Watch the video at the 2.28 mark again. Take a bow, son. Take two.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

 

World Cup heroes #5: Kempes

There’s no denying how brilliant Argentina were at the 1978 World Cup, and at the forefront was the frankly brilliant and easily recognizable Mario Kempes.

‘El Matador’ was the hero for the home fans and finished the competition as top goalscorer with six goals. It may be Maradona, Messi or Batistuta that the Argentines adore the most, but Mario Kempes can go anywhere in that country and someone will buy him a pint of Quilmes for his triumph in the 1978 World Cup.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Footy travels #11: Buenos Aires

The blog is bringing you a travel guide from outside of Europe for the first time, and where better than one of South America’s most beautiful and cultural places. A real mecca for the beautiful game and home to some of the most passionate and extreme fans – this is a guide to the wonderful Buenos Aires.

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How do I get in? This is quite a trek, but the easiest way from Dublin is by using British Airways, who fly to Ezeiza Airport, one of the city’s two major airports located around 25 kilometres outside the city itself. It’s not the cheapest of journeys at around the €1, 500 mark, but it’s just one quick stopover in London. You can search the web for a cheaper alternative, but this usually means changing planes twice or even three times and travel time is usually doubled. Ezeiza Airport is well connected by bus and taxis usually have a prepaid fare into town.

What teams can I watch? Unsurprisingly there is no shortage here, dear readers. The big two is naturally Boca Juniors and River Plate. When the two meet, it is (as previously blogged) one of the most tense fixtures in world football. Aside from them, there is  HuracánVélez SarsfieldArgentinos JuniorsFerro Carril Oeste, as well as the Pope‘s beloved San Lorenzo lads.

How do I get to the stadiums? BA is an enormous city with 12 million inhabitants, so getting around can take some time, yet public transport is very good. The cheapest and most effective ways of moving around is by using the bus or the underground railway system called the tren subterráneo – or Subte for short. Walking is a nice way of seeing the city, but again the city is massive. Avoid taxis, as they traffic here can be chaotic.
Boca Juniors’ La Bombonera is located in La Boca. A famous barrio in the city. Bus nos 10, 29, 53 or 64 will take you here.
Rivals River Plate play in the national stadium, the Monumental which was also the setting for the 1978 World Cup Final. Again, buses from the centre of town is easiest, with nos 12, 29, 42, 107 or 130 bringing you within minutes of the ground.

Boca Juniors v River Plate  Ð Argentine Championship - Clausura

How do I get tickets? Regardless of the game, be cautious. There’ll be plenty of very good photocopied versions of tickets for sale outside some of these grounds. That said,  you shouldn’t obtain any trouble getting tickets from any of these clubs – except Boca Juniors that is. Tickets are not sold at the gate for any Boca fixture on matchday and it is well advisable to get a ticket package in advance from a tour group like this one. It’s more expensive – but at least it’s a guarantee.

What else is there to do? Do you like steak? Beer? Tango? Of course you do. And you’re in the capital for all three to all go together. Buenos Aires is an extremely cultural city, filled with museums, theatres, parks, pubs…you name it. It has a slight European feel to it, but is undoubtedly Argentine. The city boasts some of South America’s best nightlife, so you won’t find yourself at a loose end after the final whistle in Buenos Aires. Or even before kick off for that matter.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland

BASUNSHINE

Welcome to Manchester – again!

So Carlos Tevez arrived back in Manchester with an appointment with City’s club doctor. This comes after three months of unauthorised leave in his native Argentina. Roberto Mancini, who once said that he was “finished” at the club, is now welcoming back Tevez. Even though this week he has said that he was treated “like a dog” by the Italian manager. Will his return make an impact at City?

Well, the fans might boo him for what happened in Munich (even though Noel Gallagher publicly asked the City faithful not to) but the mood in the City camp isn’t one of division – according to Joleon Lescott who tweeted “All I can say…is that all the players are excited to have Carlos, Kolo and Yaya back to help achieve our goal”.

Tevez insists he is ready to play for City and do his best. In an interview in Argentina on Monday he said “I do not think I was wrong, but if they (the club) think so I apologise…I am ready to return, to win and do the best for the club’s shirt”.

Carlos was in talks with AC Milan, Inter Milan and Paris Saint Germain in January looking for a move away from Manchester but was unable to reach a deal with any club (most likely due to the enormous size of his pay packet). I for one am surprised Mancini is welcoming the Argentinian back – and especially after his comments. I’d be surprised if Tevez was a Man City player next season.

Mancini has his eyes on the big prize in England. Can Tevez make the difference? I personally believe that Balotelli, Dzeko and Aguero can do a good enough job without him. It’ll be an interesting time at Eastlands, that’s for sure. Watch this space…

 

Boca 'til I die….and after then also!

In this day and age, most (if not all) major and minor clubs around the world flog merchandise such as replica jerseys, tracksuits, posters, eveningwear, underwear and dog-collars to generate revenue. It was only a matter of time before Argentine giants Boca Juniors catered for their departed fans.

For the equivalent of €165, one can have a tailor made coffin with the club’s yellow and blue colours and a silk interior. Fans can even have the club’s crest engraved on the coffin’s lid. Boca have notorious passionate fans (including a certain Diego Maradona), so it’s no surprise to learn that the club have had quite a number of sales from their grim, although quite clever, money-making idea.

A River Plate fan's idea of eternal hell...literally.

German side Hamburg took note of the club’s idea. They became the first European club to have a cemetry for it’s fans. They are buried like military heroes with coffins draped and painted in the team colors. There is also the option of having their ashes buried in a club urn.

Say what you like about loyalty in the game – this takes the whole “…’til I die” motto to a new level.

Copa América is a feast for football lovers' eyes

The 43rd edition of the Copa América, hosted by Argentina, is upon us and some of South America’s finest stars will flock to Buenos Aires and seven other cities in a bid to claim the continent’s top international prize.

Argentina have played host the most amount of times and won the competition a record 14 times (tied with neighbours Uruguay). “We are always obliged to win, no matter where we are,” Argentine star Lionel Messi told newspaper El Pais, “Argentina is always among the favorites and we have to fight to win everything, and more so playing at home in front of our own fans.” This will be no easy feat. Big names such as Robinho, Roque Santa Cruz, Neymar, Alexis Sanchez, Juan Vargas, Luis Suarez, Alexandre Pato and more are all out there to do damage to the defences of whoever it is that gets in their way.

Current holders Brazil are among the favourites. And rightly so with a hungry-for-victory squad and a successful domestic coach in Mano Menezes. But it’s no easy run for any squad in the competition. Argentina face Colombia, Costa Rica and Bolivia in Group A. The Brazilians face Paraguay, Equador and Venezuela in Group B while Uruguay face difficult opening games with Peru, Mexico and Chile in Group C.
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The opening game kicks off on Saturday morning at 1.45 am (Irish time) between hosts Argentina against Bolivia at the new Estadio La Plata just outside Buenos Aires and will run right through until 24th of July where final will be contested at River Plate’s Monumental Stadium (which for the first time in it’s history will see 2nd division football next season).

There are some cracking games. Will the new-look Brazilian side retain their title? Or will Argentina end their 18-year drought in this competition? Or will someone outside “the big two” triumph? Let’s see over the next 24 days.

Handballs, phantom goals and some refereeing howlers

Referees have a tough job. Without the use of technology (which boggles many as to why they still don’t) the job they do can be tough. And contraversial as has been the case on many occasions.

One of the most shocking fouls in the history of the professional game to go unpunished occured at the Estadio Pizjuan in Seville at the 1982 World Cup in a game between West Germany and France. With France’s Patrick Battiston clean through on goal, he had only goalkeeper Harald Schumacher to beat. The 6 fot 2 inch ‘keeper launched himself in the air at Battiston and collided with him mid-air. The French defender was instantly knocked unconcious (before later slipping into a coma) and required oxygen on the pitch. The then-Saine Etienne player lost three teeth and badly damaged his vertebrae. The referee’s decision? Sending off? No. Yellow card? Nope. A talking to at least? Not a chance. Seeing as the ball rolled out of play during Schumacher’s challenge, he waved for the German ‘keeper to take a goal kick. Cheers, ref.
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/DbbsytHDp2o" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
One of the most famous decisions that a referee got wrong involved the great Diego Maradona when he famously punched the ball into the English net at the Azteca Stadium in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. The Argentine genius later said in his autobiography, El Diego, that it felt a little like “pickpocketing the English”. Maradona may have scored the goal of the century four minutes later, but the many English fans and media have refused to forgive the legend for his ‘hand of God’. But even Gary Lineker himself now would admit that Diego put a ‘touch’ more class on the handball than when a certain Frenchman did against Ireland recent years.

Some phantom goals have been awarded in recent years, as have blatant goals that haven’t. But when a ballboy scores an 89th-minute equalizer for Brazilian club side Santacruzense against Athletico Sorocaba and it’s given, we a truly entering the world of ridiculous. Sepp Blatter has stated that FIFA intend to not bring in goal-line technology anytime soon. At least his decision will continue to be the subject of much discussion for years to come.

Argentine-Israelis, Uruguayan-Qataris and other nationality swaps

Inter Milan midfielder Thiago Motta scored his first international goal for Italy last weekend. But he has made headlines for other reasons in Italy when former Inter coach Cesare Maldini spoke for many when he condemned his inclusion for the Azzurri. The reason? Motta was born and raised in Brazil.

But he wouldn’t be the first player to play for a completely different nation to that of his birth and upbringing (I could be here all day with Ireland’s squads for the past 30 years).  Marcos Senna was one of Spain’s strongest midfielders during Euro 2002 and Euro 2008.  Of course, like Motta, the Villareal player was born and raised in Brazil – where he also spent 5 years going through Brazilian clubs. But since been granted citizenship in 2006 after four years living in Spain, Senna has not looked back.
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Sebastian Soria was one of Uruguay’s hot prospects back when he was playing in his homeland for Montevideo-based Liverpool. A move to Qatar in 2004, he left South America unsure of what to find. What he did find was stardom in a football-loving country. In 2006, citizenship followed and so did a call from the Qatari national team where Soria has already notched up a ratio of almost a goal every two games.

Finally, Roberto Colautti was a one-time Boca Juniors prospect. He was eligible to play for Argentina or Italy. He was playing his football with Maccabi Haifa in 2006 and opted to play for Israel at the quickest opportunity. With FIFA soon tightening up their eligibility laws, the Israeli FA pleaded with the interior ministry to wave him through. A passport was issued within weeks – just two days prior to his debut. A game in which he scored.

Ireland are no strangers to taking advantage of this rule (as previously blogged). Surely there’s some skillful Mexicans or Argentines with Irish blood better than one or two in our current squad – who shall remain nameless.

Football's greatest rivalries: Boca Juniors v River Plate

Hello one and all and welcome to a new feature to the blog which, as the title will tell you, will focus on the greatest rivalries in world football. Today we’ll have a look at Argentina’s big one – Boca Juniors vs. River Plate.

The game, known locally as ‘el superclásico’, was described by Diego Maradona as “unequalled”. This is quite the statement coming from a man who played for some great clubs with huge rivalries in their respective leagues. He has a strong argument however as on matchday in either clubs’ stadia, all that can be seen amongst the hugely passionate supporters is a sea of flags, chants, fireworks, tickertape, dancing and jumping – so much jumping that in fact it has been known to occasionally make the stands of Boca’s steep-sided La Bonbonera stadium dangerously vibrate.

The Boca fans refer to their River counterparts as los gallinas (the chickens) which questions the courage of both players and fans. River fans in retaliation get a bit more personal and refer to their rivals as los chanchitos (the little pigs) due to the working-class neighbourhood Boca Juniors is situated in. Despite occasional fan violence and the tragedy of the puerta 12 incident (in 1968, 71 fans were crushed to death due to overcrowding and stampeding at this fixture at River’s el Monumental stadium), many fans and experts will still point to Buenos Aires when asked what is the greatest footballing rivalry or derby. And they would certainly have a point when you see the video below.
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One thing is for sure – before I die, I must attend at least one superclásico.

The Return of Riquelme

Riquelme has an eye for creating brilliance

Argentine midfielder Juan Roman Riquelme will make his long awaited return from injury this weekend as his side Boca Juniors take on Argentinos Juniors in the intimidating La Bonbonera stadium in the colourful La Boca neighbourhood in Buenos Aires. No doubt one Diego Maradona will keep his eye on this fixture as he famously played for both sides in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

Riquelme’s return is absolutely good news for Boca coach Claudio Borghi, as the 32-year old is easily one of the most influential playmakers in the Argentine Primera División – possibly of all time. West Ham United fans must have thought they were dreaming when Riquelme was linked with a move to the East London club. It would have been an addition that could have been the envy of every other club in the Premier League.

Riquelme had previously spent five years playing in Spain’s La Liga. One luckless year at Catalan giants Barcelona, and four years at Villareal. His love for Boca Juniors ensured his return in 2007. The former Argentine international has all the leadership, flair, creativity and skills that could put him in the same barrel as Steven Gerrard, yet is rarely praised as such in Europe. Trust me, if you find yourself with the facilities to be able to watch Boca tomorrow night, prepare to watch brilliance  – a little taster of which I give you here with a suitably smooth soundtrack.
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It’s clearly that fancy footwork and ‘spatial awareness’ that wooed Yesica Toscanini !!!