Category Archives: South America

Between Messi and immortality, a world of pain

As the undisputed king of football, Leo Messi has already secured his place in the game’s history. La Liga champion? Check. Copa del Rey winner? Check. Champions League winner? Check. European Footballer of the Year? Been there. FIFA World Player of the Year? Done that.

But all the accolades don’t seem to be enough for some pundits to consider Messi to be the greatest of all time. The critics argue Messi isn’t Messi without his Barcelona buddies by his side. Put on the Albicelestes colours and his magic disappears. To be the best, they argue, requires winning the one trophy that has been held above all others – the FIFA World Cup. Win that, Leo, and the debate will be over.

His quest begins again this Saturday, when South America kicks off qualifiers for Brazil 2014. And make no mistake: if Messi is to be a World Cup winner, getting there won’t be easy. The CONMEBOL qualification tournament is regarded as the toughest in the world, agrueling three-year cycle in which every South American team competes in home and home round robin tournament. The top four automatically qualify, with the fifth place team going to a playoff round against an Asian team. There are no easy matches in South American qualifying anymore, no Faroe Islands, Maldives, or St. Lucia’s to beat up on. Every match is war.

Don’t believe me? Check out the semi-finalists from this year’s Copa America: Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela. No Argentina, nNo Brazil… and no gimmes. Every game will be tight, physical and challenging. At the end of a South American qualifier, the players look as if they were in a rugby match, not a football match.

For any player, the World Cup is the ultimate prize. To win it as an Argentine in Brazil would be even sweeter. For Lionel Messi to lift the trophy, he will have to go through football hell. That is the high price of immortality.

Hadi Zogheib

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Another banner moment for Diego

You know Diego Maradona, and might well loathe him, for his infamous ‘Hand of God.’ Now the Argentinian has offered up a new appendage for abomination; his ‘Flying Foot of Fury.

Dirty Diego couldn’t contain his rage when a fan of UAE club Al Wasl kept pushing up a banner to catch a glimpse of the legendary striker, who recently signed a two-year,  7-million Euro contract to coach the Middle East outfit. Seems there was a bit of a communication problem, as the chubby coach wanted the sign kept down so he could have a photo taken next to it. The solution? Maradona mashed the man’s hand with a blinding left boot. From The Telegraph:

“The banner, sent to him by his daughters Delma and Giannina, read: ‘Babu Estoy con vos te amo –Benja,’ meaning ‘Grandfather I love you and I am with you’ and was signed by his grandson Benjamin.

Maradona later apologised to the Al Wasl supporter.

“I am emotional, this is my nature. I’ve always been like this as a player and coach. Sometimes I feel like I’m a player of Al Wasl.

“The sign was a message from my grandson and daughters in Manchester and Argentina and it means they support me in whatever I do. I apologise to the fan I hurt but I wanted the banner to be seen.”

Maradona went on to register his first competitive victory as coach with the Dubai club with a 3-0 home win over Emirates in the Etisalat Cup.”

Oh, Diego. You dozey dolt. This is the dumbest thing you’ve done since…well, since two days ago, when you told fans who might be “scared” after you lost two of your first three matches to “stay at home, watch some DVD or some comedy series.” As The Guardian suggested, “a dramatization of the Argentinian legend’s managerial career would fit the bill.” I think we just got a new episode.

Ian Harrison

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Quem comeu todas as empanadas?

Ooooo... you fat bastard!

It’s that nefarious time of year when you realize that the fantasy is over.  You can’t maintain the holiday lifestyle forever with no work, ample sleep and copious amounts of food and beverages.

After New Year’s Eve, we all jump on the wagon, head to the gym and watch what we eat.  After a week of willpower, we are quite proud of ourselves that we said “No” to the free office Timbits or the invitation for after-work beers.  I know I look down at the small man living under my shirt and say, “It’s not so bad… I can make it go away.”

That was until I saw these photos of Brazilian Ronaldo in the Daily Mail.  Of course, it’s New Year’s Eve and he’s partying with booze and gorgeous women.  He’s Brazilian, for the love of God!!! It’s in his DNA!!!

But then I saw the headline and caption.  If this is considered fat, if this is considered “packing on the pounds”, then I’m just going to crawl up in the fetal position with a bottle of  Jack Daniels and a tub of Haagen-Daaz, watching old episodes of Baywatch and wondering what could have been…

You go, Ronaldo.  You go girl…

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Batista stakes his claim in Argentina

When Sergio Batista was given the reins of Argentina’s national team on an interim basis, reactions in his home nation were mixed.  Some were still mourning the resignation of national icon Diego Maradona, while others were hoping for a different gaffer, one with some managerial experience in Europe or  Argentina’s domestic league.  After all, Batista was coming off a horrendous experience with the youth squad, having failed to guide Argentina to the World Youth Cup for the first time in recent memory.

Some, however, remember Batista as the brilliant tactical manager who ledArgentina to Olympic gold at Beijing in 2008.  In the process, he found a way to get the most out of his best players, namely Leo Messi, Angel Di Maria and Javier Mascherano. So how would he perform at the senior level?  The answer, thus far, is magnificently.

Unlike Maradona, Batista has stacked his midfield and defence with more  possession based players, and the results have been astonishing.  Nicolas Ottamendi, Di Maria, and Maxi Rodriguez were replaced by Ever Banega, Esteban Cambiasso, and Javier Zanetti and Argentina has looked unstoppable since.  In fact, following Tuesday’s 4-1 demolition of world champions Spain, supporters of the Albicelestes are no doubt be wondering what could have been had Batista been in charge in South Africa instead of Maradona.

Batista still has a number of upcoming friendlies to justify his appointment as permanent manager, including a match against hated-rivals Brazil. But if the big win over Spain is any indication,  he looks certain to be around for some time.

Hadi Zogheib

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No more donkeys, please

Down the Lane these days, our ’Arry has apparently used up all his goodwill saving Russian donkeys (not named Pavlyuchenko) from parasailing pratfalls, and is lambasting the powers the be for scheduling an England friendly against Hungary too close to the start of the Premiership season for his liking.

With some glaring holes at the back and his club’s inaugural Champions League qualification looming large, the Tottenham boss would rather have his team on the training ground than traipsing around the world for preseason friendlies, or losing players for a few days of international duty. If he wants something else to worry about, Redknapp can wonder whether Spurs will have their plans for a new stadium approved when Haringey Council says yea or nay on Sept. 13.

Tottenham aren’t counting on having Jonathan Woodgate on their 25-man roster when new squad rules take effect this season and, with Ledley King as gimpy as ever, ’Arry is reportedly after Villa’s Curtis Davies, Everton’s Phil Jagielka or Man. Citeh’s Micah Richards to slot into the centre of his back line. As long as they’re not donkeys, ’Arry, you can bring in whoever you like.

City may not be quite ready to let Richards walk, but it seems the new roster rules could force a shocking 30 players out the door at Eastlands, with some paid off by the deep pocketed owners to get the hell out. So much for Welcome to Manchester.

Switching to the Red Mancs, United went south of the border to Mexico but came out a 3-2 loser to CD Chivas in the final game of its North American tour in what must have been a bit of a confusing night for newly-signed Javier Hernandez, who said goodbye to the Goats by scoring a goal for Chivas in the first half, then switching shirts and suiting up for his new team after the break.

Finally, while the departing Diego Maradona makes claims of betrayal against his former employers in Argentina, the AFA has reportedly sets its sights on former Sheffield United midfielder and current Estudiantes manager Alejandro Sabella to take over the pressure-packed post of national team boss.

Ian Harrison

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In South America, fresh faces will feel heat fast

New Brazil boss Mano Menezes will hope things are thumbs up from the get-go in his new gig.

With the 2011 Copa America now less than a year away and the 2014 World Cup set to be played on their home continent, the powerhouse nations of South America have decided now is the time for managerial change. And the new men won’t get much time to settle in.

Brazil was first to make a switch, predictably firing the dour Dunga following a disappointing loss to the Netherlands in the quarterfinals of World Cup 2010. Of course, the reason for Dunga’s dismissal was not so much the loss to the Dutch as it was his preferred style of play. Brazilians demand flash and flamboyance, elegance and elan. Watching Dunga’s combative midfield and stonewall defence grind out ugly victories was not enough for Brazil’s critical public. After all, they have the reputation of Joga Bonito to uphold. Enter new manager Mano Menezes. The former Corinthians gaffer has promised to restore samba football. And just in the nick of time too, for it seems as if the whole world is beginning to forget about the famous yellow and green jersey and salivate over the yellow and red strip of Spain instead.  With the next mundial in front of their home fans, anything less than a win that comes with style and flair will be seen as an embarrassment for Brazil.

Then there’s Argentina. After the news of Diego Maradona’s dismissal Tuesday amid a disagreement with Argentine football director Julio Grondona over support staff, the Albicelestes will be keen to make a statement in the coming three years.  They won’t have to wait long for their first measuring stick, having confirmed a Sept. 7 friendly in Buenos Aires against the brand-new World Cup champion Spaniards. The match could also be an interesting gauge for how European teams will fare across the pond in 2014.

Don't let her down - she's too excited.

Like Brazil, Argentina will face the burden of expectation that comes with hosting when they welcome the rest of the continent at next summer’s Copa America. Rumour has it that whoever takes the reins (and the names of potential successors include Alejandro Sabella of Estudiantes, under 20 coach Sergio Batista, and Diego “Don’t kick me, David Beckham” Simeone) will also be expected to at least reach the semi-finals next door in Brazil at World Cup 2014.

So there you have it. The new manager of Brazil is expected to not only win the next World Cup, but to do it with uncompromising style, while Argentina’s next boss will be expected to defeat world champion Spain at home, win the 2011 Copa America, and follow that up with no worse than a final four showing in 2014. No pressure boys…

Hadi Zogheib

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