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Wednesday, Sep 18, 2019

More than friendly fire

The only thing artificial about this Friday evening show is the turf. Despite being an exhibition tie and a kick-off, there’s a lot of interest in Argentina. Dhiman Sarkar writes.

sports Updated: Sep 02, 2011 02:20 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times

The only thing artificial about this Friday evening show is the turf.

In nagging evening drizzle, Argentina started training at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan. The goalkeepers arrived early and perhaps got the loudest cheer of their lives and the maximum pictures clicked by professional photographers perched on first floor terrace of the stadium building.

That's because those lining the VIP entrance and the stairways leading to the ramps inside thought the mini van contained the man everyone here can never have enough of.

He came at 6.25pm, 40 minutes after the shot-stoppers. The rest of his mates came in a bus. Lionel Messi could have covered the distance between the team hotel and the pitch juggling a football - he possibly wouldn't mind doing it too - but being kept at an arm's length or more from those who make you a star is a small price to pay for being famous.

One day before India's first neutral Fifa friendly, Argentina, ranked ninth in the world and twice World Cup winners, trained for 85 minutes, the last 20 minutes being open to the media. The highlight of the open session? A back-volley by Messi. While leaving, he shook hands with a Venezuela player ignoring those who chanted his name.

More proof of this being the real deal came earlier. Jonas Gutierrez said there are no easy matches anymore. "Look at the number of players South America exports to Europe now. Players from Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela too play in Europe," said the defender now with Newcastle United.

To that Pablo Zabaleta added: “This being Sabella's first match, the players will try their best to impress him.”

According to Adrian Piedrabuena, a journalist with Ole, Argentina's only sports daily, the match kicks off at 10.30 am back home. “But they will see it in restaurants, bars and offices. And hear it on the radio,” he said.

“That's because this is Messi's first match as long-term captain and Sabella's first as coach. You see, while Messi has played well against Alemania (Spain), Paraguay, Uruguay etc, he hasn't played well in Argentina. So it is just as well for Sabella and Messi that this match is far away from home. Hopefully, it will keep them more relaxed.”

And guess what? Even the little genius who owns every individual football award he is eligible for has never played in a stadium this big, said the journalist. Both Gutierrez and Zabaleta said the turf wouldn't be a problem and neither would the NIVIA Simbolo ball.

Venezuela call themselves football’s Cinderella. Even if Argentina don’t know their fairy tales, they would know of their Copa march. "Their recent progress has earned a lot of respect," said Piedrabuena.

Their training shirts lost in transit denied Venezuela a crucial training session on Wednesday. If they still leave with a win, it surely would be some fairy tale. “For Venezuela, it will also change a 0-17 head to head record.

First Published: Sep 02, 2011 00:31 IST