Saturday, 3 September 2011

God in action, live - Leo Messi & Co in Kolkota

2 Sep, 2011, Salt Lake Stadium, Argentina - Venezuela, 1-0, FIFA friendly

I have few dreams related to football; watching the derby between Boca Juniors and RiverPlate in Argentina, possibly at the monumental stadium - a match whcih is described by many as one of the 50 things to do before you die, watching a live world cup final, watching an El Classico match at the Nou Camp, when Leo is in full flow etc. And as the news came around the end of April, that Argentina will play in India, I had made up my mind that I will watch it. Finally, here is a chance to watch Leo in India. And how lucky we are. The first match of Argentina, under Sabella and with Leo as the new captain. This was so exciting.

Arriving into Kolkota, in a Barca t shirt was very nice. Everywhere you find only Messi's and all were smiling at each other. And whenver people wearing Barca t shirts come across, we had an extra smile and couple of times even exchanged a Visca Barca comment too. I never thought, Barca and Messi had a such a crazy following in my country. Of course, the craze for the national teams of Argentina and Brazil was always there. Arriving into the huge stadium, the excitement grew in a big way. I was sure Argentina would feel like playing in their home. Huge cheers came out when players appeared for their warm up and sadly, it looked like, that only Messi mattered for the crowd. I was glad that I could recognise each and every player in the Argentine line up including the new no. 3 goal keeper Andrada. The crowd went on cheering Leo, each and every actions of him, whatever he was doing.

Sabella lined up a 4 - 3 - 3 team with the Inter Milan youngster Alvarez joining Mascherrano and Lucho in the mid field. This definitely looked like a little better mid field and as the game went on, the mid field was much better than with Maradona and Batista. But still, yes still a lack of a very creative central mid fielder was showing up many times. It is still a long way away from being called a dominant midfield, like Barca. It is a pity that with all the attacking talent in hand, Argentina cannot find somebody who could link up with Messi, so that Messi could receive balls upfront, 30 - 35 yards from the ball. Nor were there any good off ball movements to make space for Messi or any attempts by other players to use the space created by Messi.  Nobody seemed interested in using the width of the pitch except Messi and in a few occassions, Zabaleta.  In fact, like in the past, Messi had to come deep many times for the ball. There were many moments in the game, when Messi played further behind, even behind Lucho. Such a pity. Actually right now, everything is Messi, the team is depending too much on this boy. Even in this game, he created 5 'put me in' passes, out of which only one was properly tried by Higuain, which bounced off the post. It was unbeleivable how the chances are always wasted. Anyways, one of Messi's shot which was pushed for corner by the goal keeper, ended up as an Argentine goal, which looked like a practised corner kick, when Messi's kick was well placed for Otamandi to head in. Venezuela, however had some good chances which all came out of transition, fast counter attacks. They took up the challenge nicely and put in a good game, but often the only way they could stop Leo was by fouling him.

Rains were held back for the match, but the held up clouds ensured that it was really humid and the players looked tired even before half time. Such a pity actually as we could have seen even a better match without the high humidity. Almost all players on the field looked tired including our Leo. Inspite of that, it was a beauty of a beautiful game. Crowds were amazed by the passing play and some of the passes, especially by Messi invited loud applause. I understood, how bohring it was to watch a passing game, in TV, for this looked 10 times even more beautiful. Almost all in the crowd and me included, was wishing oh it could have gone a bit longer, when the final whistle was blown. So much of beauty was there that every one wished, it never ended.

It was nice to watch Argentina playing a possession game similar to that of Barcelona. Except that the defence was not ready to take up the challenges of the sudden counter attack, it was nearly like a Barca match, the mid field still lacking some majesty though. Otamandi and Zabaleta in defence, Alvarez (considering it was his debut) in the midfield are definitely the new found Plus's for Argentina from this match. Lucho has miles to go before he can be better, hopefully with more games, so is the understanding between Messi, Higuain and De Maria. Was also glad to see Pastore, Sosa and Aguero coming in as substitutes. Sosa's physique is excellent, tougher even more than Aguero , but needs lot of improvement in the creativity.

But let us face the truth. This was the first game under Sabella. This players have had only 3 days of training, together. Still, their possession game looked much better than under the previous two coaches. Sabella, I hope, will take Argentina in the right direction. He seems to have understood the frailities in defence and should make it up with time. At the same time, it is scary that he used Demichilles in the defence. Even Roja does not look like a good option at the left back.

And about the venue, the 1,20,000 capacity stadium was almost full. It looked like a crowd of 80 - 90,000 for me. So many people from all over India came in for the match, was incredible, and thousands from Kerala too. It was really nice to meet many of those guys, esepecially from Malappuram and Kozhikode.
India could have done better, if we had avoided the long list of VIP's who came out to hand shake the players before the game. One of those VIP's went back to shake Messi's hands. All of them seemed to try to tell him again. I wonder how many of them knew that Messi doesnt speak any English. The players were warmed up eager to play and here are our VIP's trying to chat up with them. That was an embarassing sight, typical of India. So was the moments after the game too. I wonder what the players were thinking.

Thank you Argentina and Venezuela, for that beautiful show. And thank you my dear Leo. I still cannot beleive that I saw you live, hardly 100 meters away from me, warming up and playing football. You looked tired, but you still made a few of those brilliant runs of yours and some amazing passes. Thank you from my heart. I will see you now in Barcelona.