CWC Final Preview: Barça – Estudiantes, Saturday 11amEST, Fox Soccer en Español
Travel southeast from Buenos Aires, along the coast, past Quilmes–feel free to stop and have a couple, of course–and Berazategui and you’ll soon reach the city of La Plata, perhaps before you’re capable of deciphering the pronunciation of Berazategui. Beyond that, you’re on your own if you’re visiting Argentina using Isaiah’s Magnificent Travel Guide because, unfortunately, the feature writer of that illustrious publication has yet to make it to the Southern Cone. He is not happy about this by any means and would like you to stop reminding him of this great personal failure.
Argentine history does not escape me–Facundo, anyone?–but Sarmiento himself died in 1888, only six years after the city of La Plata was founded (and did so in Asunción, Paraguay), so stretching back to the Spaniards is a major exaggeration, despite my inclination to do so. Sure, I’ve also read The Condor Years and Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number (among a myriad of others, though my major focused more on Central America), but there were decidedly few references to Estudiantes de La Plata in those texts. I’m sure there are several historical connections to Spain that we could explore, but we’ll skip that this time around and focus instead on the team’s history and it’s current place in international football. Why, you ask, after such non-sequitor intros as comparing Puyol to The Tarzan Predator and our matchup against Inter Milan with the Visigothic rampages through Roman Empire era Italy, are you failing to give us some absurdist historical preview of an area you actually know quite a bit about? The answer, of course, is blowing in the wind.
Estudiantes was founded in 1905 by, you guessed it, university students who, according to Wikipedia, felt left out by their lack of inclusion in Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata, which apparently wasn’t particularly interested in football at the time. Estudiantes fans probably take that out on their less illustrious city rivals now, seeing as Gimnasia has never won the Primera Division title while Estudiantes boasts four such titles and four Copa Libertadores trophies (along with one Intercontinental Cup in 1968, a cup that later became the FIFA Club World Cup), but at the time I imagine the Gimansia fans laughed at the reject students enganged in their early twentieth century version of LARPing.*
The club’s heyday was in the 1960s, as “La Bruja” Juan Ramón Verón and several others, such as Carlos Bilardo, led the team to victory in the Intercontinental Cup, a cup that later happened to become the FIFA Club World Cup. Verón, of course, also happened to father a child, “La Brujita” Juan Sebastián Verón, who just happens to now be playing for Estudiantes de La Plata as they make their return to the Club World Cup. So you know that it’s no ordinary game for the younger Verón; rather, it’s motherfuckin’ on.
They’re going to come at us with pace, energy, and technical ability that will make Atlante look like the diminutive and outclassed team they were (not to take anything away from them, but they never really had a chance) and, as Guardiola has mentioned in his pre-match press conference, going a goal down to Estudiantes is a rather horrible idea. They’ll make you pay for such egregious behavior. Think of Rubin Kazan, for instance, with Dominguez running through the midfield, but then add more skilled attacking players ahead of him and you have an idea of why that goal would be such a large mistake.
Guardiola has claimed that Verón and Leandro Benítez are Estudiantes’ dangermen (Benítez scored both of Estudiantes’ goals against Pohang Steelers in the semifinal) and has singled out Leandro Desábato as their defensive stalwart, so keep an eye on them, but don’t forget about Mauro Boselli, their leading scorer from the Apertura 2009 season (9 goals in 17 matches) and the overall top scorer in the 2009 Copa Libertadores with 8 goals**. There’s very little doubt that this team is here to play, though they finished in 8th place in the Apertura 2009, ten points back of champions Banfield.
Whether or not they come in looking to pressure us into giving up an early goal or to shut up shop from the word go, they’re going to have to deal with a fairly serious lineup. We’re missing the injured Andres Iniesta, but we have Seydou Keita back in training and looking ready to go and we have a fresh Thierry Henry looking to get out there, I’m sure, and do his thing. The question in Guardiola’s mind has to be whether or not to go with the same midfield trio he went with before: The Yaya, Busi, Xavi. Popular opinion on this site seems to be trending towards Busi as the next coming of the Complete Midfielder, but Keita is still a more solid box-to-box midfielder; the major difference is that Busi does have better footskills, but is more prone to inconsistencies. I can see Guardiola going either way with this, including reshuffling the positions, though I do subscribe to the Busi-Is-Better-With-The-Yaya-Backing-Him-Up school of thinking that Kevin has previously described. Naturally, anyone is better with The Yaya behind them because they don’t have to worry about anything other than accidentally bumping into the giant brick wall between them and their own box.
Messi will start, is my guess, meaning that our front-line question is whether or not Pedro! continues to play in place of Henry. I’ll go out on a limb and say that yes, Pedro! starts because he’s on a roll and Guardiola has faith in him. Henry, then, is our Super Sub for the day.
Predicted lineup: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal, The Yaya, Xavi, Keita, Pedro!, Ibra, Messi.
This lineup is, of course subject to Guardiola-ation, where he makes it look completely different simply because, well, he can. Keita for Busi or Jeffren for Puyol: you never freaking know! But you know we’re going to take them on and play hard as hell, with the idea being keep the ball and never let it go. Score a little bit, get the ball back, pass and move, pass and move. Ibra is going up against much taller defenders now, which might actually suit him because the ref won’t think he’s about to break them in half when he does his little steamroller charge to run down a ball.
Playing Barça is like a Choose Your Own Adventure book (such as this not-at-all-disturbing one), where if you choose get run down and buried mercilessly, go to Page 33 to find Ibra and The Yaya bearing down on you like enraged rhinos from hell. If you want to die slowly, painfully, but also while admiring the artistry of the death merchants responsible for your demise, go to Page 24 where Iniesta, Xavi, and Messi are playing monkey in the middle with you stuck between them and the ball hypnotically tethered to their legs. And, of course, if you choose smacked up side the head for all eternity with the same yet somehow consistently defense-shattering move, go to page 14, where Henry will do the honors, naturally enough.*** Estudiantes have their options and while they could, by pure chance, choose the correct way out (To rock Bojan to sleep for hours and give him his sippy cup when he’s hungry, turn to page 11), it’s highly unlikely seeing as how the frontispiece is Guardiola staring at you, pissed as hell and it’ll all feel downhill from there.
Official Prediction: 2-1, goals by Messi and Pedro!. These kids, they just have no respect for their elders! They just keep scoring and scoring. Estudiantes is going to play hard and well, but will eventually succumb to their lack of possession, seeing as we’re going to get 70% of it. It’ll get desperate for them at the end, but we’ll be there, holding the ball and picking up a few slight knocks from their aggression, just as they’ll be picking up a lot of yellows. Time to get another trophy, kiddies, and this one is one we’ve never had before.
Gametime: Abu Dhabi/Local time, 8pm; Barcelona time, 5pm; EST/New York, 11am (check your local time here)
TV: In the US, this match will be broadcast live exclusively on Fox Soccer en Español, as Fox Soccer Channel will be showing the much more important ManCity-Sunderland match. Idiots. FSC will be replaying the match at some point in English, but I give a rat’s ass when.
Ref: Armando Archundia (Mex). I don’t know an awful lot about Archundia, but I remember living in Mexico during the ’06 World Cup and everyone there freaking out about how great he was (he must be great, he’s Mexican!) and me thinking about how run-of-the-mill he was. Not that he was bad by any stretch, but I thought that giving him so many WC matches (6, including a semi) was over-the-top. All he really did was not give out 3 yellow cards to the same player, after all, but I expect him to do well in this match.
Visca el Barça! Bring home la Sexta!
*LARPing is not my thing; if it’s yours, fine, but just realize that a man who writes for hours about football and occasionally rewrites All Your Base lyrics to fit El Clásico, thinks you’re a dork. Don’t know what LARP is? Click here.
**Here’s a weird little something I noticed: in the 2009 Libertadores, tied for second in most goals scored with 6 was Jorge Núñez of Nacional de Paraguay. I assumed, of course, that Nacional went pretty far, but it looks like they played only in the first round, which is 6 matches, and scored, yup, 7 goals. Wow. Congrats, Jorge, for being awesome compared to your teammates.
***The page numbers aren’t random, just so you know.