The international break is long and boring for most of us Barça fans, especially if we don’t have a dog in that World Cup race (as a USMNT fan, we squared away against Honduras on Saturday). If you were an Argentina fan, you were probably glued to your TV for most of last night while Maradona attempted to lose whatever dignity he had left*, but otherwise, there was this little ditty from the Honduran radio announcers (which warmed my heart), but that was it. Other than, of course, hoping our boys were fine.
They’re not fine.
Sigh. This is why I hate international break: injuries, change in form, fatigue, and transfer rumors. Blah. So we shipped out most of our starters and while most of them returned in fine shape, we ended up with a few knocks, some of which could be serious despite the unimportance of the games. That’s what’s so killer. In games that reflect only the coach’s statistics down the line, high-caliber players are forced to play to assuage fears of being sacked, to attempt to right negative goal differentials or increase already absurd ones.
Take, for instance, Spain. If you’re a Spanish player who doesn’t happen to play for Valencia, Real Madrid, or Barcelona, you won’t be making it on the team, sorry. Even when the game is meaningless. In order to ensure a 10-out-of-10, 30-point haul from World Cup qualifying, Vicente del Bosque used starters. Several of those starters ended up getting hurt because Armenia wasn’t going to lie down like del Bosque obviously thought they should. Instead they came in kicking and scratching and Xavi ended up with a knee injury that might sideline him for the Valencia match (though recent reports suggest he’ll play) while Puyol had a rib knock and thankfully earned a yellow card that kept him out of the last game at Bosnia anyway. Iniesta got a hard kick to his previously-injured leg and went down in a heap. He recovered enough to put in 68 minutes against Bosnia, which is good news (and del Bosque took him out, thankfully). Pique got some rest against Bosnia after scoring and made it through without injury, as did Busquets, who got 90 minutes in the second game.
My gripe is not about Barcelona’s players specifically, but all of the major team players in general. Who doesn’t know who Xavi is? Or Fernando Torres? Or Xabi Alonso? So why not give someone that is on the cusp, but hasn’t quite made it 90 minutes? Why not blood someone like Sergio Asenjo? Why not someone who is young (19, 20) and could prove useful in the future? You don’t need to play your best 11 against Bosnia for some silly statistical note. Numbers like that might bring some comfort to del Bosque when he’s 93 and looking back on his life, but really, they’re completely meaningless and could just as easily been achieved with a 3rd or 4th string Spanish lineup. There’s no continuity required from a meaningless game because the next time Spain will play will be in 2010 or in a meaningless friendly. Will del Bosque start his best 11 then? Probably. Moron. I don’t see why Casillas doesn’t get a rest and Reina gets 90 or maybe Victor Valdes finally gets to don the colors of the Furia Roja. Morons.
Thierry Henry played in France’s fairly meaningless match against Austria and was injured in the 50th minute. So far no timetable on his return, but hopefully it is not a serious re-aggravation of the injury he sustained earlier this year (right thigh problem). I can understand, to some tiny degree, that France needs continuity in its starting lineup between now and the playoffs they’re in, so while Domenech may not be the brightest cookie in the shed, he’s at least got that going for him. Del Bosque, not so much.
Sweden were eliminated from World Cup competition, but needed to win in order to put pressure on Portugal, so including Zlatan Ibrahimovic was a smart call. They won 3-1 on Wednesday, but thanks to Sweden’s 1-0 loss at Denmark coupled with Portugal’s wins, the Swedes find themselves at home, without even a playoff place. That Ibra was slightly injured is bad news for us, but you can’t blame Sweden’s coach for starting his best players in crucial qualifiers. There is roughly no news whatsoever on his injury, so I’m suspecting that it’s nothing serious and we’ll see him on Saturday against Valencia. If not, it’s totally fine to keep him on the bench as we have enough other players who can fill the role, if not quite as well as he can. More discussion of that tomorrow in the preview.
Everyone seems to have survived their trips to their national teams, including Lionel Messi, who qualified for the WC with a victory over Uruguay that I frankly didn’t expect. Good to see little Leo in with a chance of winning the biggest sporting prize on earth, though with Maradona in charge, I don’t especially like their chances. Messi is apparently back in Barcelona already, which is pretty insane turnaround time. Turns out that Barcelona hired a private plane for him and got him back with as much recovery time as possible before the Valencia match. Apparently we like the guy.
So it’s back to regular training and then a trip to Valencia. Can’t wait to get back to the good life of watching Barça play for a few weeks before the next international break screws us all up again.
*Translation: “For those of you who didn’t believe–and apologies to the ladies–suck it. Keep sucking it. I’m either black or white, never gray. Those of you who treated me how you treated me: keep sucking it. Next question.”