The international pericos are finally flying back to RCDE stadium to join the Machín revolution. Five players were involved over the international break: Matías Vargas with Argentina, Wu Lei with China, and Pol Lozano, Adrià Pedrosa and Pipa with Spain under-21s.
El Monito joined up with the full Argentina squad for only the second time, as Lionel Scaloni’s Albiceleste side was weakened by the absences of Leo Messi and Sergio Aguero through suspension and injury respectively, and Boca Juniors and River Plate players like Alexis MacAllister, Exequiel Palacios and Gonzalo Montiel. The Buenos Aires rivals are in the midst of a Copa Libertadores semi-final, the second leg of which is to be played a week today. River lead 2-0 from the first leg, and so look good to assert their dominance after winning last year’s controversial final in the Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid.
Vargas made the trip to Dortmund for Argentina’s friendly against Germany last Wednesday, watching his teammates come back to draw 2-2 as he stayed on the bench throughout, Lucas Alario was the standout, coming off the bench to change the flow of the game completely.
The squad then headed for Spanish soil ahead of the match against Ecuador in Elche on Sunday. Argentina were dominant on the day, running out 6-1 winners. Vargas, wearing his customary number 26, came off the bench for the final 20 minutes, in time to celebrate his former Velez Sarsfield teammate Nicolás Dominguez’s goal, and draw a save from the Ecuador keeper which allowed Lucas Ocampos to ram home the sixth.
China faced another double-header of World Cup qualifiers, at home to Guam and away to the Philippines. Things got off to the expected positive start against the side from the tiny Micronesian island, with a convincing 7-0 victory in Guangzhou. It is always dangerous to extrapolate anything from such matches, but Wu Lei smashed in the second goal after a nice individual run in front of the adoring home crowd.
The tie in Bacolod City, however, yielded only a point as Marcelo Lippi’s team were held to a frustrating 0-0 draw. 29 shots on goal were not enough to break through a defence inspired by a heroic performance from home goalkeeper Neil Etheridge. The result leaves China trailing Syria by two points as leaders of group A, with a challenging trip to Dubai, where Syria are playing their home games, on the horizon in November.
Adrià Pedrosa made his debut in the 1-1 friendly draw against Germany under-21s last week. He was influential at both ends of the pitch, unbalancing the German defence with a sudden burst infield which led to Manu García’s opening goal, before unfortunately misjudging a header which fell to Schlotterbeck to level the scores. Espanyol’s other representatives, Pol Lozano and Pipa, came off the bench in the second half as both coaches made wholesale changes and the game drifted to its conclusion.
It was strictly business yesterday, as La Rojita traveled to Podgorica to face Montenegro in a Euro under-21 qualifier. Pedrosa once more started at left-back, with Lozano forming the base of the midfield alongside Fran Beltrán in Luís de la Fuente’s usual 4-2-3-1 formation. Dani Olmo was pulling the strings at number 10 as Spain worked hard for a 0-2 win, Lozano crossing for Buñuel to nod in the first, before Cucurella finished off a good team move in the second half. The headlines were written when Ansu Fati came off the bench for the last ten minutes to make his debut in a Spanish shirt, having been granted citizenship last month. Judging by his current performance level for FC Barcelona, the 16-year-old probably won’t spend much time at this level before making the step up.
Spain have made the perfect start to the qualifying campaign, taking maximum points from their first three games in a group in which Israel are expected to provide the sternest test of their abilities. The two sides will face each other next month.
Back to Barcelona
There are plenty of question marks ahead of Espanyol’s return to action against Villarreal on Sunday. Will the international pericos be involved so soon? Will Bernardo come straight back into the fold under Pablo Machín? Who will partner Marc Roca in Midfield? Will Calleri and/or Ferreyra be fit? And the big one, where are the goals going to come from?
We’ll be back on Friday with a look at the scale of the task ahead of Machín, and then, on Sunday, with a match preview of the Villarreal clash. See you then!