You might think from the heading that this article is going to be a retrospective on Rafa’s time as Liverpool manager – if so, you’d be wrong ‘¦ this is an international week.
Now it’s probably necessary for me to come clean straight up. I couldn’t give a toss about the England team. I hate the right wing attitude of the fans. I hate the jingoism. I hate the way our players get continually questioned and harassed (why Stevie feels he has anything to prove to some cockney plebs is beyond me – personally I’d have him do a Carra and tell ‘˜em to stick it). I hate the media circus. Most importantly, I hate the boredom induced by the fact that there’s no Liverpool game (especially when we’re winning games).
This leaves me, and I suspect other Liverpool fans, in a quandary. What do you do during an international week? Take the missus out? Go out and get a missus (or another one)? Drink? Travel? Read? Get a hobby? No, because Liverpool fans already have a hobby and it involves drinking, reading and travelling (though it probably isn’t going to help on the lady front). So, like any addict, generally you just have to ride out the withdrawal and try to find something in the meantime.
Now, seldom is it acceptable, moral or necessary to thank Rupert Murdoch’s Sky for anything. Sky carry on with this pretence that they are the one injecting all this cash into the game – which is clearly bollocks, as it’s our subscription money to begin with. However, every now and then ‘¦ like a blind chick in a Lionel Ritchie video ‘¦ they stumble across something and end up getting lucky. So it is with the screening of the South American world cup qualifiers.
On Saturday, there was Argentina against Uruguay, with Mascherano in midfield kicking lumps out of everything that moved, in a typically fierce Rio Plata derby (disappointingly – Tevez didn’˜t get booted). Half time analysis was provided by Gus Poyet (who you might have thought would have had bigger things on his mind at Spurs) and, ironically, Ossie Ardilles, who was wearing a suit jacket/tie combo straight from the Barnes/Venison wardrobe of shame. Argentina ended a run of six consecutive draws in a 2-1win thanks to goals from Messi and Aguero.
On Sunday, there was coverage of Brazil’s total demolition of an outclassed Venezuela side. Kaka was superb in midfield, Robinho scored a screamer and Adriano appeared to be almost as fat as the proper Ronaldo. Lucas made the squad, but failed to make the bench or, predictably, the starting Xl.
Yet despite seeing the stars of Argentina and Brazil, the best game of the weekend had to be between Ecuador and Chile. Played at 2800 metres in the rarefied air of the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, Chile came into the game with a strong record in qualification and a team full of European experience (albeit with Mark Gonzalez on the left wing). Ecuador, on the other hand, probably remains a country more famous as a tag line in a bad dance music song than as a hotbed of South American football – however, to quote a much better song, the times they are a changing.
Ecuador can now boast a powerful, skilful and athletic team including the talented Wigan midfielder Antonio Valencia (right). Moving in from the right-sided midfield position he occupies with Wigan, Valencia plays a less offensive role for his country in the centre of midfield. At the age of 23, Valencia is an exceptional talent and will surely be a target for bigger clubs in January. He possesses pace, directness, strikes a good ball and has a natural stamina that comes from being born at altitude.
In match that rivalled the physicality of the Argentina game, Chile were reduced to ten men early on following a red card to left back Ismael Fuentes for a rash lunge. Though undoubtedly a shocking tackle, in the context of the game, and given the rain soaked pitch, a yellow card seemed the more sensible decision (not that sensible decision making is generally a faculty possessed by South American referees). Chile were forced to swiftly re-organise and removed their talented Villareal midfield playmaker, Mathias Gonzalez. Predictably, Chile funnelled into a Middlesborough-esque defensive pattern, leaving Ecuador to break them down.
Ecuador came close on several occasions during the first half, though it was left to Valencia to create the only genuine kodak moment with a crashing drive which rattled the bar from fully 30 yards. Despite Ecuador’s dominance of possession, Chile reached half time with the scores level.
After the interval, Ecuador continued to dominate and Valencia in particular continued to assert an increasing influence on the game. However, it was not until the 70th minute when a bloke with a fairly recognisable second name, Christian Benitez, eventually broke the deadlock for Ecuador as he rose well to head home from a corner following a David James like decision from the Chilean goalkeeper. As the yellow cards continued to mount, it was Ecuador who continued to look the stronger side. The final moments saw Chile reduced to nine men and Valencia also managing to get himself sent off late on. Whilst a poorly timed tackle, Valencia can count himself the victim of another shocking referring decision.
Ecuador eventually ran out 1-0 winners in a game that was wholly more exciting than the score line would suggest and, whilst it might sound seem strange given that he was sent off, the result was notable for an impressive display from the Wigan player. Certainly taking into account his premiership form – which, granted, has got to be the more persuasive body of evidence – Rafa could do a lot worse than Valencia (and that’s a sentence I thought I’˜d never say).
Personally, I will now fill the remainder of my week looking forward to the next set of South American qualifiers and, more importantly, the Wigan game. After the shocking events relating to the Madrid game, doubtless other Liverpool fans will be spending their time (and money) re-arranging their trips to Spain. All-in-all though, I’d query how many Liverpool fans will be wondering what’s going to happen to England.