There is no rest for the wicked in modern football, nor for national heroes. Argentina continued their World Cup victory roadshow this week in Asia, overcoming Australia early Thursday morning in a comfortable 2-0 win – which included the fastest goal of Lionel Messi's career, and there have been a few – before the tour continues in Jakarta on Monday against Indonesia.
There was also little respite for several of Uruguay's triumphant kids, who just days after lifting the U-20 World Cup over Italy in La Plata – the Celeste's first world championship title since 1950, no less, were reporting for duty under Marcelo Bielsa for El Loco's first games in his new post. Once again the neighbours found no little success on Argentine soil, repeating the Copa América victory of 2011 in River Plate's Estadio Monumental and raising hopes for the future no end.
Speaking of River and the future, no few fans were rather put out at the weekend thanks to a controversial personnel decision made by Martín Demichelis. Cruising away to Banfield two goals up in the final minutes, the coach turned to Agustín Palavecino for his final substitution of the evening, leaving 17-year-old sensation Claudio 'Diablito' Echeverrí clicking his heels on the bench once more. Even Salomón Rondón's late strike to make it 4-1 to the league leaders could not stop some commentators from shaking their heads at this apparent snub from the Millo boss.
“He has River DNA, that is clear and proven. I ask you all to lower your expectations,” Demichelis had warned earlier when asked about Echeverri, who came to prominence at the South American U-17 Championship this year with a prodigious haul of five goals and three assists. “He is still a kid, we should not confuse him. We will help him to keep training and growing.”
It seems, then, that we may have to wait a little longer for a glimpse of the teenager River fans (and perhaps Argentina fans in general) hope will follow the Julián Álvarez and Enzo Fernández route to glory and stardom in the not too distant future.
Not that his absence has hurt River too much. Despite a couple of hiccups on the way the club continue on their imperious path towards the Liga Profesional de Fútbol title, sitting four points clear of nearest challengers Talleres. That gap could be extended further this international weekend when the Millonario take on Defensa y Justicia, a game postponed two weeks ago due to the tragic death of a supporter in the Monumental. Should River win, they will enjoy a seven-point lead with just seven games left to play, which should be almost insurmountable barring some late catastrophe.
Aside from Talleres too there has been little sustained challenge to Demichelis' bid for a debut crown. San Lorenzo flattered to deceive before succumbing to 'Death by a thousand 0-0 draws'; a slight exaggeration, admittedly, but six in their last ten outings in all competitions have certainly put a dent into what was at one point a promising campaign for the Cuervo.
Other potential title-chasing teams, meanwhile, have found more luck elsewhere. Boca, Argentinos Juniors and Racing Club all languish in the vast ocean that is mid-table in the 28 team Liga while surging to early qualification from the Copa Libertadores group stage. All three, moreover, are in pole position to clinch the top spot once the final round of games is played at the end of June.
That is not the only good news for Boca. A full nine years after Juan Román Riquelme (the player) played his final match for the Xeneize, Juan Román Riquelme (the vice-president) has agreed to finally give himself a farewell match at the Bombonera, which will doubtlessly be a star-studded affair and heartfelt tribute to the club idol. Even Messi, it seems, will be getting in on the act.
Curiously enough, it is River who are sweating most in the Copa. Victory over Fluminense last time round made their position a little more secure but they still must beat The Strongest in their final match to make sure of a last-16 berth. Nervous times indeed, and probably not the right stage for a young novice to make his name – but the Liga Profesional and Libertadores will surely not have to wait too much longer to see Echeverrí strut his stuff.