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SPORTS | 08-10-2021 00:03

Home crowd awaits for unbeaten Argentina

After Italy's defeat to Spain on Wednesday the Albiceleste became the national team with the longest unbeaten record in the world, having last gone down at the 2019 Copa América to Brazil.

Last weekend was an auspicious one for Argentine football as supporters were finally allowed back through the turnstiles. Entirely predictably, the return was not free of controversy, mostly revolving around the issue of limited capacities.

The supposed cap of 50 percent seemed to go out the window entirely for River Plate's 2-1 Superclásico victory over Boca Juniors at the Monumental. The following day the Millonarios' stadium opened its doors again, this time to the police, who are investigating why an estimated 50,000 fans were present in a venue which was supposedly only permitted to welcome 36,000. Vélez Sarsfield were also targeted by the authorities following their thrilling 3-3 draw against Independiente, which made the trip more than worthwhile for those in attendance, and a host of other complaints across the divisions prompted Tourism & Sports Minister Matías Lammens to issue a stern, headmasterly warning that “this cannot happen again.” Vélez’s club president, Sergio Rapisarda, meanwhile, invited a fair amount of snickering from the rest of the Liga Profesional with his insistence that the Fortín had only opened to an attendance 16,000, significantly less than the 50 percent currently tolerated.

The stands were also packed for Argentina's visit to Paraguay on Thursday, part of a triple-header of World Cup qualifiers which continues with Sunday's clash against Uruguay in the (presumably less packed) Monumental and concludes in the same venue against Peru on October 14. This time round, at least, there was no squabbling around the fate of the Albiceleste's Premier League contingent, who were granted a more lenient lockdown plan upon their return to England, although the club affected were nevertheless unimpressed by Lionel Scaloni's vow to field their charges in all three matches, meaning they will likely miss the first weekend back in Europe in confinement.

In the end, the sensation in Asunción was one of frustration. The away side huffed and puffed but ultimately failed to break down the Guarani backline, missing a host of chances that should have seen them clear and celebrating another valuable win. In truth, the game was a showcase for both goalkeepers, as Antony Silva and Argentina's own Emiliano Martínez came to the fore with stellar performances – the latter in particular stopping Newcastle United's Miguel Almirón from point-blank range to deny Paraguay three crucial points in their own quest to make next year's World Cup. Otherwise it was a typically pugnacious performance from the home team, equally happy to fly in the way of both the ball when it threatened Silva's goal and any Argentina player advancing down the pitch.

It was the first time in more than two years that Lionel Messi & Co had failed to score at least once in a senior international, not including of course those five minutes that took place last month against Brazil before ANVISA decided to make its presence felt. But Argentina did secure one record for at least a few more days.

After Italy's defeat to Spain on Wednesday the 'Scaloneta' became the national team with the longest unbeaten record in the world, having last gone down at the 2019 Copa América to Brazil. This was their 23d match in a row without suffering a single reverse, still some way short of Italy's 37 games, but pushing ever closer to the 31 racked up by Alfío Basile's Selección between 1991 and 1993. Odds are they will keep that record going back in front of their own fans – however many that might be – on Sunday, keeping on course the march towards qualification which should not be overly affected by the fierce stalemate in the Paraguayan capital.

Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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