Saturday, August 21, 2010
D'Alessandro inspires Internacional to the Copa
In the end, it was a bit too much to hope for. Guadalajara - a.k.a. Chivas - had a first-leg deficit to overturn and were playing away from home in Wednesday night's second leg of the Copa Libertadores final. The first leg defeat in their brand new Omnilife Stadium was only by two goals to one, and with away goals not counting in the final there was always going to be hope, but in the end Internacional outclassed their opponents just as much as they had in the first leg a week before.
That both legs only ended in a single-goal win for Internacional (2-1 in the Guadalajara match, 3-2 back in Porto Alegre on Wednesday) seemed something of an anomaly. In the first leg in particular, they were utterly dominant. In both matches though, it was Chivas who struck first. For the first half of the first leg, Chivas barely got out of their own penalty area, or so it seemed, and Inter hit the woodwork twice, but from a counter, Adolfo 'Bofo' Bautista flicked a beautiful header over Renan in the Inter goal and, with seemingly their first attempt on goal, Chivas had taken the lead with practically the last touch of the half. In that match, Inter roared back in the second half to win 2-1, with former Wolfsburg and Portsmouth playmaker Andres D'Alessandro given the man of the match award after an outstanding performance.
In Wednesday's second leg, Chivas again took the lead shortly before half-time, to level the aggregate score at 2-2. That half had been a little more even, but it was still had to understand how Chivas were still in the tie but for good fortune. In the second though, Inter finally blew them away in the manner they deserved to have done beforehand.
They did so with fantastic goals. The Copa Libertadores hasn't been a classic this year, but at least it was settled by two strikes worthy of winning any trophy. Rafael Sobis equalised - and put Inter 2-1 up on aggregate - with a toe-poke, but the two that followed were great goals. Substitute Leandro put them 2-1 up on the night with 15 minutes to go, stabbing the ball past two markers in midfield and racing clear to poke it past the goalkeeper, before Giuliano, the young midfielder, produced a brilliant finish to end an Inter counter. Omar Bravo's goal with almost the last touch after Bautista had slammed a shot against the bar was too little, too late; the aggregate score was 5-3 to Inter.
With six goals in this year's Copa, mostly from substitute appearances, it's not hard to see that 20-year-old Giuliano is a great prospect. Especially considering his goals were scored from midfield, in many cases after coming off the bench. Even more impressive, though, was D'Alessandro. Any Argentine playing in Brazil has to have some backbone, and he's shown that in abundance, especially in a magnificent Copa campaign which culminated, on Friday, in a recall to the Argentine national team by interim coach Sergio Batista for the friendly against Spain on September 7.
He (and Inter defender Pablo Guinazu) was almost Argentina's only interest in the competition since Inter put last year's winners Estudiantes out in the quarter-finals, and after Seba Veron's key role in last year's triumph for Estudiantes, another Argentine playmaker has pulled the strings for the new champions. It's a reminder that the Copa can be a great stage for some of football's more maverick players to perform on.
From Juan Roman Riquelme in the early part of the decade (and his glorious return in 2007), through Rogerio Ceni's unorthodox, penalty-taking approach to goalkeeping for Sao Paulo - winners in 2005 and runners-up the following year - and Veron stepping out his father's shadow last year, there's a place for you in the Copa if you've got talent, even if, as is certainly the case with Riquelme and D'Alessandro, you might not have the most level head in the world.
Premier League watchers might well struggle to understand, after his half-season cameo for Portsmouth helped them avoid relegation in 2006, why D'Alessandro found it so hard to pin down a regular place for a European club, but he once frequently found it difficult to get on with managers and even club directors. In that respect, he's more than a little like Riquelme. Back in South America, though, he's been great first for San Lorenzo and now, for the last two years, for Inter. He's a delightful player to watch when in the mood, and his recall to the Argentina set-up is thoroughly deserved.
Inter's strength in depth, too, has been formidable, far beyond D'Alessandro and Giuliano's important roles. Rafael Sobis returned from the Middle East for the semi-final, and has slotted straight back into the side he left after winning their previous Libertadores, in 2006. Also coming in at the same stage was Celso Roth, who replaced Uruguayan Jorge Fossati as manager after the latter was sacked following poor performances in the state championships.
Like D'Alessandro, Roth is also enjoying a spot of reinvention. Previously, he was seen in Brazil as a coach who struggled to bring home trophies, often starting well at new clubs but not quite managing to deliver the goods. Now he's finally got a major trophy to his name, he'll be hoping to move the club up from their current 7th place in the league - they're just one point behind 3rd placed Avai - and finish the year strongly. December, and the chance to play close namesakes Internazionale in the Club World Cup, beckons. For D'Alessandro, Giuliano (if he stays), Roth and company, it's been a memorable campaign for so many reasons.