Argentina vs. Spain: A Special Occasion for Both Sides

John Tilghman Correspondent ISeptember 4, 2010

Lionel Messi jostles with Xabi Alonso in Madrid last November
Lionel Messi jostles with Xabi Alonso in Madrid last NovemberClive Brunskill/Getty Images

Football has long been labeled the "world's game," but in reality, it is Europe's game.

Most of the best players are concentrated on the old continent, and the club sides and national sides rarely stray away from their home grounds, bar a friendly or two in the United States. 

In this new era in which football has become such a cash cow, South America has largely been left behind, but now European countries are finally making the trek south. 

Portugal went to Brazil in 2008, and were thrashed 6-2, and now Spain is going to Buenos Aires to face Argentina. 

The World Champions were greeted by a capacity crowd when they faced Mexico at the Estadio Azteca last month, and they will face an equally anxious crowd at El Monumental, the historic home of River Plate. 

For many of Spain's players, it will be the first time they go to Argentina, which is not only the country colonized by Spain, but also the home of many of their club teammates. 

"They are very excited to see how the fans here express themselves," commented Barcelona's Rosario-born superstar Lionel Messi when asked what his club mates were excited about seeing in their trip to Buenos Aires. 

Playing in front of crowds where the fans sing for 90 minutes without pause is certainly a sight to behold, especially in a stadium such as El Monumental, where Argentina lifted the World Cup in 1978.

So many of Argentina's best players came through the ranks at River Plate, and many of them now ply their trade in Spain, which means the likes of Iker Casillas will get to see where his good friend and teammate Gonzalo Higuain played before crossing the Atlantic. 

The large Barcelona contingent in the Spain squad hardly know their recently acquired teammate Javier Mascherano, but they will get to know each other in Buenos Aires, where Mascherano also played for River Plate and won the league title in 2004. 

It is very interesting because Argentines and Spaniards have many things in common from culture and language, and many Argentines are descended from Spaniards. 

This close bond will leave no one surprised to see the two sides spending time together away from the pitch, perhaps taking in a match this weekend in the Argentina Apertura. 

Inter of Brazil's Andres D'Alessandro was in the stands to see his beloved River battle out a scoreless draw against Argentinos Juniors last weekend, while Diego Milito saw Racing Club fall 2-1 at the hands of Colon de Santa Fe in Avellaneda Friday night. 

It is also expected that Carlos Tevez will be in attendance when Boca face San Lorenzo in Saturday afternoon's Clasico.

Spain will also be training at Boca Juniors' Casa Amarilla practice ground, where so many of Argentina's current stars, such as Carlos Tevez and Walter Samuel, played early in their careers.

Former Barcelona star Juan Roman Riquelme will also have a chance to see his ex-teammates and good friend Andres Iniesta, the hero of the World Cup Final.

During Riquelme's stay at the Catalan club, the Boca No. 10 built a great relationship with the young man from Albacate and the two still speak quite frequently.

Although out injured, Riquelme will be present at the match, as he has already stated he will be in the stands to watch the match Tuesday night. 

The occasion is especially important for Argentina's fans, who will see the World Cup holders play in El Monumental for the first time since Argentina beat Brazil 3-1 in 2005, thanks to two goals from Hernan Crespo and a wonder strike from Riquelme. 

The last time Argentina faced a European World Cup holder was in 1977 when West Germany took on Argentina at Boca's La Bombonera stadium. 

Such is the occasion, that Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner will welcome Vicente Del Bosque's side to the Casa Rosada. 

For South American fans in general, this could be a growing trend over the next few years, as the World Cup returns to South America for the first time since Argentina 1978.

Many European teams will want to get used to the climate and hostile crowds they will encounter in Brazil in four years' time. 

Climate-wise, Buenos Aires is very similar to the south of Brazil, where World Cup matches will be played in Porto Alegre, and it would be no surprise to see European or African teams play warm-up matches in Argentina or Uruguay. 

On the field, the game promises to be a wide open attacking contest between two sides who want to play good football. 

Argentina manager Sergio Batista has been experimenting with three-man front line with D'Alessandro pulling the strings from midfield. 

Del Bosque has brought along a full-strength squad that thrashed Liechtenstein 4-0 on Friday thanks to a double from Fernando Torres and a goal each from David Villa and David Silva. 

Probable Spain Lineup: Casillas; Ramos, Marchena, Pique, Capdevila; Busquets, Alonso, Xavi; Iniesta, Villa, and Torres. 

Probable Argentina Lineup: Romero; Zanetti, G.Milito, Samuel, Heinze; Mascherano, Banega, D'Alessandro; Messi, Tevez, and D. Milito.