Seeing Barcelona wizard and Argentina captain Lionel Messi sit on the bench alongside fellow superstar Sergio Aguero was unexpected enough today. The two forward geniuses were given a rest by manager Alejandro Sabella, entering just before the hour as the Albiceleste strolled to victory over Slovenia.
But there was one other face on the sidelines that sent observers running to Google in order to find out exactly who he is. Emanuel Mammana is a River Plate trainee with exactly zero professional appearances, but on Saturday, he shared the bench with La Pulga and El Kun in the nation's World Cup warm-up clash.
Mammana, an 18-year-old defender, is one of several River youngsters called up by Sabella as training partners to the main squad. But he received an unexpected call-up against Slovenia.
Niggling injuries suffered by Martin Demichelis and Ezequiel Garay left a substitute position open, and the youngster was selected to make up the numbers in La Plata's Estadio Unico. He must have thought he was dreaming when, with 15 minutes to play, his number came up, and the kid entered the game in place of Javier Mascherano.
With the game winding down, the new Argentina No. 24 kept things tight, not putting a foot wrong during his short stint on the field. It is another gigantic leap forward for a player rated very highly by the River hierarchy.
In 2013, Mammana was key for the side's Sexta under-17 division as they won the Club World Cup at that level, taking down Atletico Madrid in the final, via River official website. That success helped him win a call-up to the Argentina U-17 set-up, with whom he disputed the World Cup last year.
But if he thought that was a dream year, 2014 shapes up to be even better.
The teenager was called up to train with River's first-team squad by now ex-coach Ramon Diaz, winning a man of the match award in a preseason friendly against Estudiantes. (The rather extreme haircut seen above is the Argentine tradition of shaving new arrivals' scalp clean when they enter training!)
While the defender is yet to play for the River first team, giving him the distinction of debuting in international football before club level, Mammana's future could not be brighter. The Millonario are best known for producing brilliant midfield and attacking talent, with Pablo Aimar, Ariel Ortega and Gonzalo Higuain just three of dozens of stars produced in their academy.
But if their young hopeful at the back can keep up his astonishing rise in local football, we might just be seeing him for real at the World Cup four years from now.
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