Argentina-Haiti: International Friendly Preview

John Tilghman Correspondent IMay 4, 2010

On paper, it is as lopsided a match as you can find. One nation has won two FIFA World Cups and has aspirations to capture its third in July, while the other has qualified for just one Finals series (in 1974) and is currently in ruins following the devastating earthquake it suffered in January.

What then brings these two countries together for a friendly on May 5? For Argentina, the game serves as an opportunity to help out a nation recovering from the trauma of a natural disaster (part of the profit will go to the Haiti Relief Fund), as well as letting another part of the country view the National Team.

Since taking over Argentina in November of 2008, Diego Maradona has made a diligent effort to take La Seleccion on the road, from the typical venue of River Plate's El Monumental to the interior of the country, with Cordoba, Mar del Plata, and Rosario all having had a chance to host games during Maradona's reign.

All three of the aforementioned cities are large metropolitan areas with stadiums that hosted games during the 1978 World Cup. But this time, Maradona and company head to Patagonia and the city of Cutral Có, a city of only 30,000, in the province of Neuquen.

The stadium, El Coloso de Ruca Quimey, is the home of Alianza Cultral Co of Argentina's Fifth Division of football. There is no doubt that for this small town known for petroleum, hosting a game for the National Team is a treat, and there is little doubt that all 17,000 seats will be filled.  

For Haiti, the game will give the football fans of the country a brief escape from the suffering with a chance to watch football.

"In Haiti, people ask when we're going to play Argentina. People think you're going to do something good for the country," defender Peter Germain said.

Aside from the goodwill aspect, there is another reason: Maradona needs another look at certain players just six days before he must name his preliminary squad for South Africa 2010.

While the majority of the players called up by El Diez have little realistic chance of making it into the final 23 who will do battle in Group B of FIFA’s showcase event, there are still spots up for grabs.

In goal, Diego Pozo, of Colon, and Adrian Gabbarini of Independiente are in the fight for the third and final goalkeeping spot.

Gabbarini had been arguably the best player of Argentina’s Clausura Tournament, but was very poor in surrendering three goals to Boca Juniors on Sunday, and seems to have given way for Pozo to start the match and reach the World Cup.

Two of the players who scored for Boca against Gabbarini will also make up the starting lineup: left back Luciano Monzon and striker Martin Palermo.

Monzon, an Olympic Gold Medalist in 2008, is a brilliant attacking fullback, but has been incredibly poor in defense. If he has any chance of boarding the plane to South Africa, he must prove to Maradona that he has improved his marking.

Palermo, whose last second goal against Peru helped Argentina qualify for South Africa, is considered to be in the fight for the final attacking spot with Ezequiel Lavezzi of Napoli—with Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero, and Diego Milito already assured their passage to the Finals.

Joining Palermo (a Boca Juniors legend) up front is Ariel Ortega, who last played for Argentina seven years ago against Holland in Amsterdam, one of the greatest idols in the history of River Plate.

Ortega, who has struggled with alcoholism amongst other personal issues, looks to have wound back the clock after two brilliant performances as River beat Godoy Cruz and Velez Sarsfield, under new coach Angel Cappa.

In fact, Palermo and Ortega started together in the 1999 Copa America under Marcelo Bielsa in Paraguay.

Now, 11 years later, Palermo, discarded from the Argentina team after missing three penalties in one match against Colombia, is fighting to be in his first World Cup squad. Meanwhile Ortega, veteran of three World Cups and owner of 86 caps, seems to be saying goodbye, although the former Valencia man refused to give up hope for the 2011 Copa America, that will take place in Argentina.

Also in the mix for a spot in South Africa is Juan Mercier, one of the protagonists of a surprising Argentinos Juniors outfit that sits just one point behind Estudiantes de La Plata in the table.

Mercier is considered by Maradona to be the perfect replacement for captain Javier Mascherano in midfield should the Liverpool man pick up a knock, and this friendly will give El Pibe de Oro an opportunity to see the 30-year-old up close.

All told, the result will be as important as the spectacle that will be broadcast all over Latin America and in the Unites States.

Probably formation: Diego Pozo; Ariel Garcé, Paolo Goltz, Juan Insaurralde, Fabián Monzón; Sebastián Blanco, Juan Mercier, Leonel Vangioni; Facundo Bertoglio; Ariel Ortega y Martín Palermo.