This week and part of next week is the International Break where players go represent their home country and play for their national teams. European Qualifiers, African Cup of Nations and International Friendlies are in full swing right now with matches everyday until Tuesday, March 26th. After that, players will head back to their clubs and continue league play until the next International Break in June where Qualifiers and International Friendlies will continue. Today, we will be looking at Atlanta United’s International performances from Friday. Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez represented “La Albilceleste” in their friendly match against Josef Martinez and the Venezuelan National Team at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium. Wanda is home to world renowned Spanish Football Club Atletico Madrid. A special reunion of two good friends as former United player Miguel Almiron and Hector “Tito” Villalba trained and prepared together for their country of Paraguay as “La Albirroja” took on Peru in Harrison, NJ at Red Bull Arena home of MLS’s New York Red Bulls.
Let’s start off with our first friendly match between Argentina and Venezuela. The big news for Argentina is the unexpected return of Lionel Messi. Messi is back to the national team in his first appearance since their Round of 16 World Cup loss against France this past summer. Questions loomed over whether he would retire from the national team again after their most recent World Cup loss. Messi had already previously retired in 2016 after Argentina’s National squad lost to Chile in the Copa America Final. This was the second match Argentina was bested via PK’s in concurrent years by a team in Chile that is widely regarded as one of Argentina’s top rivals. The speculation surrounding Messi’s decision was predicated on how truly devastating those back to back Copa Final losses were. Messi did however, make his return to the national team along with Atlanta’s own, Gonzalo Pity Martinez. Pity only played the first half before being substituted. Messi, on the other hand, played the full 90 minutes in Argentina’s surprising loss to fellow 5-Stripes member Josef Martinez and Venezuela. Josef came into the match late in the 72nd minute replacing Newcastle United striker Salomon Rondon. Martinez won a penalty for Venezuela 4 minutes in and scored with his traditonal PK “feign strike” in which he messes with the goalie’s timing with a delayed pause and then strikes the ball. The ball found the back of the net and Argentina’s goal keeper found the fierce stare down celebration from Martinez as Venezuela was victorious over Argentina for only the second time in history. After the game, Pity Martinez and Lionel Messi were ruled out for Argentina’s next friendly games vs. Morocco on Tuesday with injury knocks. Here in Atlanta, we can only hope Pity’s injury is not serious and and doesn’t affect his ability to play in next Saturday’s match away against the Columbus Crew. Venezuela’s next international match will not be until June 6th at Mercedes-Benz Stadium when they take on Mexico and former Atlanta United head coach Tata Martino, who got his first win in his debut match with the Mexican national team in a 3-1 win over Chile.
Next up is Paraguay’s International Friendly vs Peru in Harrison, NJ at Red Bull Arena. Miguel Almiron played the entire 90 minute match, but Villalba was left on the bench and never saw game action. It would have been nice for United fans to see Miggy and Tito on the field together again and possibly flare up some magic for Paraguay in their 1-0 loss to Peru, but that was not the case last night. Hopefully, we see Tito get more playing time in Paraguay’s next friendly match vs Mexico Tuesday, March 26th at 10 P.M. ET at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. The game will be broadcasted and covered live on the Univision Deportes Network for those who want to tune in and watch. Hopefully we will see Tata, Miggy and Tito together again in a picture (like the one above) for us United fans to enjoy. In an interview with the media a few days before Paraguay’s match, Miguel Almiron said he wants to take this team to the next level and have a good Copa America campaign this Summer, and it’s possible with the players they have. This years Copa America will be hosted in Brazil over the Summer from June 14 to July 7. A competition between all 10 of the South American teams and 2 additional invited countries from other confederations. This year the invitees are Japan and Qatar from the Asian Confederation, usually we see the United States, Mexico and other countries from Central America and the Caribbean in this competition. Unfortunately, that was not to be this year, which in my mind is a disappointment. This competition would be a great test for the U.S. Men’s National Team, giving them a chance to compete with very challenging nations from Latin America. Hopefully, the U.S. will return and be invited to the next competition soon.
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