Most of the weekend's sporting headlines centred on Jorge Baliño, the referee for River Plate’s 2-2 draw with Godoy Cruz on Sunday night. He made several mistakes which came in for severe criticism from River coach Marcelo Gallardo as the Millonario once again dropped points. Baliño’s linesman also failed to correctly flag an offside that led to Godoy Cruz’s second goal. The assistant referee then later apologised profusely, and somewhat strangely, for his error in a television interview.
In a weekend that also saw Boca Juniors coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto visit President Mauricio Macri at the Casa Rosada (Macri was once president of Xeneize, of course), some corners of the Argentine sportsworld were hinting at conspiracy. While this might come as no surprise, Gallardo was also the source of some of this angst.
He first suggested something afoot due to the web of connections between Macri (Boca ex-president), Schelotto (Boca coach, Macri’s friend) and Claudio Fabián Tapia (AFA president and Boca fan), then grudgingly apologised in his post-match press conference for using some choice fruity language.
The reality is much more likely to be that Baliño had a poor performance, River aren’t very good and the two facts just happened to coincide.
- Interior Minister Rogelio Frigerio was at the Monumental on Sunday, but reportedly left when the Millonario faithful began insulting Macri and – we can safely assume – Frigerio himself.
- Horacio Elizondo, head of the Dirección Nacional de Arbitraje within AFA, also apologised for what happened. Baliño was later suspended.
- The whole storyline resurfaced debate around the implementation of Video Assistant Referees, or VAR, into Argentine football. Some say VAR would’ve caught many of Baliños errors. Elizondo has said he wants to use VAR in the Supercopa clash between River and Boca in March.
Another win, even if it was a less-than-convincing 1-0 victory over Banfield, keeps Boca Juniors clear at the top of the table. San Lorenzo won and Talleres drew, leaving them both nine points adrift in second and third place. Godoy Cruz’s 2-2 draw with River Plate keeps them in stasis in fourth, and Estudiantes beat Unión 2-0 to leapfrog them into fifth.
Independiente drew 0-0 with Temperley, leaving them unchanged in seventh. Racing, after a 3-1 win over Lanús to continue their strong start to the second half of the season are now up to eighth, perhaps the strongest movement in a table that isn’t seeing an awful lot of change week in week out. With their draw at the Monumental, River are now in 19th place on 19 points, 21 points behind Boca.
Lionel Messi played 90 minutes in Barcelona's (Spain, first) 2-0 win over Eibar (seventh), which maintains their seven-point lead at the top of the table. Barcelona’s first Champions League match of 2018 takes place on February 20 against Chelsea.
Éver Banega is still out with a hamstring injury and was not in the 18 for Sevilla's (Spain, sixth) 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao (14th).
Sergio Agüero played 90 minutes in Manchester City's (England) 1-0 loss to Wigan Athletic in the fifth round of the FA Cup on Monday, a huge upset that is only City’s second loss in 19 games.
Érik Lamela came on in the 62nd minute in Tottenham's (England) 2-2 draw with Rochdale in the FA Cup fifth round.
Marcos Rojo was not in the 18 for Manchester United’s (England) 2-0 win against Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup. Sergio Romero started! He actually played! And he got a clean sheet!
Ángel Di María scored and played 90 minutes, while Giovani Lo Celso played 58 minutes in Paris Saint Germain’s (France, first) 5-2 win over Strasbourg (14th). Javier Pastore replaced him. But perhaps more importantly, Di María and Pastore went unused on the bench and Lo Celso played 84 minutes as PSG lost 3-1 in their high-profile clash with Real Madrid in the Champions League last Wednesday. The second leg is in Paris on March 6.
Gonzalo Higuaín had to leave the game injured after just 15 minutes in Juventus' (Italy, second) 1-0 win over Torino (ninth). Paulo Dybala entered the game in the 66th minute, his first game time since being injured for the past few weeks.
Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Mascherano play for Hebei China Fortune (China), which begins its season in the Chinese Super League in March.