Argentina’s enigmatic midfielder Juan Roman Riquelme emerged from three months of inactivity to score two majestic free-kicks and get his team off to a winning start in the South American qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
His performance in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Chile suggested once again that Riquelme, at his best an elegant playmaker in the best South American tradition and at his worst a ponderous passenger, is a law unto himself. Coach Alfio Basile appeared to have taken a huge gamble in building his team around a player who has become an outcast at his club Villarreal after falling out with coach Manuel Pellegrini.
Riquelme has not kicked a ball in anger at Villarreal this season and his last match was exactly three months ago when Argentina lost 3-0 to Brazil in the Copa America Venezuela 2007 final. Yet, on Saturday, a capacity crowd at the Monumental was treated to Riquelme at his best as he scored both goals in the 2-0 win over Chile.
His goals came from free-kicks which he planted into the top right hand corner of Claudio Bravo’s goal with stunning precision. Apart from that, Riquelme pulled the strings in midfield and appeared to have suffered no ill-effects from his enforced layoff as he gave a performance which confounded football logic.