Nineteen games in Argentina and Chile featuring internationals, the Santiago clasico and various Copa Libertadores and league fixtures.
After the long flight from London I had time to freshen up and take to streets of the Buenos Aires.
As did around 40,000 others all protesting about the conditions of payments to teachers.
They came from all around the country bringing their banners, bands and in some cases pyro.
Their marches gathered around Congreso, conveniently close to my hotel.
Such things have become a regular event in the capital and I noticed some smaller protests, including one involving bikers near to the famous Obelisk later the same day.
That was when I was on my way to my initial game.
2nd March 2017 San Telmo 1 Fenix Primera B Metro 800
San Telmo play in a ground in the less than salubrious area of Isla Maciel.
The taxi drivers outside Constitution station were not keen to go there so I joined a couple of fans (one had a ST shirt) who got a bus that dropped us near to the Avellaneda bridge (it went via Boca and close to the Bombonera)
From there we took the elevators up and then across using the covered walkway.
Then you enter an area untouched by tourists.
And by much else judging by the burnt out cars and derelict buildings.
Being with some local fans made your correspondent feel somewhat safer.
That was in daylight, at night it would probably be better to be in an armoured car.
But as San T do not have floodlights that wasn’t going to happen.
Once at the ground you see 3 sides of open stands (behind one goal there is parking for cars)
With the ultras singing their songs on the opposite terrace. No away fans would venture here I guess, even if allowed.
The game did not live long in the memory with few significant chances and lots of aerial action.
And little flow.
The goal came late on when a long throw was headed on for Martinez to control and shoot in for the winner.
Earlier the same player had tested the Fenix goalie with a strong long range effort.
The visitors mustered one or two shots but probably deserved to lose.
I walked back with my local companions and took the odd picture as discreetly as possible.
I felt more comfortable once we made it back at the Subte.
And then on to Ave de Mayo where I tucked into a ‘mixed grill’ option washed down with some Malbec at a familiar restaurant.
23rd March Argentina 1 Chile 0 World Cup qualifier Monumental. 55,000 (c. 5,000 away)
It is always a source of fascination to be reminded of the history of Argentina.
And the small museum near the Casa Rosada provides the background to the last 200 years or so.
Who cannot be moved by the pictures of Eva Peron ?
Even though she died in 1952 her memory lives on both here and on the streets of Buenos Aires and across this large country.
The politics of her husband and the Peronistas also endures, for good or ill.
Meanwhile the country Evita loved set about beating Chile at River’s stadium.
They needed the points being out of the automatic qualifying positions in a group, apart from Brazil, that is tightly balanced near the top.
In the end it was a battling rather than fluent performance.
That was decided by a misjudgement by Fuenzalida who brought down Di Maria when the winger was clearly never going to reach Biglia’s through ball.
Up stepped the main man, Lionel Messi, to convert the spot kick and enjoy the crowd’s adulation.
The well supported Chileans certainly had their moments, especially when sub. Castillo missed a great chance and also, early on, when a goal was controversially ruled out for offside.
They were also awarded some free kicks on the edge of the area, from one star man Alexis Sanchez clipped the bar.
If Sanchez often set up the visitors attacks it was his counterpart , Messi, who was the focus for Argentina.
However his prompting provided limited results though Otamendi missed an excellent chance when one of Messi’s free kicks troubled the Chile defence.
Overall the crowd seemed subdued, perhaps in trepidation, and though very noisy at times the atmosphere lacked that visceral quality of a big league game in Argentina.
The home team, rated the best in the world, rarely showed the combination play that you might expect from an attack comprising Higuain, Aguero, Di Maria and Messi.
However they got the job done and moved up the table while Chile dropped out of the qualification places, at least for now.
I jumped in a taxi and settled down with a glass of Malbec in my hotel near Congreso contemplating a patchy effort by La Albiceleste.
The following day (Friday) meant another day of marches in Buenos Aires.
This time commemorating the tragic takeover by the generals some 41 years ago.
Again very large numbers turned out with their banners and some with pictures of the disappeared.
Telling reminders of what can happen.
Later that day I flew across the Andes to Chile.
Post arrival and a pisco sour together with some wine donated by some US-based pilots who I chatted with in the Providencia area of Santiago.
We compared notes on muggings in Rio de Janeiro.
The weekend is quieter here and ideal for journeying into the centre.
Where you can admire the Belles Artes museum and stroll around watching the street entertainers near Plazas de Armas.
Later in the afternoon I took the metro out to the southern suburbs and made the long walk to the La Pintana ground for this second level match.
On a very pleasant day you can see some of the mountains in the background while watching one of the smaller Santiago clubs play the third-placed visitors from Coquimbo.
Who led at the break when a forward was pulled down and a penalty awarded.
The spot kick was easily converted.
That was probably a deserved lead but matters soon changed after the interval.
On came Espinoza for the home side and within ten minutes or so he had driven in the equaliser from the edge of the area.
Soon after that another sub., Reyes, crossed for Gatica to neatly divert in a header for what turned into the decider.
Only at the very end, in a goalmouth scramble, did Coquimbo go close ending with an effort being cleared off the line.
I exited and was on a bus back to Hospital Sotero del Rio and thence the metro.
For dinner I selected rabbit (worth a try but predictably bony) + Merlot finishing with a crepe suzette.
After Starbucks, the National Historical Museum for some local history featuring pictures of the past great and good.
I had planned to visit the Plaza Constitution but found it to be cordoned off for, you guessed it, another march.
Not quite like Argentina but still an impressive turnout protesting about the pension provisions.
Then a ride, this time by train, down to San Bernardo for another second level encounter.
It’s an area slightly less salubrious with some vicious looking stray dogs wandering around.
(in Chile they walk/run around while in Argentina they often limp)
I managed not to look afraid and made it to the municipal stadium, another small two-sided ground.
This time with a sizeable crowd including good numbers supporting the league leaders, Curico.
Magallanes are a traditional club, founded in 1897 and very successful in the 1930’s.
They play in the Argentina national colours.
The decisive moment came on 51 minutes when a controversial handball in the area was awarded (‘seen em given’)
Rebolledo took a long run up and scored comfortably.
Though the home side had a few half chances they could never really trouble the solid Curico defence.
And if anything the main visiting striker could have added a second in the closing stages from breakaways.
Back via the train, the San Bernardo station is fairly close, and then metro.
Making sure not to trip over the sleeping dogs.
My choice afterwards was pizza and a beer, there being few options available on this Sunday evening in Providencia.
This qualifier was played at the home of Colo-Colo because of past sanctions associated with games at the Nacional stadium.
And a player from Colo-Colo, Paredes, was on hand to score two close range goals to which a fine free kick from Alexis Sanchez was added giving Chile a 3-0 lead after just 22 minutes.
They had often cut through the Venezuela defence at will with Sanchez proving unplayable at times.
The ‘Vino Tinto’ did offer some threats going forward particularly when Otero setup the speedy Murillo.
But, Manchester City fans, Claudio Bravo proved very solid in the home goal.
Chile should have added at least three more after the interval with Vidal missing sitters and Sanchez himself having a penalty saved by Farinez.
Venezuela did get a consolation when West Brom’s Rondon headed in a free kick after the hour.
And they, arguably, could have been awarded a second if captain Rincon’s strike, off the underside of the bar, had been adjudged to have crossed the line.
But with no goal line technology for confirmation there was no award.
In the end Chile comfortably played out the last few minutes and they took the points and moved back into the qualification places (and Argentina, who lost in Bolivia, moved out of them)
For Venezuela not much to take from another loss apart from the desperate need to strengthen their defence.
They do however have positives going forward especially the skills of Otero and the pace of Murillo.
I took the convenient metro back to Providencia and watched most of Brazil v Paraguay (Brazil became the first team other than the hosts to qualify for Russia 2018) while nibbling on some calamari and a pisco sour.
On the Thursday after the international I took the 6 hour or so bus ride south to Concepcion.
The following day was spent getting some culture in the Pinacoteca art museum and an evening meal of salad and a ‘happy hour’ double mojito.
Despite the early (12pm) start on the Saturday there was a large contingent of La U fans gathering at the Stadio Ester Roa Rebolledo, some forty minutes or so walk from downtown.
The ground comprises a neat 2 tiers and the visiting fans filled much of the upper levels.
The songs and characteristic whistling resounded around the stadium.
We all saw a first half of limited chances with one significant incident.
Which was when midfielder Lorenzetti received a red card for a lunging tackle in the 14th minute.
The Argentine was very reluctant to the leave the pitch and afterwards the decision did look harsh.
Despite having a man advantage for most the match the home side generally failed to capitalise.
Their big moment came when striker Barreto was set up with just ten to play.
Having had little to feed off he could be considered somewhat rusty but his sliced effort was fairly woeful.
For La U Chile international Jean Beausejour was at the heart of a couple of good moves, the second when Mora evaded the Concepcion keeper but was forced wide.
Mora would have another shot well saved later on.
I left wondering why UdeC didn’t push harder for the winner while the visiting fans sang their songs and were probably happy enough with the point given the circumstances.
Huachipato play in the CAP stadium (4 covered sides in a modern style) near to Talcahuano.
Talcahuano is a fishing/port town featuring a market and a high street of another era plus a derelict theatre.
It did however have a bar showing Colo-Colo’s game at Iquique.
Which got many of the locals animated.
Few probably made the trip to see Huachipato.
But they missed some entertaining action at both ends of this match.
First we had a bright start with three goals in 22 minutes.
San Luis went ahead after Sagredo was left with an easy (offside ?) finish.
Striker Carlos Gonzalez then headed in the equaliser after the San Luis goalie misjudged a cross.
The visitors went back in front following great work by wingback Saavedra to allow Escobar a conversion.
After all that the game settled into a steady pattern and it seemed the valuable points, both were near the foot of the table, were going to San Luis.
Until we reached the 87th minute and a break down the left gave sub. Ricardo Gonzalez the opportunity to cross for his namesake Carlos to level again.
It was left to Andres Robles to apply the finish as he controlled the ball before chipping over Cano in added time.
Though San Luis pressed at the end, with goalie Cano up for a corner, it was to no avail and the points went to Huachipato.
I took one of the various buses that plough their, bumpy, way back to Concepcion.
From Concepcion a return bus ride (‘Jason Bourne’ + ‘Jack Reacher’, in Spanish, featured)
to the capital.
And on to Vina del Mar from there.
The contrast is soon evident.
Here you are soon in an almost US-style resort with an upmarket range of restaurants near to the promenade and pleasant apartment blocks.
If you want upmarket gambling there is also a casino.
The local museum features some interesting artefacts, including a moai positioned at the entrance, from Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
Its a reminder of a culture far removed from our own.
However a reminder from home is clearly evident at the Sausalito stadium, a pleasant walk from the centre.
There play Everton, the Chilean version.
Who are named, apparently, in honour of the original EFC who were touring South America back in the day.
The ground, which was included in the 1962 World Cup competition and subsequent Copa America’s comprises mostly open seating and a partially covered ‘main stand’.
There is a pleasant lagoon behind the stand.
On this Wednesday evening it was a nice place to be.
The local ultras produce a particularly noisy pre-game (external) firework show and kept up their songs throughout.
On the pitch it was game decided by a fine free kick, under the wall, from the excellent Maxi Cerato just after the break.
Earlier Everton had controlled most of the first half, hitting the bar with one effort and having two decent looking penalty claims dismissed.
Patriotas, playing in their first international club competition, provided very robust opposition and were fortunate the Ecuadorean referee was very lenient with some of their challenges.
Once the home side had gone ahead the visitors had more play and they also struck the goal frame, from Murillo’s header.
As time progressed it seemed both sides were reasonably comfortable with the 1-0 result.
Everton did press at times but never near enough to get a second.
My impression was that this tie was ultimately evenly poised.
I strolled back dodging the very busy empanada retailers.
The next day I spent some time in Valparaiso including taking the cable car up to the Maritime Museum.
Which provides a fine display chronicling the Chilean naval history and particularly the War in the Pacific.
Many of the heroes of the time are represented.
The location also provides some excellent panoramic views of the harbour area.
Back by metro for an evening in Vina.
After which I return on the bus to Santiago.
Some time was spent sorting out a ticket for the Superclasico before I took the metro to Einstein and onward to the Santa Laura stadium for this Friday evening match.
Which is a decent sized, mostly open, ground in which the large away contingent were placed to the left and the small group of Palestino ultras (drum + flags) to the right end.
This was a match between the champions and the winless team, Palestino, at the bottom of the league.
But the ‘home’ side did have their moments especially involving Leonardo Valencia.
They might even had won if Carmona had converted a great chance in the second period.
Toselli in the Catolica goal blocked that effort and in fact both goalies stayed solid.
When the visitors did break forward they always looked likely to score, including from Silva headers and maybe a Parot free kick, but the Palestino defence somehow held firm.
Much to the away fans frustration.
In the end Palestino deserved to take the point.
And so to Saturday’s Superclasico, played at midday presumably to minimise trouble.
It certainly delivered both on and off the pitch.
Firstly the match itself, unlike many derbies, offered consistent excitement albeit tempered by goalkeeping errors.
Twice La U led only to be pegged back and ultimately they might have lost in the closing minutes.
A cross by Mora after 23 minutes, with the Colo-Colo defence in disarray allowed Ubilla an easy headed finish for 1-0.
And that looked like the interval score until Octavio Rivero drove forward and curled in a great right foot shot on the stroke of 45 minutes.
It was a blow for La U who then changed things around in the second half.
They went in front again just after the hour when a right wing cross found Mora’s head, his header seemed straight at Garces but the keeper fumbled and the ball ended in the net.
The away players heads went down.
But they would retrieve the situation thanks to another goal from Rivero, setup by Esteban Paredes, he shot across Herrera in the home goal for the leveller.
But again the keeper should have done much better.
At the very end Rivero was set free, given onside, with just the goalie to beat, but skied his shot way over and thus passed up a moment of glory.
But I think that would have been tough on La U.
So both sides and fans could taken something from an entertaining watch.
As for the atmosphere.
It was excellent with songs, characteristic whistling from the La U fans, smoke and choreo.
Being picky you would ideally want more away fans (making it 50:50 or even 60:40)
And you would not play it in a stadium that is so wide open, thus losing some of the noise.
Transport the fans to (say) the Luigi Ferraris in Genoa and then you would have something.
You do however get some quirky moments - like dogs on the pitch, a cat running around near you and red-jacketed ushers to brush down your seat.
Afterwards I exited to the Nuble metro and stopped off at Estacion Central for a Starbucks.
Before making a quick return to San Bernardo (see 26th March)
This time there was a smaller crowd to see what was supposed to be a derby, but this is not Argentina.
So it was low key in the afternoon sunshine.
Just one goal decided it and it was scored by the main man - no.10 Diego Penzoa.
He was at the heart of most things for the home side and he latched onto a loose ball to drive in the winner on 18 minutes.
Magallanes should have had another as they missed a penalty later in the game.
As for Morning, they mostly relied on their big striker but he kept getting offside and when he did ‘score’ that was ruled out as well.
Back in a fairly chilly Providencia I settled down with some chicken and chips and a beer.
I went to church on this Sunday morning - or least wandered around outside the cathedral in Plaza das Armas while many bought their flowers and went inside.
Later that evening I watched a team with Spanish origins play the oldest football team in Chile (and arguably Latin America)
On a somewhat chilly evening at the estadio Santa Laura, before a crowd fairly evenly split, we had lively fans at both ends of the ground.
Always a pleasing site, rather than having one set tucked away in a corner.
Espanola are coached Argentina star striker Martin Palermo, famous for being Boca’s all-time leading scorer and for missing those three penalties.
His team didn’t need penalties - just one goal in the second half from Argentinian Sebastian Jaime who controlled a cross and shot into the corner.
It was definitely a deserved victory.
Espanola could have scored more particularly from the dangerous free kicks often delivered by Meneses.
The visitors from Valparaiso, though competitive, produced few threats with Parraguez probably having their best chance.
The win took Espanola up to fourth and three points behind leaders Iquique.
As per usual the metro was crowded, even at 10pm on a Sunday night.
Meanwhile in Providencia I checked the Masters’ result (a memorable win for Sergio Garcia) while nudging down a pisco sour and some papas fritas.
I returned to the capital for some culture in the excellent Pre-Columbian Art Museum mixed in with some swordfish in Lomit’s and a batch of quality sushi in NuiSushi.
Then it was back to the football in the very pleasant surroundings of Las Condes.
In the background, and never seemingly far away in Chile, are the mountains and down below are views of the city of Santiago.
A local ‘mall’ with Starbucks completes a US-style area.
Meanwhile at the small Estadio San Carlos de Apoquindo the Crusaders were taking on the visitors from Buenos Aires.
Pre-game fireworks and choreo set the scene.
San Lorenzo had not started well in this group and needed the points.
They got just one after leading through a Nicolas Blandi header on 20 minutes.
It could have been different if the Argentinians, often prompted by Belluschi, had taken more of their first half chances.
They came to regret those missed opportunities when Buonanotte struck soon after the break.
Catolica had reversed the momentum and got the crowd animated.
But they were unable to add any more despite substitutions, including a reluctant, somewhat frustrated Silva.
So it ended 1-1 with something for both teams.
So ended my time Chile - and it had been very pleasant not least the Spring-like weather.
And so back to a quiet Easter in Buenos Aires.
After a frustrating time, unsuccessfully, trying to sort out a ticket for River’s Libertadores game I ventured out to Quilmes for this well attended lower level Friday afternoon encounter.
On a sunny day in a ground next to a shooting range, where some practice was going on, we saw two of the top teams battle it out on a sandy, bumpy pitch.
It was a better quality game than many in this league.
And won by the away team with a goal in each half
Another quiet day in Argentina and the bus to Junin was not full.
Junin is a town like many others except that is was the home of Eva Peron (see 23rd March)
She is honoured in the name of the local stadium, which features a low-raked stand set back from the pitch.
Above the seats are ‘boxes’, one held some Racing fans.
They received plenty of abuse when they celebrated the visiting goals.
Which were both scored by rising talent Lautaro Martinez.
The first a fine dribble and shot, the second a combination move ending with an easy finish.
The win was well deserved though Astina did drive in a late consolation for the home side.
Racing thus stayed well in contention for a top four finish.
Back near my moderately-priced hotel close to the bus station (which incidentally also housed the Racing squad) I nudged down a negroni in the amenable ‘Matilde’ bar.
Its doubtful if Evita would have done the same - in Junin.
The next morning began with some breakfast and a short walk to the bus station.
Usually the long distance buses here are reasonably reliable but maybe because of the holiday weekend or perhaps issues with the route (there were areas that suffered from flooding) my scheduled trip to Santa Fe was well over 2 hours late arriving in Junin.
And about 3 hours late reaching Santa Fe.
But as the game was not until 8.30pm it was not really a major issue.
Again a hotel near the terminal & eventually locating an ATM with cash got the basics done.
Walking to the 15th April stadium from near the centre and you might see the barra brava with their flags and drums passing along Boulevard Pellegrini.
Inside we watched a solid defensive performance by Defensa, with the big no.6 Barbosa particularly prominent.
The visitors got the job done at the other end with a first half penalty, given for holding in the area, and a breakaway in the second period.
Union, despite a decent build up, consistently failed to find the right final delivery much to the crowds’ frustration.
The outcome moved Defensa further into mid-table.
Afterwards I joined the fans, plus some stray dogs, on the walk back along Boulevard Pellegrini and a stop at a conducive choperia for a relaxing post-game refreshment.
The following day I took the Flecha bus (roughly on time) for the six hour bus ride back to Buenos Aires.
The main news item was the death of a fan at the Cordoba clasico, which apparently turned out to be gang-related.
No such issues at Berazategui, a BA suburb beyond Quilmes and half way towards La Plata.
And reachable on the much improved train system from the (also improved) Constitution station.
Again the ground has seen better days but the raised seating offers an excellent view.
Of what was a game of limited chances.
One of the ‘highlights’ was an amusing incident when one of the home players kicked the turf, producing a large divot, rather than the ball.
He was soon substituted, head down.
But the result meant it was a useful point for the bottom club, Berazategui, against one much nearer the top.
I walked back to the station and returned to Constitution.
Stopping for a burger before getting a train on another line to Lanus.
Despite a good effort by the local ultras it was a bit of a disappointing turnout for this Libertadores group game.
Those that never made it missed an excellent performance by the home side.
Who began quickly when Sand setup Acosta on 5 minutes.
And though Lanus didn’t add any more in the first half they deserved more.
Venezuelans Zulia managed some decent moves involving Argentine Unrein, Savarino and Orozco but that faded after the break.
The home side soon increased their advantage, firstly from a striker in his mid-thirties, Sand, before another similarly aged front-man, German Denis, easily converted a penalty for no.3.
In a dominant period Lanus added a couple more including a fine run and shot from Silva.
Zulia ended well beaten and Lanus in a strong position in the group.
La Plata is an hour or so bus ride from Retiro and I arrived early on a showery day.
Time for a milanese while watching Juve tie up Barca in the Champions League.
On the edge of town, a bus ride away is the sizeable City stadium.
Plenty of Colombians made the trip and they made themselves heard.
But it was the home fans who celebrated not least when our hero Juan Sebastian Veron strutted his stuff.
42-year-old Veron, the clubs’ Director of Sports, featured for 55 minutes and during that time took most of the set plays.
From one of these, on 38 minutes, Javier Toledo scored the winner from close range.
In a game of few clear cut chances Veron had made the difference.
He later went off to a hero’s applause.
Nacional had provided some threats and they edged the second half possession but never really managed enough pressure on the home goal.
It was a very welcome first win in the group for the Argentinians.
Straight out to the taxis and then return bus to the capital.
The next day I was on my way back to Europe.
Certainly in Buenos Aires there are significant improvements to the infrastructure since my last visit with trains having been updated as well stations plus the very convenient use of smartcards.
The football atmosphere though suffers from the general lack of away fans at many of the big matches and with attendances in some cases significantly less than previous visits.