Lionel Messi and Argentina's media boycott is a recurring theme
A good performance and, above all, a superb reaction to the disappointing loss against Brazil, brought a 3-0 victory for Argentina against Colombia on Tuesday night.
However, almost as soon as the game was over, the sports pages were dominated by the Argentina squad's decision that all 26 players would attend the news conference, while Lionel Messi, as captain, told the assembled press the players wouldn't be talking to them until further notice following claims made against striker Ezequiel Lavezzi.
What's the issue between the press and Argentina?
The team's fine form in recent years has increased expectations just as their frustrations -- falling short in three major finals in the space of just 24 months -- have brought ever harsher criticism. The failures are relative -- Argentina have reached the World Cup final and back-to-back Copa America finals in the past two years, but they lost all three finals and, as such, have been branded failures.
The word fracasados -- roughly speaking, "failures," but with an even harder edge to it -- has been bandied about so much that after Thursday night's 3-0 disaster away to Brazil, former Argentina great Javier Zanetti (himself often derided as a "curse" on the national team during his career) was moved to point out: "I was a fracasado for the national team too," in expressing his support for the current group of players.
How has Lavezzi reacted?
By suing Gabriel Anello, who made the claim. On Wednesday, Lavezzi's lawyer, Mariano Cuneo Libarona, confirmed he had begun legal proceedings against the commentator.
"We're asking for an immediate retraction, damages and a fine for Anello," Cuneo Libarona told Radio Rivadavia.
Has this overshadowed the reaction to the victory?
It spoiled the mood. Argentina were awful against Brazil and have been seriously underwhelming under Edgardo Bauza after an initially promising 1-0 win over Uruguay in his first match in charge a couple of months ago. So to see them finally cut loose, find spaces, get people running beyond Messi and look like they were enjoying themselves was a big change.
It didn't hurt, either, that this performance came in a high-pressure game in which the team absolutely had to perform; a draw or a defeat would have left Argentina out of the qualification places in the South American table and facing a long break over the summer before the next qualifiers in March. Bauza would have been under serious pressure just six matches into his reign.
Victory changes that outlook, and although there are still some obvious ways in which Argentina can improve and some obvious players who should be in the conversation when it comes to naming the squad (Mauro Icardi's name always comes up, and it's a mystery why Ezequiel Garay doesn't seem to be under consideration at centre-back), it lifts a lot of pressure from the team and the manager.
As one of the leading men in Argentine football writing, Ezequiel Fernandez Moores, wrote in La Nacion on Wednesday: "Some of the indignant reactions [from the media] in the last few hours have made the players' decision more understandable."
But the written press, at least, have kept the match itself front and centre, while covering the scandal in the wings. As if making a point of showing their support, the front page of sports daily Ole on Wednesday went with a full-page splash of Messi celebrating his goal and a tagline that ended: "As long as we're heading to Russia ..."
Has anything like this happened before?
Oh, yes. Fairly recently, in March 2014, after a series of dressing room leaks in the press, Juan Roman Riquelme announced Boca Juniors' squad had made the decision not to talk to the press until the end of the ongoing championship. That silence ended up lasting a matter of days.
Almost two decades before that, though, was the most similar situation. During the 1998 World Cup in France, one journalist reported that Juan Sebastian Veron had tested positive in a doping test carried out before the squad had left Argentina. The subsequent announcement, led by then captain Diego Simeone, was that all future news conferences were to be held in groups. During the tournament, that decision, too, ended up falling by the wayside.
What does the public make of this?
Some journalists tweeted on Tuesday night that by refusing to speak to the press -- the link between players and fans -- the squad are disrespecting supporters. But in the age of social media networks, it's questionable whether that's really the purpose the press serves these days.
As that Ole cover put it on Wednesday morning: "As long as we're heading to Russia..." who cares?
And the win over Colombia put that particular campaign back on the right track. Argentina fans will be quite happy to see their heroes do the talking on the pitch.
Sam Kelly covers Argentine football and the Argentine national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @HEGS_com.