Álvarez, Argentina’s little spider with silken skills, seals the deal against Australia as Messi’s men march into the quarters

As Australian goalkeeper Mathew Ryan tried to get a ball off a back pass, 22-year-old Argentine striker Julián Álvarez quickly took possession of the ball to score Argentina’s second goal in their round of 16 encounter at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium at Saturday night. . It was a quick move from the Argentine and it reminded football fans of his nickname ‘La Arana’, meaning little spider.

While Argentina managed to hold off a late Australian challenge to win the game 2-1, Álvarez was praised by many in the Argentina camp, along with captain Lionel Messi, who scored in his 1,000th game as a professional.

Born in the village of Calchin in Argentina’s Córdoba province, a young Álvarez played for local club Atletico Calchin. While his father Gustavo worked in a grain factory and mother Mariana was a kindergarten teacher, Álvarez also spent time playing with his brothers Rafael and Agustin in the village. “It was a very small village and we always played together since I was very young. We shared the same group of friends. We would meet on a small field we had in the village and just play football together for many, many hours. It was just something that came to my mind when I was a little kid, no older than four, playing football with my brothers. One day my brother said, “Look at him, like a little spider. It just stuck and as you get older you don’t give it up. I like it, it’s a great name,” Álvarez once told Sky Sports about his nickname in an interview.

Álvarez’s parents also remember the time in the village of 2,000, where he spent his time playing football and also played in their house. “We had to take care of the television and the paintings. And then on to the soccer field in front of the house, ever since you were three years old,’

Álvarez’ father Gustavo told Manchester City’s website last year.

As an 11-year-old, Álvarez trialled with Boca Juniors and Real Madrid and would score a brace in Real Madrid’s title win in a youth tournament. With Spain having age restrictions on signing under-13s for their clubs, a young Álvarez joined River Plate in 2016. His five-year stay at the club saw him elevated to the senior team in 2018 with manager Marcelo Gallardo giving him the number nine shirt.

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Álvarez, who scored his first goal for River Plate against Independiente in 2019, became the Primera Division’s top goalscorer with 20 goals in 35 games in 2021 and scored a total of 54 goals in 122 games for the club. He was also named the South American Footballer of the Year.

“I remember a goal, when he was about eight or nine years old, when he beat four or five rivals and scored a rabona goal. Then I realized that we had a different kind of player who could be a world star. I was not his teacher. How can you teach a player like Julian something? You can only advise.” Alvaraz’s first coach Rafael Varas had told Manchester City’s website.

In 2019, the youngster played for Argentina’s U-20 side in the U-20 World Cup where Argentina lost to Mali on penalties. He would play for the Argentina U-23 team apart from spending time with Manchester City legend Sergio Agüero and Lionel Messi at Argentina’s training base in Moscow during the 2018 World Cup.

The youngster made his senior Argentina debut in a World Cup qualifier against Chile in June last year and scored his first international goal for Argentina against Ecuador in a 1-1 draw at the start of March this year. Prior to his signing by Manchester United, Álvarez also became only the second player to score six goals in a Copa Libertadores group stage match for River Plate in their 8–1 win over Alianza Lima, equaling the record set by Juan Carlos Sanchez in 1985.

While the South American has scored 26 goals in 49 combined appearances for Argentina, River Plate and Manchester City this year, the youngster also scored in Argentina’s 2-0 win over Poland in the team’s final group stage match. In Qatar, Álvarez is accompanied by his parents and two brothers. Earlier this year he also watched his two brothers Rafael and Agustin play for Manchester team Abbey Hey in the North West Counties League First Division South, a tenth division in English football, and the team chairman said how the team will miss the services of the two brothers in the league with the family going to Qatar to watch Álvarez and Argentina play.

“It will be a real blow. It is what it is. Ultimately, they (Rafael and Agustin) are here (in Manchester) because of their brother. We have been the beneficiaries of Julian signing for City, as we have two extra signings Abbey chairman Jason Dunford had said to The Athletic ahead of the World Cup.

In the past, Álvarez has talked about how time stopped in his house when Argentina played. “In my house the world stopped when the national team played. The whole family turned on the TV, at home in the armchair, and not a fly would fly,” Álvarez told Manchester City’s website early this year.

If Messi’s team wins the World Cup on December 18, the Álvarez family would cheer him on at Lusail Stadium.

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