Argentina 2-0 Greece – Mad Bromance

The tv and newspaper output since yesterday evening has been one long love letter to San Martín Palermo. The interview count, at least those pegamequemegusta has seen, stands at about seven thousand and four. Within two minutes of the end of the match he had given two already: one on the pitch, another in the tunnel. This is the story the press has been waiting for – and Maradona, too, qué vindicación! Palermo is of course a very loveable and media-friendly guy – in fact that’s one of the many differences he has with Riquelme, who regards the press with about as much trust as a three-legged rabbit does a hungry fox – but the outpouring of sugary love has left pegamequemegusta reaching for our toothbrush.

In today’s Olé, Leo Farinella writes:

“Palermo’s not caviar in Monaco, he’s not Champagne or Paris, Palermo’s an asado with red wine from Ushuaia to La Quiaca, a couple of matés and dulce de leche. Vamos Argentina, carajo!”

Oh but he’s not done there. No, no, this is the guy who came back from the three missed penalities in the Copa América in ’99, who scored his 100th goal for Boca with torn ligaments in his right knee, who broke his leg when a wall collapsed under him as he celebrated with Villareal, who scored a header from 38 yards, the guy who saved Maradona, saved Argentina with that Shawshank moment against Peru. No, there must be more. There is, of course:

“Messi can’t, Milito can’t, no-one can. He’s immortal, historic, unbeatable. In that impassioned embrace with Messi, yet another mystical embrace with Diego, he’s a miracle worker, faith incarnate on a football field. South Africa on its knees: the ball that no-one can can get the hang of, Martín tames it first time with his weaker foot. And in the net. From time to time God recalls a country that seems like it’s about to diappear off the map. He chooses someone and before you know it he is imbued with the divine spirit. We hail you, Saint Palermo.”

For his part, Maradona revealed after the game that Mancuso and el Negro Enrique had wanted to bring on Higuaín and had even gone so far as to write down the change for the 4th official. El Diego countermanded the order, however: “Bring me Martín.” Despite it being a token gesture, the words will go down in Argieball folklore as another chapter in the Book of Palermo, a chapter written with so much love it comes with a special pair of gloves.

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The industrial quantities of love sloshing around la Selección these days have forced pegamequemegusta to acquire a pair of wellies. Needless to say we’ll be pleading the 5th as to how they came into our possession, but it’s a good job they did as the last 24 hours have seen an outbreak of love unprecedented since the 2008 Chelsea squad appeared on Wife Swap.

Pegamequemegusta confessed before the match to being as giddy as a gaggle of goosestepping schoolgirls high on laughing gas at a Greyhound track. Yet our prepubescent, Sweet Sixteen magazine excitement was nothing compared to the amount of man love, bromance and frilly shirt and doublet gushing going on in Polokwane yesterday.

Of course Maradona’s Argentina has been the omphalos of amorous feeling in this World Cup so far. Suprisingly, perhaps, for a team managed by a man supposedly touched by God, their World Cup has been marked less by agape than it has by eros. From the closed-doors team-building camp complete with inspiring notes from el Diez, to the fist-pumping and serial displays of emotion that have characterised their matches, the press love-in with Diego, Messi’s apparently doomed love affair with the net as he tries to reignite the old flame of ’86, and Palermo’s made-in-Hollywood moment last night, romantic sub-plots just keep multiplying in Argentina’s relentless two-step towards the final.

The tv and newspaper output since yesterday evening has been one long love letter to San Martín Palermo. The interview count, at least those pegamequemegusta has seen, stands at about seven thousand and four. Within two minutes of the end of the match he had given two already: one on the pitch, another in the tunnel. This is the story the press has been waiting for – and Maradona, too, qué vindicación! Palermo is of course a very loveable and media-friendly guy – in fact that’s one of the many differences he has with Riquelme, who regards the press with about as much trust as a three-legged rabbit does a hungry fox – but the outpouring of sugary love has left pegamequemegusta reaching for our toothbrush.

In today’s Olé, Leo Farinella writes:

“Palermo’s not caviar in Monaco, he’s not Champagne or Paris, Palermo’s an asado with red wine from Ushuaia to La Quiaca, a couple of matés and dulce de leche. Vamos Argentina, carajo!”

Oh but he’s not done there. No, no, this is the guy who came back from the three missed penalties in the Copa América in ’99, who scored his 100th goal for Boca with torn ligaments in his right knee, who broke his leg when a wall collapsed under him as he celebrated with Villareal, who scored a header from 38 yards, the guy who saved Maradona, saved Argentina with that Shawshank moment against Peru. No, there must be more. There is, of course:

“Messi can’t, Milito can’t, no-one can. He’s immortal, historic, unbeatable. In that impassioned embrace with Messi, yet another mystical embrace with Diego, he’s a miracle worker, faith incarnate on a football field. South Africa on its knees: the ball that no-one can can get the hang of, Martín tames it first time with his weaker foot. And in the net. From time to time God recalls a country that seems like it’s about to disappear off the map. He chooses someone and before you know it he is imbued with the divine spirit. We hail you, Saint Palermo.”

For his part, Maradona revealed after the game that Mancuso and el Negro Enrique had wanted to bring on Higuaín and had even gone so far as to write down the change for the 4th official. El Diego countermanded the order, however: “Bring me Martín.” Despite it being a token gesture, the words will go down in Argieball folklore as another chapter in the Book of Palermo, a chapter written with so much love it comes with a special pair of gloves.

Fans celebrate at the monument to, you guessed it, San Martín, in Mar del Plata, yesterday evening

One of the other main romantic threads running through this World Cup is that of Messi and Maradona. The comparisons have been going on for years now but show no sign of letting up. La Pulga was even given the captain’s armband for the first time for the match against Greece, an honour he had only ever had once before in a meaningless friendly against the LA Galaxy, just as Diego had in ’86, and became the youngest ever Argentina captain in the process. Now even the fact that he hasn’t scored in the first few games has brought more comparisons with Maradona. The great man himself pointed out: “Remember that against South Korea Valdano scored two and Ruggeri one; and against Bulgaria it was Burruchaga who got one.”

While the Messi-can’t-score story is becoming almost as vexing as the Messi/Maradona one, there is an unprecedented amount of devotion towards the erstwhile ‘Catalan’ these days. The paper comes equipped with diagrams recreating his genius and there’s hardly a murmur to be heard anywhere of his supposed disaffection. Still, many were faux-outraged that the Barcelona man had been awarded the man of the match award instead of Palermo. Marcelo Sottile wrote in Wednesday’s Olé: “Messi hugging Palermo was […] the first proof that God exists and he loves un loco.”

From Olé. Awful photo but you get the idea.

If it’s true, however, that love is seeing an imperfect person perfectly, there were plenty of examples in the post-game reaction to Javier Pastore’s contribution. Pegamequemegusta has plenty of time for talented young playmakers, especially considering what Özil has been up to in this World Cup. Yet the praise raining down  today on the Palermo player has been somewhat misleading.

In barely 15 minutes on the pitch, Pastore managed to rack up massive 7/10 (the same as Messi, for example). Olé praised his ‘remarkable ability’ to come on and get straight into the rhythm of a game. Martín Eula gushes that in only a couple of passes he managed ‘to infuse his teammates with confidence and set up a few moves’. In the crappy picture above, he is credited with having an important role to play in Palermo’s goal, but all he did was play a simple five or six yard pass to Messi, the Héctor Enrique to Messi’s Maradona. Bizarre stuff: the need for romance sees them spinning more threads than are necessary.

Fine, of course they do – sure there’s about 40 ad-filled pages on the match and something needs to go on them. The contrast with the treatment doled out to Milito could hardly be starker, however. The Inter striker received a 4/10 for his thankless toiling in and around the packed box, which seemed pretty harsh to us. The reason Verón managed to break the record for passes in a game is that, despite having many players eager to make an impression, the ball just rolled about in midfield for much of the game. Argentina were hardly chomping at the bit to get beyond the Greek defence. Milito saw precious little of the ball yet in the media the drawling centre forward’s performance was labelled as being down to fate! Olé sum up: “It just doesn’t work. [Milito’s] games for Argentina seem to be marked by some kind of karma.”

What he did in a past life to deserve such a curse remains unclear. To pegamequemegusta’s tear-filled eyes, it seems far more plausible to put the rush of goals in the last few minutes down to the near-inevitable crumbling of Greek resistence. It was neither Palermo in the guise of Priam or Pastore as Hector that managed to drive the Greeks from the beachhead on which they were encamped. It was simply that they got tired, frustrated with their utter inability to control their own fate. Indeed, news coming through of a topsy-turvy game between South Korea and Nigeria most likely did nothing to quell their nerves. That’s about as romantic a tale as pegamequemegusta’s trip to the social security offices.

Milito gets bundled over once again

What these guys make of the game and the spin they put on it is important as for all the ground Maradona has made up over the last month or so in charge of the team, he remains very much a media man and, annoyingly, we seem to be seeing more and more of him on telly as the tournament goes on. Indeed, on Tuesday while supposedly out to check out the playing surface he gave an impromptu pre-match interview with his old buddy Niembro and chatted away to his daughters live on TV with many an ILOVEU etc. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but we worry at times about him losing his focus (today a series of interviews are coming out in various publications…).

Thankfully, however, midst all the praise, love and tinsel in today’s papers, there were some criticisms and suggestions for Maradona. Although he eventually ended up getting a 7/10 for his goal, Demichelis again came in for criticism. He did make one or two decisive interventions in the very rare Greek/Samaras sallies forward, but Roberto Perfumo and others make the point that he has no reason to be out of position in the first place considering the lack of pressure Argentina were under. Then at the start of the second half he once again stumbled under a dropping ball and lay prone on the turf as the Greek striker contrived to blast wide with most of the goal at his mercy. Adrián Piedrabuena writes in Tuesday’s Olé:

“The warts on this team’s face need to be acknowledged while there’s still time. Before breaking the deadlock, Demichelis had already committed a damning error, of the kind that can get you knocked out of a World Cup. Samuel’s return should force the manager into a rethink as to whether the number 2 [Demichelis] deserves to keep his place.”

The real bit of good news to come out of the match was the experiment we had discussed in advance – that of the two new full backs, Nico Otamendi and Clemente Rodriguez, at right and left full respectively. While pegamequemegusta is not at all convinced of the latter’s defensive prowess, he got forward with great frequency and gusto, looking dangerous as he did so. On the other side, Otamendi, too, showed uncharacteristic aggression in getting to the by-line and even sent in a cross or two. Although nominally a centre back, it would be quite excellent if he were to reconquer the right back spot from Jonás.

The match did confirm, more or less, that if the two weakest links in the back four – Jonás and Demichelis – were to be removed, there are a few more options, including Burdisso at centre back (‘would Heinze be better than Demichelis?’ we cry ourselves to sleep) and alternate full backs. There is some kind of Plan B in defence. And there is hope: maybe it was a means of letting him down gently, or just keeping his confidence up, but Maradona said after game that “in my humble opinion, Otamendi was man of the match.”

You see, love just keeps a-flowing in the church of el Diez. And the great thing about love in football is that it doesn’t matter if it’s real or not. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. And besides the niggling facts, Palermo’s story proves that miracles, on one level at least, are indeed possible.

Militonian Ellipses – Diego Milito Comes of Age

It’s a question on maturity, of experience… My career has built up gradually. That’s why I can say now that i’m in more or less the best form of my life. I don’t know if it’s the best, cause last year at Genoa was extraordinary [24 goals in 31 games, che]. Of course that didn’t get so much attention because I didn’t achieve the same level of success as this year or because that club wasn’t as big as Inter…

Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise

To scorn delights and live laborious days – John Mil(i)ton

Nice interview in Olé today with Diego Milito, a guy it would be an exaggeration to say pegamequemegusta, while having a lot of time for him, knows inside out. Sure we know the story of his career and its beginnings with our beloved Racing, his consistently banging in a goal a game for 10 years now whether at Genoa, Zaragoza or Inter, but to be honest we’ve never heard him talk.

It turns out he’s a decent enough old chinwagger. He has some interesting things to say about his record in la Selección, that Barca-Inter game, Mourinho and whether he is compatible with his illustrious strike partners in the Argentina squad. Strangely enough, though, there are no questions about his brother Gaby, one of the many guys left out of Maradona’s squad despite being at a big club and being well-regarded.

The interview was conducted by Hernán Claus and Carlos Carpaneto of Olé. You can read the original here. The translation, as always, is ours. It’s good-natured yet probing. Nonetheless, pegamequemegusta has never in its short painful life seen as many ellipses as in this piece. Could they be a metaphor for Diego Milito’s stop-start, intermittent international career? Read on to find out…

  • The World Cup is nearly upon us but people are still talking about how Inter played in the Nou Camp…
  • The criticism was unfair in my opinion as a lot of it had very little to back it up. It was a two-legged tie against the best team in the world and yet people only talk about one of the games, where we already had a two-goal lead. Pandev got injured in the warm-up so we had to change our formation; and on top of that we were a man down after 20 minutes… Those who saw Inter play all season know that we always went out to win every game – they know it was unfair criticism.
  • When did you feel you were going to the World Cup?
  • Honestly, when the list came out. You never know what’ll happen, whether you’re in or out…
  • But having such a great season didn’t give you reason for feeling confident?
  • Yeah, I was plenty confident but it always depends on what the manager wants, what he thinks right at that particular moment… that’s why I couldn’t be certain until the final list came out.
  • Did you prove Diego right or was it the other way around?
  • Haha, a bit of both. I think I did my part playing well for my club and then he obviously did his by putting his trust in me. There were a lot of strikers to choose from.
  • How come your best run of form has come when you’re nearly 31?
  • It’s a question of maturity, of experience… My career has built up gradually. That’s why I can say now that i’m in more or less the best form of my life. I don’t know if it’s the best, cause last year at Genoa was extraordinary [24 goals in 31 games, che]. Of course that didn’t get so much attention because I didn’t achieve the same level of success as this year or because that club wasn’t as big as Inter…
  • But it looks like this was the best year, no? For the first time you won loads and it was your first season in one of Europe’s biggest clubs. You replaced Ibrahimovic, you went pound for pound with Eto’o…
  • Yeah that’s what winning things is all about, taking over from world-famous players, and things really couldn’t have gone any better. Then you’ve got the good work I put in myself, the confidence the manager gives me…
  • Did you learn much from Mourinho?
  • You always learn something from every manager… Mourinho helped me a lot, made me more confident above anything else… As regards my style it’s not much changed from last year. What Mourinho does is he always keeps you on your toes, I mean he never lets you slack off and he always wants to keep on winning.
Football's most beloved blubbering geniuses
  • Is Maradona like Mourinho at all?
  • They’re both winners and have strong personalities, like all managers at this level.
  • Can you and Higuaín play together? On Olé‘s website the readers voted for you and el Pipita to play up front alongside Messi…
  • I reckon so, yeah, we’d have no problem playing with each other. Or with Carlitos, el Kun or Martín for that matter…. I can play with any of the strikers in the squad. Grand, this season at Inter I was the target man more or less, but during my career i’ve also played in a deeper role. Learning to play with other players is part of the job.
  • With Higuaín, then, how would you complement each other?
  • We’re both basically similar enough in many ways but quite different at the same time. We both move right along the line of attack, from one side to the other. Maybe i’m more of an in-the-box striker and he can make the difference outside.
  • Maradona said it would be tough to leave out Carlitos… What about leaving out Milito?
  • That’s more of a question for the manager, really. Frankly, i’m here to do my job… Obviously we all want to play and i’m going to fight for my place.

  • Do you feel that only now, after this great year with Inter and your goals in the Champion’s League final, you’re being recognised as a great player in Argentina?
  • Well that’s normal, you know, especially after winning those titles, for having scored two goals in a match everyone saw… I accept how it is and it doesn’t bother me…
  • How do you imagine your birthday will be this year, the 12th of June, the very day Argentina play Nigeria?
  • The 12th of June? Well… I can see myself celebrating Argentina’s victory. That would be the best present, yeah, without a doubt.
  • Even better if you’re playing…
  • Obviously you dream about playing, but all 23 of us want that. And what eleven actually take the field is Diego’s decision. It’s not a cliché: the important thing is that we win.
  • Why do you think you haven’t had a good run of games in the team so far?
  • It’s a tough question to answer; I don’t know what to tell you… It might be a question of taste, that the different managers have just preferred other players. That’s the way it is; I don’t get too caught up in it. And I know it’s hard being the manager of Argentina as there are a lot of great forwards – in our case, the best in Europe…
  • Many people might think you’ve had a lot of chances when, in truth, since 2006 you’ve only started 5 out of the 13 games you played in, and none of those were one after another…
  • The stats tell you I haven’t played many games in a row but i’m also very self-critical and there have been chances for important goals in games, even when i’ve only had 10 or 15 minutes. Anyway, now i’m just thinking of the future…
  • Might one of those important goals have been in the match against Brazil in Rosario?
  • That miss still gets to me, but in the same way as every other chance i’ve ever missed, and not just ’cause it was against Brazil. Well, maybe, yeah, it would’ve been an important goal for me and for the team… But besides being pissed off about it I try to stay cool as even this year in Italy, for example, i’ve missed two million chances… Us strikers miss chances…
  • But you score them, too. Could Milito work a Palermo-like miracle?
  • Hahaha, Ojalá. Let’s hope so. Let’s hope I can work one, too.

Yeah, a lovely guy, Milito, i’m sure you’ll agree. I’m sure if the irascible Ignacio Fusco had done the interview he would’ve repeatedly badgered him about why he and Samuel were called up and not Cambiasso or Zanetti. Pegamequemegusta doesn’t know why that is either, though, as temperamentally he seems quite similar.

Anyway, he’d start for us but but would he make your starting eleven?

Argentina 5-0 Canada – and Without Messi, carajo!

Argentina’s glorious procession over the strewn cadavers of CONCACAF contingents continues apace. Haiti, Panama, Jamaica and Costa Rica have all felt their wrath, all been put to the sword by rippling-muscled, rampaging Homebase squads and tonight was no exception as the blood bayed for from the celeste y blanco bedecked Monumental coursed warmly, thickly and sweetly. Canada was the heifer to be led a mysterious priest, lowing at the skies with all her silken flanks with garlands drest, to be slaughtered on the green altar of the Monumental. Argentina beat them up good and sent them packing, Argentina destroyed them, 5-0 carajo! Aguante Argentina la concha de tu madre!

More beasts than men
After they had accustomed themselves at Rome to the spectacles of the slaughter of animals, they proceeded to those of the slaughter of men, to the gladiators. – Of Cruelty

Argentina’s glorious procession over the strewn cadavers of CONCACAF contingents continues apace. Haiti, Panama, Jamaica and Costa Rica have all felt their wrath, all been put to the sword by rippling-muscled, rampaging Homebase squads and tonight was no exception as the blood bayed for from the celeste y blanco bedecked Monumental coursed warmly, thickly and sweetly. Canada was the heifer to be led a mysterious priest, lowing at the skies with all her silken flanks with garlands drest, to be slaughtered on the green altar of the Monumental. Argentina beat them up good and sent them packing, Argentina destroyed them, 5-0 carajo! Aguante Argentina la concha de tu madre!

Yes, the Bicentennial celebrations and the doling out of the tickets to activists sympathetic to la Presidenta meant that the atmosphere was positively anthropophagous. To this end the organisers’ decision to put out the soprano, and dinger, Katherine Jenkins to sing the Canadian national anthem was inspired: if not quite quell the masses’ murderous desire, she did at least manage to distract them long enough not to boo. And soon they were singing their little hearts out as pegamequemegusta heard the Argentine national anthem for, easily, the 40th time this weekend (an underrated one actually). This time the honours went to Ciro Martínez, who gave an unconventional rendition on the harmonicay:

The nation’s pulse, groggy now after three days of unexpurgated partying, throbbed back into life as the game got under way. Though Messi was out after a knock on the knee with Mascherano in training on Friday afternoon, Tevez, making a rare start, lined up with Higuaín, Di María, Pastore and Maxi Rodriguez. ‘Olé, Olé, Olé, Diegoooo, Diegooo’, the horded masses were singing down at the Obelisco on 9 de julio. Before long the missus and the mother-in-law were screaming with pleasure and castigating nonplussed dogs, cats and gringo dogs for not displaying the requisite enthusiasm that such an illustrious occasion demanded. “You don’t know what it’s like to be Argentine!” Quite.

Yet soon an anxious note crept into their warblings. More than 20 minutes had gone by and Argentina had not scored. Canchallena’s breathless minute by minute could only point to a corner each, good play in the box and Argentina’s ‘probing’ for an opener. The Canadians were up for it! Too up for it, in fact: there was a nasty two-footed foul on Tevez from behind which wouldn’t have looked out of place in an Argieball game. And when Pastore broke down the left wing and tore towards the box like the ‘thunder bolt’ Caniggia, Maradona went streaming down the touchline in a manner reminiscent of his seal-dance in the transplendent triumph over Peru to protest that Pastore had been pulled down in the box. The Monumental was alight and the referee booed roundly as a free kick was indicated. Yet the Argentines were a-festejando a minute later, however, as Maxi’s free flew passed the a goalkeeper whose flapping was convincing enough to get him a place if there ever is a re-run of a certain 1990s soup ad.

And the goals duly followed after that: on the break – Maradona’s tactics executed excellently! – Higuaín and Tevez broke before the latter slotted a pass through for Maxi to grab his second. Then Di María scored a lovely dink, described by canchallena as ‘unstoppable no matter who’s in goal’. The Canadian aggression, which had seen Maxi limp off in the first half,  was suffocated by a heroic Tevez tap in after some horrendous defending in the second half, and Aguero knocked on in about two seconds after coming on to make it five. San Martín Palermo came on after a stirring chorus from the Boca contingent in the crowd and perhaps should have done better with a back-post header. Here are the goals (techno free, amazingly, but with awful music, nonetheless):

But this game doesn’t warrant a match report, pegamequemegusta is interested to know whether there exists some kind of friendly etiquette. As always, canchallena were somewhat more sober but still felt the sub-headline warranted the fantastic verb ‘apabullar’, which suggests ‘to crush’. Olé‘s headline during the match was “Son unas fieras”, meaning that they’re ruthless, bloodthirsty beasts. Yet when a vastly superior team, which has a decent chance of even winning the World Cup, plays a send-off friendly, shouldn’t it be a joyous occasion or at least have a little class? Is the Bicentennial the excuse for excessive nationalist pride? Or precisely because one is celebrating the ‘birth’ of a nation (it’s not, either, no more than the formation of the first Dáil was the decisive step in Irish independence) is an even greater level of decorum required? Pegamequemegusta was reading somewhere or other the other day about whether people liked or were annoyed by the gooooooooooooooooooooooool exclamations of commentators in South America, Spain, Italy, etc. One thing we can surely agree on is that a friendly like this is not the place for it. It’s lame, small-minded and witless. Sure there were smiles late on, but mainly they had to do with triumphing over the lousy canucks.

We learned nothing today. Maradona had said he didn’t want to play the match but he was obliged by the AFA’s debt with the Presidency to take part in the Bicentennial celebrations, as pegamequemegusta reported on Saturday. Besides friendly etiquette, we’re not sure, however, how useful pre-World Cup friendlies are. What did England learn today? And Portugal? Besides everything else that happened in Saipan, what did Ireland’s matches against those cracker teams in Japan really matter?

Still, it’s intriguing that Paraguay, Greece, North Korea, etc. are all playing three and four matches before the World Cup. Is it just because their football associations are flogging them for cash while they can? Or will they reap the benefits of match practice in a short space of time when the real games come around? Argentina’s other friendly, which was supposed to be in Dubai against unknown opposition, was cancelled in mysterious circumstances. Yet for reasons we all know, this team is only barely forming. Games would surely have done it the world of good. Today’s game, bicentennial or no, was a joke. It wasn’t even a send-off for football fans, but a grand political gesture from the president to her slavish followers.

Still, as gestures go, this anthem-filled super weekend has been pretty impressive. Tonight after the match the enormous Teatro Colón down on 9 de julio in ‘downtown’ Buenos Aires was reopened after refurbishment for the first time since October 2006.  Proof at just the right time that Argentina does indeed have class:

coronados de gloria vivamos
o juremos con gloria morir

For my part I have never been able to see, without displeasure, an innocent and defenseless animal, from whom we receive no offense or harm, pursued and slaughtered . . . Plato, in his picture of the golden age under Saturn, reckons, among the chief advantages that a man then had, his communication with beasts, of whom, inquiring and informing himself, he knew the true qualities and differences of them all, by which he acquired a very perfect intelligence and prudence, and led his life more happily than we could do. Need we a better proof to condemn human imprudence in the concern of beasts? – An Apology of Raymond Sebond

After they had accustomed themselves at Rome to the spectacles of the slaughter of animals, they proceeded to those of the slaughter of men, to the gladiators. – Of Cruelty