The general consensus in the footballing world at the moment is that Germany and Argentina have been the teams which have impressed so far at the World Cup. Germany did it against a rather poor Australian outfit, and it could have easily been a repeat of their 2002 opening encounter against Saudi Arabia. Argentina first beat a respectable Nigerian side 1-0, a team that lacks a bit of quality, but to be fair to the South American’s it was just one of those days where the ball wasn’t finding the back of the net. Then last night they played some breathtaking football, to brush aside Asia’s best footballing nation in South Korea. Messi and Tevez ran the show, and Gonzalo Higuain continued on his brilliant goalscoring form which we saw throughout the La Liga season. But the real question is, are Argentina good enough to win the World Cup?
Rewind back to the 2006 World Cup, and Argentina were in the “group of death”. They strolled passed Ivory Coast and then produced one of the better international performances in recent times, beating Serbia & Montenegro 6-0. Qualifying with ease, pundits around the word lauded over the Argentinians, putting them down as the team to beat. Then came the round of 16, and an unimpressive 2-1 extra-time victory over Mexico. In the quarter-finals, Argentina lost to the German’s (typically) on penalties. Pekerman came under intense criticism over his decision to use Lionel Messi as a substitute throughout the tournament, as well as the decision to start Cambiasso on the bench in the quarter-finals. But the overall story of Argentina’s tournament was their breathtaking form in the group stages, in contrast to their rather flat performances in the knockout rounds. One would hope this will not be the case this time round.
This World Cup we see a fairly different side though. Mascherano and Heinze are the only two players who regained their spots in the starting XI from the last World Cup. Messi, Tevez, Higuain and Di Maria are some of the most exciting players at the tournament, and they will be the men who can lead Argentina to World Cup glory. Sadly, Gutierrez still finds himself in the team; even more worryingly at right-back. Maradona as a matter of fact cannot fathom an Argentine team without Jonas: “Mascherano, Messi, Jonás and eight more”. Argentina once again also have Jewish representation in their squad – Walter Samuel, who I have been led to believe is a non-practicing Jew. Let’s hope that hamstring injury won’t rule him out the the rest of the tournament.
Last but not forgotten is Diego Maradona. He may not be a tactical genius, but he certainly seems to be a motivational phenomenon. He seems to instil confidence into every player in his team. They all look very comfortable on the ball, and what is very important is that they have been encouraged to express themselves with the ball at their feet. Maradona stuck with Higuain after his assortment of misses against Nigeria, and as we all know, it paid off massively. What Maradona has done brilliantly, is give Messi the license the roam. Messi has been everywhere, and there is no doubt Maradona knows where to start the man, who’s playing style is almost identical to the infamous gaffer. Most importantly, the Argentinian squad all love Diego to bits. They trust him and they respect him, something which cannot be said for the French camp.
While we have to wait and see whether or not Argentina’s brilliant performances will carry through the knockout stages, we can certainly say we have been greatly entertained by Maradona’s men (And Maradona himself, he just can’t help himself when the ball rolls up to him!). Unlike Michael Cockerill (PTS’s favourite journalist!), I am not sensationally claiming that Argentina are the best thing since sliced bread, but with Lionel Messi, and his incredible supporting act, who knows what this team can achieve?