A few of you readers have been screaming for more and well… here it is! We start our look at group B with Argentina.
• Nickname: Albicelestes (white and blue sky) (is Pumas only the rugby team?)
• Colors: White and light blue
• FIFA Ranking: 7
• How They Got Here: Finished fourth in South American qualifying, with six losses and more controversy than Justin Beiber.
• World Cup Pedigree: 14 World Cups, winners (’78 as hosts and ’86), runners-up (’30, ’90), quarterfinals (’66, ’98, ’06).
So much of the talk around Argentina focuses on their manager Diego Maradona. One of the greatest players to ever tie up the laces and grace the World Cup arena is now at the helm for his beloved country, but not before he smashed a whole bunch of drugs and changed body shapes more times than Jenny Craig. The Argy Bargies are one of the most talented sides in the comp and bring a whole lotta samba to South Africa. Expectations are typically high, however, and the pressure to perform is immense. The undisputed best player in the world, Lionel Messi, could be the hero, but rest assured, the cameras will be on Maradona just as much. Will his one man band take some of the focus off his team and help them to win, or completely backfire and leave them unstructured and outplayed?
Where to begin? Maradona should have been the greatest player in history. Have a sneak peak at this: (yes it’s true that’s really him!)
But he was the architect of his own undoing. After leading Argentina to a glorious (and controversial) victory in 1986, he was suspended from football for 15 months in 1991 and booted out of the ’94 World Cup after testing positive for ephedrine. (big muscles, small pipi) He then ate one too many crab cake, and ballooned to an enormous size. Many even suspected he was on the verge of death early last decade. He announced in 2007 that he had quit drinking and using drugs and the cult figure took over as manager of Argentina in 2008. The team has been, to say the least, unspectacular. They lost six times in qualifying, including a 6-1 drubbing in Bolivia. He used 78 players in qualifying, never using the same lineup twice. It must be near impossible for Diego to run a squad like this, or even remember their names, and the majority of the football world wish that he’d just piss off and leave it to someone else. Noted play-makers like Juan Riquelme decided to retire rather than play for Diego. It’s unsure whether world-class midfielder Esteban Cambiasso will even make the final World Cup roster due to his personal differences with the gaffer. Maradona’s time in the job so far will probably be best remembered for his antics when they qualified that included several (sic) graceful swan dives and a whole lot of belly wobbling that made the headlines everywhere.
Thousands upon thousands of words have been heaped upon the floppy-haired wizard. I won’t spill any more. After all, I think Ray Hudson said it best when he said: “What he is, is like something out of Greek mythology, man. A little short-legged bull, Lionel Messi, covered with eyes.” Or “Messi is to his team what M&Ms are to E.T.” Ray Hudson is a remarkable man. A global treasure. If anyone can understand either of these quotes then let me know…
Javier Mascherano (midfielder, Liverpool) is a tireless worker and excellent distributor who’s had a bit of an off season (like most of Liverpool) in the Premiership. He’s an experienced lad who has a certain aura around him that can only help the South American’s cause. Carlos Tevez (forward, Manchester City) is a bulldog with the ball and an absolute terror with it in the box. He’s scored 23 times with Manchester City and showed that he is pure class. Over the last season, he’s revolutionised forward play, showing a willingness to track back and pressure the opposition from the front. He seems to always strive for that extra little bit of effort and could be the inspirational leader that they need. Javier Zanetti (defender, Inter Milan) is a veteran of two World Cups (’98 and ’02) but was controversially left out of the ’06 team. He’s old, and their whole defence is old, but there’s no substitute for experience and Zanetti has bucketloads of the stuff. Esteban Cambiasso (midfielder, Inter Milan) is an interesting addition in this section. Failing to make the squad over and over, Cambiasso may have to leave his legacy as it stands and watch the action in South Africa from the comfort of his lounge room. The bald headed holding midfielder will forever be remembered for scoring that goal that left many a supporter gasping for air after 23 passes. In passthesugar’s humble opinion the likes of Veron should be behind Cambiasso in the pecking order.
GET YOURSELF LABELLED AS “THE HOTTEST PROPERTY”
Sergio “Kun” Aguero (forward, Atletico Madrid) and Gonzalo Higuain (forward, Real Madrid). Maradona will probably not, unfortunately, find room for both these budding stars in the starting lineup (or even one of them) as they face the stiffest competition for a forward place of any of the teams in South Africa. The Madrid duo will hopefully push Maradona’s hand into playing a 4-3-3 that is suited to this particular team if ever there was one. Last time out the likes of Messi rose to prominence and particularly for Aguero a strong showing could see a move to a big, big European club. These guys will mean that Argentina won’t have a problem scoring goals.
THE LIKELY VILLAIN
Absolutely no one will be surprised if Argentina wins the entire tournament. On the other hand, no one will be surprised if Argentina loses in the second round (or, gasp, the group stage). Maradona is that bad of a manager.
The team will play a 4-4-2 with Tevez and Messi up front and two defensive midfielders. Diego seems to live vicariously through Messi, as he persists to play the Barcelona star in a similar role to that which he used to fill. Messi is given free reign to float across the attacking third to play the killer ball or make the incisive run that he’s capable of. Alongside Tevez, however, and without anyone playing a midfield distributor role that Messi plays in front of at Barcelona, the formation doesn’t really seem to be a perfect fit. The Argentinians would be better off with a 4-1-2-1-2 or a straight 4-3-3 if Diego can’t do the maths.
IT’S SORTA LIKE…
Any Jackie Chan movie
Jackie Chan and Diego Maradona are very similar (without the drug part for Chan). Think about it. Both men are amongst the most remarkable specimens in their field (Chan at martial arts, Maradona at dribbling), but both make questionable decisions (Chan making “Shanghai Noon” and Maradona’s cocaine phase). Though, to be fair. Saying that Maradona makes questionable decisions is like saying a hurricane is just an average thunderstorm with a little bit of wind and water. They also tend to be afterthoughts in conversations about the greatest ever because for much of their working life they have been considered sort of a joke. While Jet Li was making serious movies, Chan was doing “The Legend of Drunken Master.” While Pele was selling the game to the entire world, Maradona was getting tattoos of Che on his arm. Having said all of that… most Jackie Chan movies (like “Super Cop” and “Drunken Master”) are awesome. Just like most of the time Maradona touched the ball on the field.
This is what the Argentineans do best: a 23-touch goal that’s just spectacular.
The country has one psychologist/psychiatrist per 100 residents.
THE FAIRYTALE SCRIPT
The Argentinian’s fairytale script could only lead to lifting the cup. Who cares about that hard draw everyone’s talking about, Messi and his men sweep their opposition aside with a flurry of passing and wonder goals. The whole thing will end with more swan dives from Diego and just like in ’86, Maradona will be carried from the field after “masterminding” their World Cup winning tactics. In a seemingly eerie resemblance, Messi will show his true class and subsequently begin to take drugs and turn into a Maradona-esque enigma. To cap it all off, Maradona announces the beginning of his campaign to become Argentina’s president while still on the winner’s podium (knocking out the unaware Sepp Blatter in the process). Obviously, he wins, and proves to be a worse ruler than Chavez.
When I looked at the odds, I simply couldn’t believe that Argentina were so far down the favourites list. Sure, there manager is a total nut-job, but managers of national teams are renowned for being figure heads more than anything else. How much can a manager do in a month anyway? (Watch Maradona make me eat my words with several drunken and nude rampages through Soweto) No team in international football can boast such an array of attacking weapons. They are all proven goal scorers. It seems, however, that every team we’ve previewed so far has a weak defence. Hopefully that’ll lead to a tournament full of goals! For Argentina to really give the tournament a shake up, Messi will have to fire as he does for Barcelona. So far, he’s gone missing for his country, but if he turns it on, then he’ll be able to take care of many of their group opponents by himself.
Sheer attacking brilliance + the best player in the world + an easy group – troublesome defence – joke of a manager – having to face Spain before the finals = A heart wrenching quarter final exit at the hands of the fancied Spaniards. It all seems very cruel, as Diego has finally got his act together. This will be the game of the tournament have no doubts.