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Posts Tagged ‘Argentina

Chronicles of a death foretold

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Mueller ensures that Maradona will remember him this time

Somewhere between the 4-1 mauling of South Korea and the inimitable press conferences, you would have been forgiven for thinking that Diego Armando Maradona was a man hurtling irrefutably towards his destiny.

The fortunes of Maradona and the World Cup have been inexorably linked ever since that majestic day in 1986 when he claimed both the ‘Hand of God’ and the greatest World Cup goal ever scored. Crucially though, that was Maradona the player. This, however, is Maradona the coach. So, twenty-four years from the day that a stocky, curly haired young man slalomed his way into enduring memory, a slightly graying 49-year old exited the World Cup in ignominy.

For many, a deity had fallen.

But the truth is that this was always on the cards. Even in their most comprehensive wins, even in all their pretty patterns and even in all that arrogant back-talk there was always the lingering feeling that this Argentina side, really was not up to scratch.

Not that they lacked players in that department. Any side that can leave a Champions League winning goalscorer in Diego Milito on the bench, boasts enough talents to win a trophy. But for every Milito, there was also a Burdisso. And there was really no-one to paper over those cracks.

Lionel Messi is easily the best player in the world. But as the World Cup progressed the Barcelona man increasingly started to develop into a sort of talismanic figure for Argentina fans. Any questions about the suitability of the squad were met with the fact that they possessed the best player in the world.

But at the end, football is a team game, and as Ossie Ardiles so eloquently put it, ’11 individuals cannot better 1 team.’ Which is exactly what happened in the quarterfinal.

The Germans played like a team, each player perfectly complimenting the other. Their movement was impeccable, intelligent and piercing. Every move was worked, reworked and each player knew what the other was supposed to do. Bastian Schweinsteiger, in particular, was impeccable; his passing, distribution and control of the pace of the game completely overwhelming the Argentina midfield.

Argentina were set-up all wrong. Messi playing way too far from goal and often dropping into midfield and even beyond to pick up the ball.  It was something the Germans were happy to let him do, since when he faced goal he often saw two banks of four infront of him. And even Messi cannot beat them all. The space he so successfully occupies for Barcelona was filled by Carlos Tevez and Maradona’s favorite player was infuriatingly frustrating. All hustle and bustle, but zero output.  

Maradona did not go quietly

The exact opposite of Thomas Mueller.  The Bayern Munich player’s rise to prominence has been nothing short of astronomical. Just last year he was playing in front of a few hundred spectators in the German third division. In March, Maradona seemingly missed his entire 67 minute debut and thought of him as a ball-boy. On Saturday, he played the integral role in kicking the Albiceleste out of the World Cup. He scored the opening goal and provided a spectacular lay-off for Lukas Podolski to square for Miroslav Klose’s opening goal.

Klose bagged another as the Germans ripped the Argentina defence to shreds near the end and his emphatic volley took him to fourteen goals in the World Cup, one short of Ronaldo’s fifteen. With two more definitive games, who will bet against him?

This was supposed to be the match of the tournament. The pseudo-final. But Germany turned it into a veritable mismatch and at the end, Maradona’s facial expression was adequate clue as to the spectacularly depleting fortunes of his squad.

Maradona is crass, undignified and a sore loser, or, charismatic, straight-up and inimitable, depending on who you believe. The truth as always is somewhere in the middle. But he is one of football’s greatest characters. We can’t live with him, but we can’t live without him.

What he is not, is a great manager. It is most likely that Saturday was the end of the Maradona’s reign as Argentina boss. And for that Argentina should be thankful. This group of players is far too talented to go to waste under the tutelage of a man such as Maradona. His appointment itself reeked of irrationality and in the end one hopes that the Argentina federation will learn that nothing, not even aspirations of destiny, beats logic. In the end, Maradona’s greatest achievement as a manager was to convince the watching world that his team could win the World Cup.

For Germany though, the past as ever, holds little currency.  It was a magnificent performance but the Germans have a famous saying ‘nach dem spiel ist vor dem spiel.’ Roughly translated it equals to ‘after the game is before the game.’

Sepp Herberger’s famous mantra, should drive them on.

The best team in the world is next. But then so it was in 1954 as well. And look how that turned out.

Written by quazi zulquarnain

July 4, 2010 at 10:19 am

Technology, Tevez and Thomas Mueller

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The debate over video technology exploded into full bloom on Sunday as both Argentina and Germany advanced in controversial circumstances to set up a mouth-watering quarterfinal clash for next Saturday.

For Argentina, Carlos Tevez headed in a Lionel Messi pass when he was almost three yards offside, while England’s denial of clear goal from a Frank Lampard volley was even more damning. It is quite inexplicable why FIFA continues to insist on living in the Stone Age when technology to make such a decision is readily available to them.  Sepp Blatter’s assurance that, it will slow down the game holds little weight, but even if it does, what is the excuse for not having a referee behind the goal? UEFA’s successful experiment in the Europa League with two extra men behind the goal would have prevented both incidents yesterday. And in games of such magnitude as yesterday, it is impossible to see FIFA’s logic and rationale.

But decisions aside, England will have little to complain about. A team packed full of Premier League stars were dismantled piece by piece by a German side full of youthful vigour and swift interplay.

England’s first mistake was to play a 4-4-2, which meant that Germany playing their usual 4-2-3-1 automatically had a man up in midfield. And crucially for England, that man was often Mesut Oezil. The German playmaker is a captivating youngster, full of intelligent movement and imaginative passing. Given room to exploit, he did not disappoint, consistently proving the thorn in the English side. But he was still not the best German on show.

That honour belonged to Thomas Mueller. The Bayern Munich talent has had a meteoric rise to fame. Just last season he was playing in the lower echelons of the German third division. And on Sunday night his two goals knocked England out of the World Cup. Stratospheric.

Mueller was Germany's spark

Alongside Mueller and Oezil, Bastian Schweinsteiger also turned in an imperious display and Germany completely played England off the park in a vintage performance. The only time England had their foot in the game was for 10 minutes before the end of the first half, and to their credit they might have pulled themselves level at that time, had it not been for the dubious linesman call.

At the end though, despite the could haves, most in England were united in their belief, that they had been thoroughly outplayed.  Inquests for Fabio Capello are forthcoming, after a listless England showing devoid of any cohesion.

Tevez's bomb

In the day’s last game, Carlos Tevez’s illegitimate goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of Mexico who then proceeded to gift the Argetineans a goal with a shocking error by Ricardo Osorio.

To their credit, Mexico kept Lionel Messi well in check, but this Argentina side is packed with talent and when Carlos Tevez bombed in his second, there was little doubt as to the winner despite Manchester United recruit Javi Martinez’s late strike.

Argentina though, did not play as well as they had in their last two games and a last eight clash with Germany now gives them a chance to avenge the defeat at the same phase four years ago.

It will be a fascinating clash as both sides are packed with attacking talent but look somewhat suspect in defence, Germany slightly more so than Argentina. Goals are likely to be on the menu; which probably means it will end an insipid draw.

Written by quazi zulquarnain

June 28, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Putting myths to bed

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Brazil's defensive shield

YOU have heard it all before. The Brazilians play joga bonito, more samba dance than football; the Italians are defensively solid, cateneccio reigns supreme; the Dutch are cavalier, they play with élan and imagination; the Germans are mechanistic and clinical, they take every chance that comes their way. African teams are tactically naïve, and their goalkeepers are very poor. And Asia? People in this part of the world are small hence they fail to replicate the strength of European and African sides. And I nearly forgot the Americans, but of course, they are not interested in soccer. So why bother?

Every four years the World Cup swings into town and brings with it unwanted hacks who inundate you with clichés and stereotypes. But then again, it is the World Cup and so everyone is interested and wants to sound relevant. Fair enough. Hence, even the most ignorant football follower will spew to you his favourite hyperbolic cliché, and you have to be man enough to take it. Tough, but you can handle it. What you can’t is generally how people; and even intelligent, self-respecting, open-minded individuals, are reluctant to shed their prejudices and re-work their stereotypes. Myths are seemingly imbedded into our psyche, to the extent that no amount of convincing with cold hard facts will set it straight.

Take the case of Argentina. A recent poll at our very own The Daily Star website showcased that the Albiceleste were the most popular team in the country. (Chances are if you are Bangladeshi, you support either of Brazil or Argentina). That is reasonable since, Diego Maradona exploded into the world scene at about the same time that the mass population had access to television in Bangladesh. What is not understandable, however, is the most popular myth doing the rounds which states that Argentina has always been an attacking, attractive side, loaded with creative and talented players. While the current side is full of players in the Lionel Messi mould, history begs to differ about past Argentine teams seemingly loaded with talented stars.

Heinze, certainly not cultured

On the contrary, Argentina have always been a tough-tackling, tactically organised side, boasting more of players like Gabriel Heinze than Lionel Messi. In fact, the Argentina side of Italia 90 was so universally despised for their thuggish style of play, that the popular vote in the final fell to the Germans! They nearly had more men sent-off than goals scored in their run to the final, and their play was particularly so negative that FIFA held it up as an example of being forced into incorporating the back-pass rule! But try telling this to a fan.

And on the topic of Germans, they are supposed to be ruthlessly efficient and clinical, taking the few chances that come their way. Statistics will tell you otherwise. Since 1966, the Germans have created more scoring chances in the World Cup than any other team. Yes any, Argentina included. So consequently, holding stereotypes intact, they should be the highest scorers?

But no, that honour belongs to Brazil, who should then automatically be the side who play the most attractive football, right? Wrong. The truth is Brazil has probably not had a side boasting of creative dribblers since 1982. In their last 11 World Cup games, the Brazilians have kept seven clean sheets. In 1994, the tough tackling duo of Dunga and Thiago Silva precipitated their triumph, and in 2002, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho succeeded on the basis of a rock-solid defence led by Lucio, Edmilson and Gilberto Silva. The truth is, the last time the Brazilians tried to recreate joga bonito, was in 2006 and we all know how that ended.

And I can go on.

The Dutch are supposed to be cavalier and enterprising but defensively suspect. Yet, they had the best defensive record of all sides qualifying for the World Cup and in 23 of their last 24 World Cup games, they have never scored more than twice. On to African teams who are supposedly tactically naïve, yet Ghana are 1-0 specialists and kept out a Serbia side who had finished above France in qualifying. And for those who believe that African goalkeepers can’t field a ball, I give you Victor Enyeama, who almost single-handedly kept Lionel Messi out.

If you are looking for goalkeeping gaffe’s England is your answer, although they are traditionally known to have safe hands manning the post. The Asian’s are supposedly small and frail, but both Japan and South Korea garnered victory over traditionally supposedly physically stronger teams in Cameroon and Greece, who by the way might be European champions but have never won a game in the World Cup.

Personally, I understand stereotypes. People crave reason, and “stereotyping” something helps them make better sense of the world. It’s always easier if someone or the other is supposed to fulfill a specific function and does exactly that. But in doing that if you tell me that England is stronger at the back since Fabio Capello took over, I will tell you that they kept more clean sheets under Steve Mclaren than they did under the Italian. Strange, but true.

In the end, it is all gloriously uncertain, which is just how it should be. Is that not why we watch sports?

But I know at least one person agrees with me.

After labouring to a somewhat fortuitous 2-0 win over Denmark in their first game, the Netherlands midfielder Rafael van der Vaart, made an interesting comment: “We played like the Germans,” he said, a twinkle in his eye, “and they played like us.”

Times a changing.

Written by quazi zulquarnain

June 23, 2010 at 7:13 am