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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