Was it ever really in doubt that the two time World Cup winners were coming to South Africa? The answer is yes, towards the end of Argentina’s qualifying campaign they came within one game of missing out on their first World Cup since Mexico 1970. In the end an away 1-0 win over their neighbours Uruguay booked the Albicelestes’ trip to Africa. As the nation breathed a collective sigh of relief coach Diego Maradona let out an expletive laden tirade on anyone who ever doubted his powers.
Argentina’s troubled qualifying campaign started a long time before El Diego took over. Back in October 2007 Alfio Basile was in charge as Argentina took their first step on the road to South Africa. The 2-0 win over Chile with both goals from Bandarq Online Terbaik Juan Roman Riquelme seemed to suggest that it would be plain sailing for Argentina to book their seat at the top table of world football. In fact they won their first three qualifiers under Basile but things turned sour with just one win in the following seven CONMEBOL qualifiers.
With qualification slipping out of their hands the Argentine public called for a change and Diego Maradona made himself available for the post. El Diez won his first competitive game with a comprehensive 4-0 win over Venezuela but followed it up with an embarrassing 6-1 defeat away to Bolivia. The form in qualifiers remained patchy but a single goal from Mario Bolatti eventually stamped their World Cup ticket in Uruguay’s Centenario Stadium.
Argentine could not have hoped for a kinder draw as they prepare to play Nigeria, South Korea and Greece in Group B. The trouble for the Albicelestes is that their first round opponents at the World Cup are the only certainties for the squad ahead of the tournament.
Time is ticking for Diego Maradona not only to decide on his final squad but also his preferred system. Over 70 players have represented Argentina during the last two years and the gaffer has experiment with a number of different shapes. We’ve seen the whole gambit of five man defences, six man midfields and four pronged attacks during Diego’s time in charge.
It seems likely that Maradona will field a fresh faced keeper behind a backline full of aging legs in South Africa. Hardly the ideal defence for a good run in the tournament but the trademark of Argentine play has always been flair in the final third and again they have no shortage in that department. They have the current holder of the Ballon d’Or in Lionel Messi and a lot will be expected of the mercurial talent at the World Cup. He has rarely been at his best in the blue and white of Argentina but his commitment to the cause cannot be faulted after he jetted home for every single one of Argentina’s World Cup qualifiers. Further firepower is available in the shape of Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Diego Milito, Carlitos Tevez and a host of others.
One problem which has to be solved is the supply line to these players capable of turning a game with a single moment of magic. A very public falling out with Riquelme left Maradona with a very challenging question to answer but it turned out the solution was under his nose the whole time.
Key Player: Juan Sebastián Verón
Juan Sebastián Verón is playing his football like a man possessed at the moment and at time of writing his performances for his home town club Estudiantes de La Plata have booked them a place in the final of the Club World Cup against Barcelona.
After playing every minute of Argentina’s 1998 World Cup campaign he was handed the captaincy in 2002. The midfielder was then made the scapegoat by the whole country for the nation’s dismal showing in the Far East.
After failing to make the squad for the 2006 World Cup it looked as though the player’s international career had come to a premature end. However he defied the boo-boys to put in a stearling performance against Brazil in the 2010 World Cup qualifier and despite his team falling to a 3-1 defeat he left the pitch with the fans cheering his name.
Verón will be the go-to man in Argentina’s World Cup team as he links midfield and attack and dictates the side’s play in the final third. If he shows the kind of form he producing for Estudiantes then it looks like Maradona may not be as tactically naive as his current record suggests.
One To Watch: Jesús Dátolo
When Jesús Dátolo is on the pitch expect the unexpected as the left winger has a tendency to produce something out of nothing. After a successful time with Boca Juniors the player was snapped up by Napoli and although he is currently having a less than spectacular season he is still held in very high regard in his homeland.
He may have only bagged once for Napoli this season but he has already found the net twice for Argentina in just three appearances. His first came within 20 seconds of his debut against Russia and his second was a 30 yard thunderbolt against Brazil.
A disappointing team performance from Argentina as a whole saw him withdrawn at half-time against Paraguay in his third appearance for the Albicelestes. However Maradona keeps a keen eye on Napoli and a strong second half of the season will see Dátolo cement his place as Diego’s surprise package.
Coach: Diego Maradona
Diego Armando Maradona answered his country’s call in their hour of need to take the reins of the national team and steer them towards the 2010 World Cup finals. There are still many in Argentina who feel he may not be up to the job but nobody who would be willing to tell him to his face.
Maradona has already written his own story at the World Cup and if the previous chapters are anything to go by then this latest instalment promises intrigue at the very least.
After making his debut for Argentina aged 16 in 1977 he was overlooked for his nation’s World Cup winning squad of the following year. He was a fully established international by the time Spain 82 rolled around but his tournament ended in disgrace after he was sent off for violent conduct against Brazil as Argentina crashed out.
During Mexico 86 he produced some of the finest individuals displays the World Cup has ever seen as he captained his country to triumph. Four years later he broke the hearts of his adoring public in Italy as he knocked out the host nation with a penalty in Naples. Argentina were eventually beaten by West Germany in a drab final which saw little magic from Maradona.
Maradona played his last World Cup in the USA and after two games he was sent home after failing a drugs test. It is fair to say that when Maradona heads to a World Cup he generally makes something happen.
Recent Previous Tournaments
France 1998: Quarter-finals
South Korea/Japan 2002: 1st Round
Germany 2006: Quarter-finals
Navigating their way out of Group B should not present too many difficulties for the Argentines and having their first game nice and early will benefit them a great deal. History shows us that to be drawn in one of the first groups is a great advantage as you get your first round games out of the way nice and early and have plenty of time to rest ahead of the knock-out rounds.
After the group stage Argentina’s luck appears to run dry. It is a lottery who they will face in the second round but South Africa, France, Mexico and Uruguay all present a different set of challenges. If they make it Argentina look set to face Germany in the quarter-finals and Brazil in the semi-finals.
As much as I would like to see the Argentines go all the way I just cannot see them clearing these back-to-back hurdles which have proven their downfall so many times in the past.