FIFA 2010 World Cup: The Argentine Dream Collapses Against Germany
If there's one thing that the Germans have proven throughout their history, it's that there are no short-cuts to success. Success, more than just mere passion, is the final result of much hard work, planning, organization, and forethought.
It comes as no surprise then that the Argentine Football Association—sorely lacking in each of these key elements —has failed so terribly , not only on the pitch today, but all throughout these last four years since the 2006 World Cup.
Where their has been a void of good planning and organization, Argentina's hopes have fallen to superstition, and believing that the mere presence of Diego Maradona on the sideline or of Lionel Messi on the pitch, could win out over order and intelligence.
But in football, as in life, success generally tends to come by the hand of organization and hard work, and not by mystique, absurd rituals, history, or mere talent.
It's time for an acknowledgment of the facts: Of a truth, Argentina has played poorly all throughout this tournament. The first-round triumphs were largely a result of the exaggerated respect bestowed on Argentina by their rivals; but the early successes turned out to be the key to Maradona's downfall.
Blinded by the victories of the first round, he repeated many of the same mistakes that were committed throughout the World Cup qualifiers; he threw all caution and intelligence to the wind, and served up his team tactically for an unforgettable thrashing.
Those of us who made a sincere analysis of the match against Mexico had understood that this Argentine team had serious deficiencies. Those who were bold enough to look beyond Maradona's enchantment understood that if similar tactics were repeated against Germany, the outcome could be fatal.
Today all those fears were confirmed, and this dream or illusion has come crashing down spectacularly.
Perhaps it's time that the Argentine Football Association now take a good hard look at itself and at how it has mismanaged this national teams' affairs. The road to this stage has been riddled with poor decisions, corruption, and internal strife, and this 4-0 is nothing but a continuation of the chaos.
The A.F.A. knew that Maradona was tactically incompetent, and yet they made a huge error of judgment by assuming that this could be solved by putting in Bilardo as "tactical adviser." Maradona, predictably enough, never once heeded Bilardo, or took his opinions into account.
So, for once, let us hope that this dismal failure will turn into the start of something new; a long-term project with good planning, openness and transparency, unselfishness and dedication to Argentine football. This is a country that produces the most brilliant players on the planet, but sadly it has also proven to be the nation with the most wasteful of managements.
Loss of authority, and internal strife
The international media have been keen on extolling the virtues of Maradona as a group leader, and had stressed that there was an enormous amount of belief and confidence coming out of the Argentine camp.
But the very fragile position of authority that Maradona achieved, built almost entirely on his own personal charm, had already begun to fray before the quarterfinal match against Germany.
Stories are now emerging of player discontent at the decisions made by Maradona. Milito, Samuel, Verón and J. Gutiérrez were possibly some of the main culprits.
Carlos Tévez is also said to have been angered by the fact that the entire squad celebrated Messi's birthday, but overlooked Javier Pastore's. Tévez was also quite visibly angered when Maradona subbed him towards the end of the match against Mexico.
Now, regardless of whether or not these rumors are true, it does seem quite clear that Maradona's "magic" had begun to fade, and his squad's respect for him — as their manager — was wearing thin.
A Midfield Nightmare
The story of this tactical debacle has its genesis in something that occurred throughout the weeks prior to the World Cup. Diego Maradona, once convinced of playing with a 4-4-2 formation, changed his mind after becoming enamored with the personality and good form of Carlos Tévez.
The decision to have Carlos Tévez play at any cost meant that Maradona had to shuffle his formation, to make space for that inclusion.
Unfortunately, football tactics are like a short blanket; if you cover your head, you're going to uncover your feet. The inclusion of a third forward meant denuding either midfield or defense.
However, given the relative ease with which Argentina overcame its first rivals, this improvised 4-3-3 began to "pay off," and thus cemented and installed itself as the winning formula.
As a result, against both Mexico and Germany, the Argentine midfield became the rival's play-ground, where an unprotected and sorely outnumbered Mascherano, and a Di María and Maxi. Rodríguez more devoted to attack than defense, did little to break up play at midfield.
Against Germany the match was lost almost from the get-go; the Germans took control of the midfield and forced Argentina to defend too close to its own goal.
And although Argentina did manage to increase their control, as Messi dropped further back and Di María switched to the right flank, each time Germany managed to piece together a play, Argentina's weaknesses became painfully evident.
Lack of collective play in attack
There's an intrinsic flaw in expecting forwards to do the work of mid-fielders; although they're capable of passing the ball around when they have to, it's not their nature. An attacker goes forward. Whether it's with power, speed, or technical abilities, his aim is to look for the shot on goal.
There's a reason why creative mid-fielders are essential; it's because goals don't just happen, they're constructed. Especially when you're facing a well organized defense.
If forwards are to carry out the task of "constructing play," their must be chemistry and team play between them. Both of these were desperately lacking against Germany.
Even mid-fielders Di María and Rodríguez had immense difficulties linking up with their teammates.
Thus, Argentina proved to be a collection of brilliant players, but not a strong collective unit. And frankly, I don't know whether we should have expected much else from a team that has been slapped together so recently, by a manager with so little experience.
Defensive mishaps and a failed experiment at right-back
While Argentina's defense undoubtedly suffered the effects of a weakened midfield, they also showed a lack of organization and solidity all throughout this World Cup, which could very well have been the result of a lack of competitive practice. So, was it really a good decision to not play any competitive friendly matches prior to this World Cup?
The greatest defensive difficulties for Argentina came from the right-back position. At first it was midfielder Jonás Gutiérrez, and later center-back Nicolás Otamendi.
While Otamendi did play a decent match against Mexico, today his lack of mobility—common to most centre-backs —was made painfully evident. Germany ran riot down his flank.
Although it's anyone's guess why Clemente Rodríguez (a true right-back) didn't play, one has to wonder:—and I know this has become cliché — Where was Javier Zanetti when you needed him?
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