"There is a compulsion to gamble deep in the human psyche, only a fool would deny the romance of it"
Adios Diego! For an all too brief period you and your team were the shining stars of the tournament.
With his wilfully playful press conference responses and Baroque attacking formations he was football's renaissance man amid the gathering gloom of a dark age, where even teams such as Brazil, Holland and Portugal renounce their belief in exciting attacking football to play the percentage game.
Maradona's Argentina were different, they made us believe in magic again. They were a reminder of the days when that other Argentinian legend Alfredo Di Stefano and Real Madrid bewitched Europe with it's attacking prowess and European Cup finals ended in ludicrous scorelines such as 7-3. The days when teams tried to win matches instead of trying not to lose them, when five men forward lines were common and to have one holding midfielder would have been seen as cautious and selecting two , timid to the point of cowardly.
Ironically it was an Argentinian who brought an end to the golden age. Helenio Herrera, sacked by Barcelona for failing to topple Real, devised the catenaccio defensive system, when coach of Internazionale, and the rest of the game followed suit until , briefly, Brazil's "joga bonito" and the Dutch "total football "system promised a return to the glory days.
In more recent times, teams playing with just one striker and in the more extreme cases no recognised forward at all has been the norm. Argentina , gloriously bucked the trend fielding three forwards and a winger in the group stages and second round. Deep down , we all knew this delicious, swashbuckling madness would meet its match against some of the stronger sides, but it was delightful to watch nonetheless.
Germany were one such team and ruthlessly exposed the deficiencies in Maradona'ssystem. The worry before the competition was that Diego was unbalanced and did not have the correct temperament for coaching.In the end it was his team that lacked balance. Inexplicably dropping Juan Sebastian Veron, for the quarter final, left Javier Mascherano as the only recognised midfielder with two wingers and three forwards for company. Commendably bold, but sadly suicidal against a well organised, disciplined German side. The increasingly impressive Bastian Schweinsteigershackled Lionel Messiin a way reminiscent of the marking jobLotharMatthausperformed on Maradona in the 1986 Final , the only difference being Maradonaescaped for long enough to expertly release Jose Luis Burruchaga to score the winner. Messiwasn't so fortunate and with their star man unable to influence the game Argentina's attacks yielded nothing.The Germans, having gained a vital early lead, played superbly on the counter and tore Argentina's vulnerable defence to shreds three more times to run out convincing winners.
Having shed their image of efficient but sterile plodders , Joachim Low'syoung side would be worthy winners of the tournament . Not as flamboyant as Argentina,they possess the balance the South Americans lack. Difficult to score against with attacking players that can punish opponents , especially on the break, they have been a pleasant surprise. MesutOzil and Thomas Muller have been particularly impressive and Schweinsteiger reborn in his role as central midfielder must be a future national team captain.
Maradona ` s reign as coach of Argentina will probably be over . He looked distraught at the final whistle on Saturday. It is to be hoped his replacement does not opt for a radical overhaul and instead adds a little more organisation and tactical nous to the attacking riches he has at his disposal. Boys need teams like this Argentina side to either ignite or maintain their love affair with the beautiful game, just as previous generations needed Di Stefano'sReal Madrid, Pele's Brazil and Cruijff's Holland.
Argentina and, to a lesser extent, Germany apart, there have been precious few moments of inspiration in this tournament. Without such teams to fill the void , boys will retreat the fantasy world of video games or suddenly discover that cricket, rugby or tennis etc are more entertaining after all.