Regular visitors to pegamequemegusta will be familiar with the regular exalting of violence, machismo and a total disregard for the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of the Child. Nonetheless, even we were disgusted with the downright scaldy behaviour of a Brazilian journalist in Wednesday’s press conference with Javier Pastore and Diego Pozo (the third-choice ‘keeper). “So you’ve had Mexican burritos,” the filthy bugger began, “but how are you going to deal with the German sausage?” Pozo said something in Pastore’s ear and a bit of a hubbub began to develop as the other journalists there expressed their distaste. The provocation was not taken up and the cheeky Brazilian was left muttering something unintelligible about how his homeland’s feijoada was the toughest dish of all to get down.
It was quite funny but pretty insulting, especially as he wasn’t exactly dealing with two heavyweights. Yet in any case, it reminded us how those nasty burritos had stuck in our craw last Sunday. A nasty case of heartburn came upon us as images of the game came flooding back as if our mind were a hastily constructed apartment in the jerk, sorry, ‘commuter’ belt.
Besides the endless montages we’ve been subjected to over the last few days that unfailingly culminate in Carlitos’s onion bag rippler, we can’t help remembering the look on Di María’s face as he slowly got off the ground after about two minutes with a panic-stricken look we well recall from the first time pegamequemegusta tried to buy shoes over here and realised all the sizes were different; we remember how it took all of three minutes for Heinze to start hitting the ball over the top such were the lack of options in midfield; how Messi’s shoulders slumped so as the ball appeared to grow smaller and smaller in the second half, as if it were but vaguely reminiscent of a toy he had once enjoyed as a child. Thinking of all the possession Mexico enjoyed, the free-run they had in midfield and the fact that only their own stubborn insistence on shooting from distance meant they didn’t create more chances, we struggle to come up with quick solutions for what will inevitably occur in pegamequemegusta’s underpants on Saturday morning if the same situations repeat themselves against ze Germans.
2 v 11?
Nonetheless, our habitual incontinence aside, we’ve been pretty sore this week at some of the less smart criticism of Argentina. The increasingly farcical Lothar Matthaus, for example, upset that Beckenbauer and an octopus have been stealing all the punditry limelight offered his two cents in the last few hours:
“Maradona doesn’t have a clear idea of how he wants the team to play; he hasn’t got a system [we're translating fromt he Spanish here; presume these quotes are accurate]. He puts all his trust in the skill of certain individuals. I don’t think that’s enough against a German team that’s full of self-confidence, enjoys playing and under less pressure than Argentina.”
Dunphy, too, spoke on Newstalk’s World Cup Daily about Argentina v Germany basically being 2 v 11, seeing as Argentina depend far too much on Messi and Tevez.
Both very questionable views. First of all, it’s a rather facile, churlish argument: obviously if you have players like Messi and Tevez in your team you would do well to get the ball to them as often as possible. Even if the squad had been selected with a little more coherency, one wonders what they’d say. Would they be calling out for Tevez be be replaced by Cambiasso and Argentina be a ‘proper team’ that seeks to attack with Zanetti to push forward down one of the flanks to link up with Messi, Capello-style? Would they be insisting on Riquelme or, God forbid, Lucho González, to play as a classic number 10 and try to ‘play in’ Messi and Higuaín?
Pegamequemegusta doesn’t get the argument. After all, the tactic has not just been, as many have said, just to ‘give the ball to Messi’. Neither has the ‘clueless’ Maradona just asked Messi how he wants things done and set up the rest as he sees fit. There’s a considerable difference between giving him a ‘free’ role and just sitting back and hoping to Christ he’ll resolve all your problems.
Rather, Argentina in this World Cup have tried to implement quite a sophisticated system that aims to make the most out of Messi’s gifts precisely by surrounding him with plenty of options to give and receive the ball. It’s obvious that while Messi is devastating in one on ones – hell, one on threes – you can get a lot more out of him in his general play if you keep him involved: by bringing Messi into the game he’ll inevitably bring others into the game, too. Over-dependence? It’s the only bloody way!
Maradona hasn’t been so boorish either that he’s just told his players to ‘do what Barcelona do’ in order to get the best out of Messi, to vainly try to imitate their play but with the passion the jersey requires. Again, no matter who’s in the squad that wouldn’t be possible. They just don’t have the players. Argentina don’t have Xavi or Iniesta to orchestrate so they’ve tried to create similar associations between the attackers right across the front of the attack. Of course a lot is left to the individuals once the ball is in play but this is what having good players is all about. It’s also eminently smart and ballsy when you know that you just haven’t got the resources to line up with a back line and midfield that’s both as solid as a pegamequemegusta’s biceps and as bamboozling as pegamequemegusta’s trousers. It’s classic Maradona: an impressive mix of pragmatism and inspiration.
It’s quite interesting in this respect to think back to the travails of Carlitos Tevez over the last three seasons in English football. He had his ups and downs with United, yet even when he was lamenting the lack of goals in his game he found some solace in the fact that he had improved more in terms of his all-round game. There was a good interview in September 2008 before Argentina played Paraguay in Buenos Aires where he recognised that while he was no longer Carlitos the goal machine, he had at least learned to play all across the front line. Indeed, in August he had won the player of the month playing almost exclusively as a number 10, a responsibility he took upon himself given the lack of creativity in United’s midfield at the time.
He was sent off in that match against Paraguay, his second expulsion in two games, and for the rest of the season he lost his place to the new signing, Berbatov. Even when the goals came back with City this year, he was full of self-criticism, admitting in December that he no longer deserved his place and that he would have to fight to win it back. Despite what is often said about his approach to training, he hired himself his own fitness coach to keep his weight down and dedicated himself to getting into the Argentina team.
Pegamequemegusta is certain that Maradona genuinely didn’t know how he was going to line up the team against Nigeria until he saw the group of beasts he had at his disposal in Buenos Aires in May. He tends to say that the idea was ‘knocking round my head’ for a while but circumstances never allowed him to unleash it. It’s irrelevant now anyway: the fact is that it was the inclusion of Tevez more than anyone else that has changed the face of this team and allowed it to play the way it does. We’d go so far as to say that no-one else (in the world?) could do the same job. Pressure up the field, penetration down both wings, quick passing and thinking, power, tackling in midfield and goals. That’s what Maradona’s team is. Give the ball to Messi? Watch the bloody matches.
Another crucial piece in Diego’s plan – which is rather un-Bilardiano, too, but we don’t want to get into the cheap ‘Maradona is a puppet’ argument right now – that contradicts any supposed dependence on Messi, is Ángel Di María. Unlike Tevez, who only received two one-match bans for his red cards in the qualifiers, Di María got a four-match ban for violent conduct after being sent off against Bolivia in the infamous 6-1 defeat in La Paz. Therefore it took until the Germany friendly last March for us to really see him take another team apart cutting in from the left. In that game, Argentina played a stodgy enough 4-4-2 where Messi was more or less isolated, but the few times he burst towards the German box he left their defenders in the kind of positions that would otherwise only occur to a particularly twisted porno director. He also put Higuaín through for his goal. Check out this nutmeg from that night:
You will no doubt have noticed, oh dear handsome readers, that in that clip he pops up on the right. This is what we meant earlier by Maradona’s aim to create rolling associations across the entire front of attack. Unlike Tevez and Higuaín, who could in theory be replaced, Di María is unique in this squad. His particular characteristics and package of skills makes José’s new man exceptional in the group. If he plays well, he can widen the angle of attack, pin back the opposing full back, dribble past anyone almost as well as Messi, is good in the air and has a decent shot on him as he showed over and over for Benfica last season.
Grand, we know he’s good. The delectably clever part of his inclusion, however, where another manager might have deemed three attackers quite sufficient, is that his role has deliberately been conceived to profit from the other team’s preoccupation with Messi. With both on the pitch, never mind whatever Tevez and Higuaín are up to, one should always be able to function as a decoy for the other. It’s pass and run, it’s constant domination, constant attack and it’s sass-tastic. Maradona’s smart.
Unfortunately, the young man from Rosario (though he’s a Central man, whereas Leo’s from Newell’s) has played prett-ty poorly so far. We mentioned earlier the expression on his face right at the start of the Mexico match and in general Di María’s looked about as convinced of his own ability as pegamequemegusta does when the missus sends us out to do our Princess Leia impression down on Mardel’s main street. He has had so little interaction with his teammates that at times he seems to be hiding from the ball. And it’s not just because the rest of the team only pass the ball to Messi, when he wants it he comes looking for it, as is made clear in the clip above. It took him 25 minutes to play a one-two against Mexico. Even Heinze showed more of an inclination towards getting forward.
From half-time in the very first match it was clear that things weren’t going right for Di María. Maradona went straight out on to the pitch to meet him before he came off to put an arm around him, so anonymous had he been. He improved somewhat against Korea but he was still a long way from his true level.
Pegamequemegusta has been genuinely amazed by how judiciously Diego has used his squad so far. Maybe that’s overstating it: we’ve been pleasantly surprised at the lack of mad, panicky decisions such as those that characterised the farcical qualification campaign, or England’s World Cup. He’s betted heavily on Di María – it should’ve been safe enough – and seems determined to see it out.
Much as Del Bosque with Torres, however, the question appears to be whether he can afford to wait and see if this potential game-changer and game-winner will come into form in time. He assured us yesterday that Di María is fulfilling all his duties and is “ready to explode”. If he doesn’t, though, and keeps on failing to impose himself on games, one of Maradona’s most astute choices could well end up scuppering his World Cup dream earlier than expected.
It would be a terrible shame in our opinion, not just because we live here, love the team and desperately want him to do well, but because it was the right decision. After everything Maradona did wrong, it would be a right kick in the balls to see him punished for one of the things he got right. Speaking of one of those things he got wrong, of course Argentina would have more options to replace him had he included Cambiasso and Zanetti in the squad in the first place. If Palermo and Garcé weren’t there, and Di María was dropped, we could have a tougher, more solid team to face Germany. As it is, the team are effectively carrying an AWOL Di María and despite their affection for him almost everyone is calling for him to go. The latest poll on Olé tonight tonight show that were the people in charge he’d lose his place to Pastore (and Demichelis to Burdisso, obviously), a fine, nay scintillating, prospect but totally unproven at this level.
Although the Mexico game didn’t work out perfectly by any means, pegamequemegusta, like Maradona, was hoping for Di María to come good in that game too. Hence our excited exclamation before that game to the effect that the Argentina manager had got everything right so far. If he does stick with the same set-up and there’s a repeat of the possession-ceding, effectively ten-man Argentina against Germany, it’s unlikely they will get away with it a second time.
Some would say it’s karma, they’d agree with Dunphy that Diego’s Argentina were always “a disaster waiting to happen”. Pegamequemegusta reckons that’s harsh though. While we’ve always diasgreed with the initial squad selection and feared it would come back to haunt him, in general we feel focusing solely on that aspect and criticising the team for apparently being overly-dependent on Messi and Tevez betrays an ignorance of what Argentina have done so far and what they’ve been trying to do. We’re still not used to saying it, but all we can do now is trust in Diego to savage the German sausage.