Argentina v Greece – Plan B, Mink Winklepickers & Colombian Cartels

You see, it turns out Diego Maradona, the world’s best ever football player, knows a thing or two about football. And it also turns out that Diego Maradona, a big game player if ever there was one, and Argentina’s cheerleader in chief over the last few years, knows a thing or two about getting his players in the right frame of mind for important games. The garrulous rogue from the Buenos Aires slums has channelled all the nervous energy that saw him fritter away his extensive gifts into a lightening rod to draw attention away from his players. Somehow or other, the erstwhile looneytune, whose Wile E. Coyote-like dedication to pressing the self-destruct button was matched only by his childlike lust for saying the wrong thing, has has left behind the brood of vipers that stalked him in the desert and stumbled upon an oasis of lucidity [in an arbour of mixed metaphors – ed].

Yes, oh my dear handsome readers, pegamequemegusta is insufferably optimistic. This is the kind of positivity ions dream about. You won’t see a more reckless trade in rose-tinted glasses this side of Mardi Gras. We make Mormons look like Frenchmen. An ounce of our exuberance would keep a Colombian cartel in mink winklepickers for a decade.

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The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

Matthew 3:10

Pegamequemegusta is giddy, giddy with the kind of unbridled joy usually associated with schoolgirls. Since the spoilsport authorities have repeatedly stated we are not allowed to share said unbridled joy with said schoolgirls, we turn to you in our unbridled joy to convey our schoolgirlish giddiness.

You see, it turns out Diego Maradona, the world’s best ever football player, knows a thing or two about football. And it also turns out that Diego Maradona, a big game player if ever there was one, and Argentina’s cheerleader in chief over the last few years, knows a thing or two about getting his players in the right frame of mind for important games. The garrulous rogue from the Buenos Aires slums has channelled all the nervous energy that saw him fritter away his extensive gifts into a lightening rod to draw attention away from his players. Somehow or other, the erstwhile looneytune, whose Wile E. Coyote-like dedication to pressing the self-destruct button was matched only by his childlike lust for saying the wrong thing, has has left behind the brood of vipers that stalked him in the desert and stumbled upon an oasis of lucidity [in an arbour of mixed metaphors – ed].

Yes, oh my dear handsome readers, pegamequemegusta is insufferably optimistic. This is the kind of positivity ions dream about. You won’t see a more reckless trade in rose-tinted glasses this side of Mardi Gras. We make Mormons look like Frenchmen. An ounce of our exuberance would keep a Colombian cartel in mink winklepickers for a decade.

As you know, Argentina won their first two games and look set to qualify for the second round, where they’ll most likely play Mexico or Uruguay. Of course it won’t be easy by any means. Many’s the oath that will no doubt pass through the bandages covering most of pegamequemegusta’s botched botox face job. Nonetheless, it’s fair to say, fairer than a flaxen haired youth on midsummer’s day, that none of the teams on Argentina’s side of the draw are particularly intimidating. They should be able to make the semi finals (and may even go on to continue their glorious losing streak against Brazil).

Even the prospect of playing Germany, more potentially ominous déja vu, no longer frightens us quite so much as it did last week. We grow bold, we grow bold, we shall wear the bottoms of our short-shorts rolled. Germany were at home. Lahm should have been sent off. The goalkeeper got injured. Pekerman made bad decisions. It was a fluke. It was a fluke. It was a fluke. It was a fluke.

But Mr Quemegusta, one of the few street children not to get a blast from our crutches yet, asks, ‘qué pasa con la defensa? El señor Demichelis es malo. Muy malo.’ ‘Aye pibe, he is,’ we intone with the gravitas our position of gringo requires, ‘but there are signs that things might change are afoot.’ We toss him a cigarette for his troubles before moving on to the realm of pure thought.

As you’ll no doubt know by now (pegamequemegusta walks the line but we ain’t the wire), especially if you follow us on twitter, the Argentina team for today’s final group game against Greece has many changes. There are seven in all: Otamendi for Jonás, Burdisso for Samuel, Clemente for Heinze, Bolatti for Mascherano, Verón for Di María, Agüero for Tevez, and Milito for Higuaín. So the team will look like this:

Most people have put the seven changes in the team down to suspensions and player-appeasement. However, pegamequemegusta reckons that the changes constitute an alternative line-up that we may well see again in the competition. Todays experiment, if successful, could well become orthodox theory.

The great worry so far, for example, has been the defence, and in particular, right back. Owing to Jonás’ suspension, Nico Otamendi will play there today. He’s really a centre back (AC Milan were reported to have offered about €10m for the 22-year-old last month) and we’d be withholding the full truth from our shareholders if we said we were happy when Diego first mooted this plan. Nonetheless, putting a robot programmed only to head and kick would be preferable to continuing with the set-up used so far. Maradona may not want to drop Jonás but a fine performance by Otamendi today would surely give him grounds for a change, especially since the latter was originally expected to be a starter.

Likewise Clemente Rodriguez, a player pegamequemegusta wouldn’t have had near the squad even if he hadn’t handed back that video of us with the giraffe. Ostensibly the man with Zanetti’s jersey – Garcé has not been picked; that decision was made before Diego had his 5th Act moment of clarity –  the two-footed Estudiantes full back starts today on the left of the defence. Unlike Otamendi and Heinze, who’s carrying a booking, Clemente’s strong point is getting forward. In a lopsided team, such a characteristic could prove highly valuable. Despite all our misgivings, it will be interesting to see how he does today.

What gave pegamequemegusta hope for change and stayed our hand from slapping the insolent child earlier, was the possibility of Demichelis losing his place. For if the Otamendi/Clemente experiments prove successful, and Burdisso acquits himself competently at centre back, as with Jonás, Maradona will be justified in organising a defensive rejig not seen since Moe stopped giving those jive-dancing lessons.

Again, this seemingly temporary change in line-up could consolidate itself this afternoon and form a genuine alternative for a team that for all its strengths and impressive showings thus far, is still lacking in experience and a plan B. Lest we forget, and despite what we said above, this was arguably Pekerman’s undoing in 2006.

A major part of the construction of this plan B is of course the midfield. As with the defence, it’s not so much a question of which player will fit better into a strict tactical system rather than the shape of the team being determined by the particular characteristics of the players. For example, Verón’s absence in the last game due to injury saw the introduction of Maxi Rodriguez. He brought greater mobility, more going forward and more protection to Jonás at right back. Should be a lock. Verón is a very important player for Maradona, however, on and off the pitch. Indeed, for this game it appears he insisted on playing so as not to lose further ground on the starting eleven.

Maybe that’s an exaggeration but in any case this will be the first game where we will see a more or less orthodox 4-3-3. Previously it had been claimed that Di María was forming part of that midfield three but really he was closer to the front four. We wondered at length last week what Diego would do about the misfiring Di María: drop him or work to get the best out of him. Diego put his arm around the young man’s shoulder and he delivered an improved performance.

We don’t know what to make of the situation: we had high hopes and really felt he could shine, especially considering the amount of focus, and defenders, that was going to be on Messi. We’re only two games in, of course, but already in pegamequemgusta’s asbestos freedom tower, we reckon he might be best employed as an impact sub.

El Kun starred in yet another under-20 WC win in Canada 2007

Pegamequemegusta recalls an interview with Agüero after Argentina’s win in the under-20 WC in 2007 where he said the same thing about himself. When asked what his ideal starting line-up would be, he said with Tevez and Messi. You wouldn’t include yourself, asked the journo. “No,” he said, “i’d come on with twenty minutes to go to run the tired defenders ragged.” Interestingly enough, Higuaín refused to travel to that tournament since he reckoned he should be in and around the first team squad. Yet he ended up making his debut much later than el Kun for that very reason. The latter starts today and is worth his place considering his contribution on Thursday, which fulfilled his prophecy to the letter. However, failing a four-goal masterclass in piss-taking, we reckon Carlitos will be back for the last 16 game. What Milito does with his chance will also be scintillating, of course.

So today we will see a vastly changed team, an experimental team and one led by Messi for the first time. It’s not just a tiny-screws-in-space experiment though. With FIFA’s ingenious decision not to wipe out yellow cards until after the quarter finals, it is quite possible that some players, especially Mascherano, will miss at least one game through suspension if Argentina continue to progress through the rounds. In this respect, as we’ve discussed before, the strength in depth of Maradona’s squad will come under more scrutiny than pegamequemegusta’s navel. Bolatti playing centre mid is not just a wry joke. He might well play there in the quarter finals. Otamendi might well be entrusted with quelling Germany’s rainbow attack.

In less than two hours Argentina will no doubt win 3-0 and advance to play Mexico in the second round, with their youngest ever captain scoring his first goal in this World Cup. The make-up of their challenge for the rest of the tournament is still very much a work in progress, however. Today’s experiment could change the whole face of the team for later games. Let’s hope it answers more questions than it raises.

Maradona’s got nothing wrong so far, not even the press conferences. Pegamequemegusta is as giddy as a schoolgirl.

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