Argentina 0-4 Germany: Part III – I Wanted to Play Football for the Coach

After 30 seconds he received the ball in a comfortable position, tried to pass it to a teammate and promptly fell on his arse. After two minutes he gave away a silly foul out by the touchline. From the ensuing free kick he lost his man and Argentina were a goal behind. In the next ten minutes, he gave the ball away several times and by the tenth minute he had been booked. Only Germany deciding to relinquish their grip on Argentina’s neck meant that he was able to hide until half time.

Just as in the Nigeria match, however, Maradona was too slow with his substitutions. More or less the first time the ball came his way more than twenty minutes into the second half, Otamendi and Demichelis contrived to turn a relatively unthreatening situation into the killer goal for Germany. [Muller lying prone on the grass was still more than a match for both of them]. Maradona bottled it spectacularly, taking off Otamendi and replacing him with… nobody.

Pegamequemegusta spilled maté all over the table at this point and yelled furiously at scandalised family and friends. He’s just turned a 2-0 or, at best, a 2-1 into a three or four goal rout! Yet again an Argentina manager bottles it in the second half of a WC quarter final. Incredible. In that respect, never having been in that position before, Maradoan was found out. He finished the match with four or five strikers on the pitch but now without any pretence of a system whatsoever, like Louis Van Gaal with Holland in the Greatest Match of All time in 2001.

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Part III

Uff, this is getting tiresome. The match feels like it was a million years ago. It’s hard to care much anymore. The writing of all this nonsense has involved endless commentaries on the telly and protracted conversations on exactly the same topic. It’s necrophilia without the pulse-quickening thrill of transgression or the refreshing spike of the wind on your bare nipples; it’s sadomasochism without the alluring smell of leather. Still, this post-mortem would be nothing without a few words devoted to the defence.

Although no-one was in any way convinced by Argentina’s defence coming into the game, most informed people reckoned they might just be able to get away with it. Jonathan Wilson again:

“Manager Diego Maradona will surely maintain that solid, deep back four. [….] Germany’s forwards are very good at exploiting space, but Argentina won’t give them space. Its back four focuses almost exclusively on defending; Maradona’s side is not reliant, as England and Australia are, on attacking full-backs.”

For whatever reason, no team had really gotten behind them so far. Nigeria had once or twice but were too bad to punish them; Korea came straight at them and created little or nothing; Greece didn’t even play; Mexico scored the first time they tried to turn Demichelis, but for some reason persisted with speculative long shots.

Germany didn’t. Their patience in attack was remarkable. The didn’t even need long diagonal balls to pull the players out of position. They just passed the ball past the defenders calmly, and along the ground, too. All the goals were scored from within about ten yards of the goal. It seemed unreal the ease with which they sailed by the non-existent challenges. Wilson: “it doesn’t matter how many players you have at the back if none of them put in a challenge.”

The brain in the tank’s best line, though was: “Argentina’s insipidness was bewildering.” Bewildering is good, as the obtuse counsellor would say. And as Carlitos Tevez said after the game, Germany didn’t surprise Argentina at all: “We knew what they were going to do, we had worked on it in training but we were unable to stop them. That was our greatest sin.”

If there were to be one central thesis of this whole mammoth piece, it’ wouldn’t be Jogi Löw’s theory that Argentina were simply ‘a broken team’: Argentina were set up to stop Germany but lost every single battle on the pitch; and that Maradona failed to take action in time, despite the fact that several players were playing as if they’d just found themselves transported Quantum Leap-style onto the pitch in a World Cup quarter-final.

The greatest example of a player having a nervous breakdown on the pitch was poor Nico Otamendi. He’s a good player, he has played well before and will again. Perhaps he wasn’t playing in his best position but he had arguably been man of the match against Mexico. The kind of meltdown he had in the second half on Saturday usually comes served with tuna. Maradona was doing him no favour by leaving him on the pitch and he should have come off at half-time at the latest.

Otamendi misses Al desperately as his latest Quantum Leap sees him thrust into right back in a WC quarter final

After 30 seconds he received the ball in a comfortable position, tried to pass it to a teammate and promptly fell on his arse. After two minutes he gave away a silly foul out by the touchline. From the ensuing free kick he lost his man and Argentina were a goal behind. In the next ten minutes, he gave the ball away several times and by the tenth minute he had been booked. Only Germany deciding to relinquish their grip on Argentina’s neck meant that he was able to hide until half time.

Just as in the Nigeria match, however, Maradona was too slow with his substitutions. More or less the first time the ball came his way more than twenty minutes into the second half, Otamendi and Demichelis contrived to turn a relatively unthreatening situation into the killer goal for Germany. [Muller lying prone on the grass was still more than a match for both of them]. Maradona bottled it spectacularly, taking off Otamendi and replacing him with… nobody.

Pegamequemegusta spilled maté all over the table at this point and yelled furiously at scandalised family and friends. He’s just turned a 2-0 or, at best, a 2-1 into a three or four goal rout! Yet again an Argentina manager bottles it in the second half of a WC quarter-final. Bewildering. In that respect, never having been in that position before, Maradona was found out. He finished the match with four or five strikers on the pitch but now without any pretence of a system whatsoever, like Louis Van Gaal with Holland in the Greatest Match of All time in 2001.

It seemed obvious that if Argentina went behind first in the game it was going to be a lot more difficult, nigh on impossible, such is Germany’s strength on the counter-attack. Surprisingly though, and good news for Spain on Wednesday, that’s not how the match was won. Germany didn’t just sit back and wait: they wither lost their nerve or were genuinely unable to do anything for a good fourty minutes of the match. Mascherano kept Özil quiet as a laryngitis-stricken mouse. Olé described his efforts, aptly in our opinion, as ‘almost moving at times’.

Most of the analysis of this match focused on the first twenty minutes and the last twenty. As we detailed in the previous instalment, it was the initial Otamendi collapse coupled with Argentina’s misfiring front players who let them down, failing to even come close despite extended bouts of possession.

Unlike the internet geeks pegamequemegusta spent the whole first part of this glorified exercise in self-harm taking the piss out of, Johnny Giles on RTÉ offered a simpler, more sensible, more traditional breakdown of events. Jonathan Wilson’s reading of events was correct, too, of course, but he approaches the game from a completely different point of view. Gilesy’s is more conventional, more classic, and more accurate than the diagrams and stills of the bloggers:

  • Would a better team have punished them in that 15-20 spell [in the second half]?

  • Well they could have done, Darren, that’s the problem, and they had a little bit of bad luck cause they had some reasonable chances at that stage that could have changed the whole course of the game. In any game… every game is different and there are stages in it where you’re on top and you have to score your goals. Sometimes the other team get on top and you have to defend… It ebbs and flows. Through experience you learn that ‘if that happens then this is what we’re going to do’, and I think that the German team have to learn that. They have to learn to say [to themselves]: ‘Look, this team is not doing its stuff, we’re a goal up, we have to take advantage of it’. And the best way to take that advantage and kill a game off is to score goals.

We feared coming into the competition that even if things were to work out for Maradona’s Argentina, even if the butterfly didn’t emerge from the chrysalis horribly deformed, the lack of game time and the poor squad selection could come back to haunt him. In the end it was somewhat more complicated than that rather facile argument. Those aspects of the preparations certainly didn’t help but the inexplicable implosion of Brazil does constitute a rebuttal to a certain extent.

Unfortunately, Gilesy let himself down immediately after this speech by admitting that he had no idea what things were like in the Argentine camp or what their preparations were. This lack of background knowledge is the downside of the wizened footballer pundit (yet it is not too far removed from the know-it-all geeks who so spectacularly fall between two sweaty thighs of ignorance in their attempts to offer pseudo-scientific previews and reviews of every single match). Nevertheless, he didn’t imagine Maradona working on corners, free kicks or on instilling any kind of discipline on the team. Pegamequemegusta has only spent the last three weeks demolishing that myth: four of their ten goals came from set-pieces and only excellent goalkeeping denied them on a few more. A bewildering indicator of how lost they were in the Germany match was that all these training ground moves just disappeared.

Or the match can be summed up in an even more concise way: Argentina were shit.  And unless they come up with at least three midfielders and four defenders over the next four years, they won’t win in Brazil either. So far Maradona could well be staying for the Copa América next year in his homeland: one last shot at some kind of glory and the opportunity to show that just as he learned from the qualifiers he is capable of drawing lessons from this defeat, too. If he does, as Lou Reed mumbles sweetly into the ear of a transvestite,  Diego, i’d give it all up for you:

Argentina 0-4 Germany – Part I: Mad as Hell

The French are arguably the worst offenders when it comes to this kind of waffly pseudoscientific rhetoric that mistakes its own impotence for some kind of higher ground. Their universities, tv shows, newspapers and the whole edifice of their wankery, chattering classes stink of it. The clown Domenech and his supporters in the French FA are a fine example of this, as was De Villepin’s speech to the UN before the invasion of Iraq. Pegamequemegusta is not interested in bashing the French people, but we do consider this perfidious, self-defeating drive for respectability under the guises of scientifically neutral ‘progress’ to be of French origin.

When you’re talking about novels, poems, Beatles songs or football matches, though, often there just isn’t any data to extract, or at least nothing worth extracting. For the Frenchman and the bureaucratic-minded geek, however, there must be no restrictions on their systematising crusade. An accurate portrayal of events would lead to inconsequential conclusions and would deny them the opportunity to use their analytical tools. They prefer the method, however flawed, to the subject of investigation. They’re a bunch of jerks.

– What’s wrong with being an angry prophet denouncing the hypocrisies of our times? What do you think, Max?

– Do you want to be an angry prophet denouncing the hypocrisies of our times?

– Yeah I think i’d like to be an angry prophet denouncing the hypocrisies of our times.

Part I

The things that annoyed pegamequemegusta more than anything else at this World Cup were Chile’s inability to score, having to listen to the utterly depressing discussion over England’s chances (and then their future), and the endless stream of gormless puns and articles on Maradona’s ‘madness’. All of these things made us – equally gormlessly, no doubt – want to wade in and grab supposedly serious people by the lapels – and not just because we crave the breathy spittle of other human beings.

The one thing that pissed us off on a far more constant basis, however, was the proliferation of ridiculous tactics-based blogs. One in particular has been so fawned over that it even has plenty of imitators, which for lamewads like us, who like to put our head in the internet’s bellybutton and snarfle away loudly looking for well-written blogs and the odd flash of wisdom-imparting cleavage, is akin being at a party and finding that the dullest prick there has fifty clones and a girlfriend whose looks are only matched by her loyalty. Every where we turned we kept coming across more pages where a faggoty little diagram is used as the point of departure for a castrated, retarded prance masquerading as incisive, nay objective, analysis.

Pegamequemegusta usually blames the French for these things and this is no exception: forget the Reanaissance, forget Galileo, triumph of the French Neoclassicists in the 17th century involved the wiping out of the rebels, the vagabonds, the unsystematic, the anti-authoritarian, the gays, the rebels and anyone who had any balls. This upper-class Apollonian nonsense was carried through to the Enlightenment in the 18th century, one of the most pernicious and influential movements in modern history. The Romantics wanted to turn the tide but were too weepy and useless to do anything about it. A confused rebellion against the Church, which was really well-founded jealousy at their power, eventually saw the coronation of science as the answer to all our problems. Again, wishy-washy humanism was the only response. Eventually even in poetry and literature in general a smarmy, ‘scientific’ attitude became the only one that would ‘raise the level of the discourse above that of drawing-room chatter’.

The French are arguably the worst offenders when it comes to this kind of waffly pseudoscientific rhetoric that mistakes its own impotence for some kind of higher ground. Their universities, tv shows, newspapers and the whole edifice of their wankery, chattering classes stink of it. The clown Domenech and his supporters in the French FA are a fine example of this, as was De Villepin’s speech to the UN before the invasion of Iraq. Pegamequemegusta is not interested in bashing the French people, but we do consider this perfidious, self-defeating drive for respectability under the guises of scientifically neutral ‘progress’ to be of French origin.

When you’re talking about novels, poems, Beatles songs or football matches, though, often there just isn’t any data to extract, or at least nothing worth extracting. For the Frenchman and the bureaucratic-minded geek, however, there must be no restrictions on their systematising crusade. An accurate portrayal of events would lead to inconsequential conclusions and would deny them the opportunity to use their analytical tools. They prefer the method, however flawed, to the subject of investigation. They’re a bunch of jerks.

To paraphrase Borges, this faux-objectivity is so widespread for the same reason stupidity is: it’s easy. You can use those team sheets to prove almost anything. Yet the team with more players in midfield doesn’t always win; you can play wide men against a back three but if they have a bad day crossing the ball or the striker looks as confident and convincing as a three-legged cat at the javelin it won’t make a difference. Pegamequemegusta recalls Killser Kilbane and Roy Keane outfighting and outsmarting Vieira, Makalele and Zidane – in their bleedin pomp, too – at Lansdowne Road in 2005.

You can use this form of analysis to prove anything. It pretends to come from the realm of pure thought when it’s as wretchedly prejudiced and inconsistent as the rest of us. Pegamequemegusta particularly loved the analyses of the Brazil v Holland match: the word ‘inexplicable’ appears several times on various blogs. They didn’t know what to say as both teams played more or less the same formation. Indeed, ‘inexplicability’, to coin a phrase, is a key part of football. United didn’t go in to the match against Liverpool in March last year thinking Vidic was going to turn into a pile of jelly at the first sight of Fernando Torres; no-one knows why the same man handled the ball for no reason against Ghana.

Sneijder’s header against this late Brazil side was unprecedented. The impression their defenders have consistently given in the air has been likened to the organised hunting techniques of a pack of orcas. Nevertheless, the smallest player on the pitch headed in unmarked and unchallenged. Dirk Kuyt did one of their defenders for pace in the second half – the kind of aberration of nature that would have had the gods of the Popul Vuh winding up the world and starting from scratch.

Further mysteries that fell outside the pale of their bastardised science include the fact that Holland had a gaping hole down the left-hand side owing to Van Bronckhorst’s man-marking of someone or other. The diagram theory surely dictates that such a weakness must be exploited. Otherwise the theory fails and it must be admitted that these are fallible men rather than logarithms. The diagram approach is a static physics, which they try to try to atone for by including laughable lines indicating where the players might run to. Friedrich, Germany’s centre back, scored the thrid goal on Saturday. The cross was by their centre midfielder, who popped up on the left wing. In the diagrams there is no football, no crowd, no sweat, no brain, no heart.

A dejected Dani Alves makes a mockery of the 2D limitations of the team sheet

This evening one website added another item to its already impressive arsenal of annoying tricks: stills from the match. Pegamequemegusta has no idea how they do it and agrees that they look pretty. Still, we’re impressed in the same way as we are when we see someone who’s really good at paper work: we bow to their superior ability but sellotape their picture to the sides of our crutches so the next time we see them we won’t forget to give them a good wallop in the shins.

You see, one of our main gripes with this form of analysis is that while pretending to adopt an all-seeing objective perspective, they’re incredibly myopic. Pegamequemegusta has never forgotten the words of our guidance counsellor in secondary school: geeks can be stupid, too. Most of these blogs vainly fiddle about with tools left about in the lab but they have no idea how to use them (even if they could be applied usefully, which we doubt).

They confuse induction and deduction all the time. They draw arse-squelching conclusions not just from individual games but from photos of precise moments in the match. Stills are a geeky way of illustrating your point, but they don’t make that point any more true or false. A key part in strengthening one’s argument is making sure you avoid generalising too much. However for those that see a football match as an inexorable demonstration of empirical laws (outnumbered in midfield = 4-0 defeat), the temptation to draw quick conclusions is as enticing as their constant abuse of their best friend, the sock puppet.

So many of these blogs strive for scientific purity like self-flagellating hermits trying to please Ba’al. It’s really quite pathetic, since besides the poverty of their prose (some are better than others in this respect all the same), they’re so often completely wrong.

One site said on Saturday evening that Argentina were woeful at set-pieces: Germany had several corners and free kicks and created one chance, which they took. None of the rest caused any damage or even came close to being dangerous. It wasn’t a case of every ball that came into the box wreaked havoc and distress. On the contrary, they were dealt with quite well. Argentina’s defence was woeful but logic, let alone football, doesn’t accept the syllogism: one goal from x set-pieces = woeful at all set-pieces.

There’s also a delightful discrepancy between their previews of the match and their reaction to it afterwards. For the most part, those we bothered to read anyway (for purely scientific reasons, you’ll understand) utterly failed to predict what would happen. Some had the balls to include a result, at least, but others jumped with glee on Argentina’s corpse today claiming that it was all so obvious, that Maradona had been ‘exposed’, ‘found out’. This was despite the fact that they themselves had failed to see it coming. Retroactive science? It’s about as useful as the giant badger we once tattooed on the forearm of our burkha-wearing brother.

A proper scientist at work

One site said in its preview with a soul-blackening chuckle that ‘knowing Maradona, there will be changes in the team’ from that which started against Mexico. There were no changes in the team. Many sites suddenly realised they were desperately in love with Seba Verón, despite the fact that they had sniggered at his inclusion in the squad in the first place and the fact that he demonstrated in his performances in the earlier matches that he could neither run, tackle or attack. And you can be damn sure that had he played the result would have been exactly the same and those same sites would have castigated Maradona for trusting a 35 year-old in a World Cup quarter final: ‘they had no pace in midfield; Argentina were exposed down left wing, where poor Otamendi had to battle away unaided, like Jonás in the first two games.’

Oh, and we won’t even bother picking apart the most cringe-inducing aspect of this whole farce, the insistent and repeated use of the players’ first names. Lionel Messi, Wesley Sneijder, Asamoah Gyan, Thomas Muller: get over yourselves, boys.

It’s not cowardice that has stopped us from naming names here as much as we feel it would be unfair to single out a few blogs when there are undoubtedly countless more that are equally useless. Thankfully, these remain unknown to us. Besides, bad blogs are what the internet’s all about; bad blogs and piracy, of course. Still, from the writer of one bad blog to another, if you won’t change, we’d love to hear you defend your lame practices once you’ve stopped scratching your spot-scarred crotches. We invite your rancour and welcome your abuse. For once we’d love to hear what you think. You can even include a diagram if you so wish. Pegame, que me gusta.