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 II: Full of High Sentence but a Bit Obtuse

With Tevez, Di María and Higuaín all performing so badly and with such a lack of discipline, Maradona’s plan imploded spectacularly on Saturday. Despite, as Jonathan Wilson says in his Sports Illustrated article, Argentina looking the more ‘threatening team’ after the opening 20 minutes or so, they didn’t create one decent chance. On Off the Ball tonight, he expanded on why Argentina’s approach should work, saying, in characteristic fashion, that “triangles always beat lines”. The only two times we remember the forwards actually making those angles they created two half-chances: the first when Messi put Tevez through; the second when Higuaín was caught offside. This was supposed to be Argentina’s great strength but they individuals failed spectacularly. They were impatient from the off. Frustrated with their own ineptitude, it wasn’t long before they began shooting lamely over the bar from 25 yards. A strikeforce that had promised to slice the German defence in a manner reminscent of a mathematician’s wet dream, ended up looking but full of high sentence and more than little obtuse.

Part II

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be; Am an attendant lord, one that will do To swell a progress, start a scene or two […]

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; At times, indeed, almost ridiculous— Almost, at times, the Fool.

Pegamequemegusta would not be at all surprised to learn that all of these wretched scribblers – though we are all scribbling wretchedly for our one reader, Jebus – have a framed picture of famed tactics guru and Krang impersonator, Jonathan Wilson, sitting on their desks midst the piles of kleenex and take-away receptacles. Unfortunately, they lack the knowledge, writing ability and the class.

Jonathan Wilson towers above his imitators

In his preview of the game, he argued that Argentina had the edge over Germany, and not just due to certain individual talents. Even in midfield, he reckoned Maxi and Di María should have been able to make up for their lack of energy against Schweinsteiger and Khedira with their movement: “And if Di Maria does start to drift left, threatening to unleash the crossing ability that proved so devastating at Benfica last season, then Germany really is in trouble.

The forwards

As it turned out, however, no matter where Di María drifted in the game he was going to be equally ineffective. We talked in our own preview about how important he was to the team. Following the abandonment of Maradona’s ‘Verón is my Xavi’ plan, and Jonás’s replacement by Otamendi to ensure greater balance and security, the Xavi-Iniesta tandem was entrusted to a deep-lying combination of Tevez & Messi. In this schema, with the real Lionel operating almost as a decoy, Di María was effectively supposed to take on the Messi role. (Not that Argentina were trying to ape Barcelona but certain aspects of their plan are best illustrated by a comparison with that team).

The new idea was quite sophisticated and received a great deal of kudos from pegamequemegusta and everyone who enjoyed watching Argentina in the opening games. All the time, however, they were carrying Di María, who looked as composed as a bag of snakes. We signalled in the preview that what we considered one of Maradona’s most astute decisions looked like it was going to blow up in his face.

He did up his game somewhat in the Germany match – at least this time he looked for the ball – didn’t know what foot he wanted to use and his execution was woeful. He is certainly well capable of the role but it appears the burden was too much for Real Madrid’s new signing. (Indeed, we wonder if that added sense of expectation wasn’t another contributory factor to his flaccid WC).

Pegamequemegusta doesn’t mean to blame Di María for a 4-0 defeat, though, not by any means. Besides the defence, which we never expected to be the most solid unit known to man since Diego Forlán’s six-pack, we reserve a great share of that for other favourite players of ours, and much more experienced ones, too.

Carlitos Tevez, for example, had an absolute nightmare. Olé gave him a 5/10 when the rest of his teammates averaged about 3/10. These extra points were down to his commitment and his fighting spirit, the old Carlitos clichés. We love Tevez but he talks too much. In 2006 he spent the entire build-up to the Germany match talking about how if it came to penalties he was going to take the first and blast it at Lehman’s head: “it’ll either be a goal or it’ll take his head off.” Funny, ballsy, delightful; but when it came to the penalty shoot-out he was absent. Ayala and Cambiasso stepped up before him; they missed and Argentina were out.

Tevez last Monday

Likewise this week, his two goals against Mexico meant he was on the front cover of Olé last Monday and was shooting his mouth off all week. When it came to the match, however, he played like an angry mob. There was plenty of commitment alright but no control, plenty of gesticulating but no organising. He embodied the caricature that so many people had expected of this Maradona team. He completely abandoned his defensive responsibilities and failed to link up with any of his teammates, be it the midfielders or the attack. He bottled it so badly that even though Argentina were chasing the game, it would have been preferable to have hauled him off and put someone else in midfield. The failure was not a question of tactics, it was the personnel: Tevez had a job to do and all he did was a Steven Gerrard impression.

There have been many soothing words for Messi, too, and we aren’t going to pillory him either for the failures of the entire team. He could have done much better, though. Again we back Maradona’s plan: it wasn’t foolproof by any means but with all the pieces working in sync it could well have made the most of Messi’s ability. He was let down by Tevez in particular, as Carlitos was in the team primarily to associate with him and generate play.

Without the help of his teammates, far from being the Messi of Barcelona, Messi just ended up looking like a poor man’s Xavi in a team of Ibrahimobitches. His influence was diluted successively until it disappeared completely. Argentina looked as naive as Arsenal in the 2009 semifinal and they were torn apart. This time Otamendi starred as the unfortunate Kieron Gibbs, Muller as Ronaldo.

Yet, like Tevez, Messi cannot be absolved so easily of all responsibility to organise things. Maradona’s rhetoric may overstep the mark in terms of his demands for Messi to ‘become a man’, but he really is going to have to impose himself more in future. A measure of how ineffective he was is revealed by a factoid we read that he wasn’t fouled once in the entire game.

Pegamequemegusta giddily hoped after the first round that Messi would continue to hit the post with Higuaín & co. knocking in the rebounds so that he’d keep tilting towards goal for the full 90 minutes of every game. In hindsight, though, we can’t help but feel the lack of a goal just pissed him off and drained his confidence.

Higuaín was just hopeless on Saturday. Of course he didn’t get much service and the Germans defended surprisingly well. Still, his match was summed up by being caught offside three times in about five minutes. He looked distraught when it was still one-nil and there was half an hour to go. If Tevez lived up to his own caricature as a headless chicken, Higuaín could well have had a River crest on his jersey, so gutless was his performance.

With Tevez, Di María and Higuaín all performing so badly and with such a lack of discipline, Maradona’s plan imploded spectacularly on Saturday. Despite, as Jonathan Wilson says in his Sports Illustrated article, Argentina looking the more ‘threatening team’ after the opening 20 minutes or so, they didn’t create one decent chance. On Off the Ball tonight, he expanded on why Argentina’s approach should work, saying, in characteristic fashion, that “triangles always beat lines”. The only two times we remember the forwards actually making those angles they created two half-chances: the first when Messi put Tevez through; the second when Higuaín was caught offside. This was supposed to be Argentina’s great strength but they individuals failed spectacularly. They were impatient from the off. Frustrated with their own ineptitude, it wasn’t long before they began shooting lamely over the bar from 25 yards. A strike force that had promised to slice the German defence in a manner reminiscent of a mathematician’s wet dream, ended up looking but full of high sentence and more than little obtuse.

How to Score Against ze Germans, by Jorge Valdano

“We’d better put the story in context: we’re at the World Cup in Mexico; we’ve just beaten England and Belgium with a couple of full-on Maradonazos. Against England in a match that has since come to occupy a central part of football’s mythology, Diego resolved the matter both as a citizen (the best goal in the history of football) and as a criminal (‘the hand of God’). Against Belgium, Maradona scored two more brilliant goals, this time after short slaloming runs, to lead us to the final. Tons of Maradona but very little team, was how it felt.

“What’s more, against Belgium the last move of the of the match was scientific proof of the huge gap between Maradona and the rest of the team. El Negro Enrique punted the ball down the right-hand side towards Maradona. Diego galloped after the Belgian centre back and despite jostling with him he managed to nick the ball off him with the gentlest touch of his toe. It was incredible that he had made up the ground, incredible that he had won the ball, incredible that he hadn’t lost his balance…

“It had seemed obvious that the ball was going to go out for a goal-kick but the Belgian ‘keeper Jean Marie Pfaff came out of his goal just in case. In those days Maradona was reinventing the footballer’s relation with time and space, so he was able to reach the ball, stop it dead and take Pfaff out of the game in one move, before rolling it over to me as I arrived at the penalty spot so that I could finish the job. As my own relationship with time and space wasn’t the same as Diego’s, I sent the ball five yards over the bar. The final frame: that infernal whistle, personal humiliation and Diego clapping his hands: ‘It’s alright, it’s grand, don’t worry about it…’ It was true. He didn’t need to worry about anything.

“It’s the 29th of June 1986, it was midday, the Azteca was resplendent despite the suffocating heat, and the ref got the Argentina-Germany game underway. The first half finished 1-0 to Argentina, thanks to Brown’s goal. In the second half everything seemed under control. My job was to man mark Hans Peter Brieguel, whose name, according to the ingenious translation by the Mexican journalist Ángel Fernández, meant ‘German National Railways’. It was no walk in the park: he was an intimidating player who had been a pentathlon athlete and it was my job to follow him all afternoon. What torture! Up and down, up and down, when I went forward he marked me, when he went forward I marked him, always down the righ-hand side.

“In the tenth minute of the second half I followed him down to the edge of our box, but when I realised that the cross coming in from the far side was going to be intercepted by Nery Pumpido, I took off down the right, asked for the ball and though ‘Alright, now it’s time for you to follow me’. That’s where the best little adventure of my career began, an adventure that would last exactly 17 seconds.

“My run took Brieguel by surprise and he let me go. I managed to get away from one German, whose name I don’t recall, and I sped off… On my way I was faced with another group of Germans who made me check back, which was just enough time for the tenacious yet nameless German to throw himself at my feet and scutter the ball away.

“Luck wasn’t on his side as he it got to Maradona. For my part, and God only knows why, I decided to change direction and make a diagonal run from right to left. No sign of Brieguel. Maradona turned and gave the ball to el Negro Enrique, who crossed the halfway line at full speed, the ball at his feet: one, two, three touches…

“Meanwhile, I had made a run behind Diego and was about to race past Enrique when he slipped the ball through to me just before I passed the last defender. I controlled the ball with my left foot and, being 35 yards out, gently prodded it in the direction of the goal. I just had to follow the ball and use the time to decide where I was going to put the ball.

“I’ve said before that as I made my way towards the box I improvised a pithy prayer: “Go in, go in, pleeease.” But the truth is that many things went through my head. For example, my miss in the semifinal that had overshadowed the entire build-up to the final… “I mustn’t get distracted”… I knew that that move, if it ended in a goal, would make me a little happier for the rest of my life. And if it didn’t go in… “I have to concentrate!”… On everything that I had done to get me to that situation… “Just think of the shot, think about the shot”….

“Schumacher was coming out of the goal and I was on my way into the box, with no support and tilted slightly to the left. I decided to widen the angle even further so that I was almost sideways in front of the goal: if Schumacher covered the far post I could go round him on the outside; if he left a gap, i’d shoot. I shot. With the inside of my right foot, it went in close to the post. 2-0.

“When I knew the ball was going in the first thing that went through my head, like a lightening bolt, was the certainty that “This isn’t happening to me.” Half expecting someone to wake me up, I let out a roar and pointed to the subs’ bench, to Marcelo Trobiani, my roommate who had not only helped me to get over that miss in the semifinal but as part of the therapy had helped me to imagine what this moment would be like: “You’re going to score in the final and you’re going to celebrate it with me.” He was the first to hug me and then the rest of the lads arrived. I ended up flattened on the pitch by half the team, my pulse at 200 a minute. Impossible to be any happier.

“But we had to get back up because the match wasn’t over. For a minute I forgot that these were Germans and I felt like I was the world champion already. They would pull two goals back and tie the game so that we had to start again, until Burrchaga scored the third without them having enough time to react. 3-2 and this time we were a team, not just Maradona. And this time we really were champions!

“Even though you’re a footballer, even if you’re a striker in a great team, even if it’s a World Cup… Even if you’ve dreamed your entire life for that one moment, you feel as if these things only ever happen to other people. Once more: “This can’t be happening to me.”

“It seemed so unreal that when I got to the dressing room, after the lap of honour, I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. The moment seemed to dictate that I should but there was not even one tear to dignify that happiness, that feeling of accomplishment. Two years had to pass until that goal felt entirely mine. My brother would send me cassettes from time to time with messages, music and different things. I’d put the cassette in my walkman and go off to exercise in peace. One day I was running through the park opposite my house when suddenly, in between two songs, I heard the voice of José María Muñoz, commenting on the goal i’d scored against Germany, commenting in that voice that for we had believed the only voice in football during our childhood. That day I understood how, for the people of my generation, words complete football. You see, unwillingly and embarrassed as I was being in public, I started bawling like a child. It was true, I had scored that goal.”

That was the reading from the Book of Jorge; this waqs going to be the homily, but  it’s 10:45 and the teams are coming out on to the pitch.

  • Suffice it to say that this should be the best match of the World Cup, the most intriguing clash, among other reasons because that it features the only two teams in the competition not to digrace themselves yet.
  • Regular, dear, handsome readers will be aware of our revelling in the death of metrosexuality in the elimination of Sven, Domenech, Capello & Co. and the relative success of the macho South Americans, etc. Nonetheless, we think Jogi Löw is a bit of a legend and the only manager who has done as good a job as el Diego in this competition (apart from Bielsa).
  • Whatever happens today, too, we insist that Maradona has done a fantastic job so far. He has been brilliant, not just a cheerleader, and it is up to the players now to make the most of their opportunities.
  • We point to the fact that when the German poets were plunging the depths of the Romantic spirit 200 years ago, Argentina were leading the push for South American liberation from the stuffy Spanish. This is a grudge match, yes, but it is also a love affair.
  • As pegamequemegusta’s missus would testify, however, were she given the chance, love hurts.
  • Vamos Carlitos, vamos Masche, vamos Messi, vamos Otamendi carajo, y aguante Argentina la puta que te parío!