Alemania v Maradona

Gonzalo makes the most of his chance to become Argentina’s number 9 in South Africa

While the Lahm-roasting I was hoping for was not to be, Argentina won well enough against a German team so stodgy and turgid it made me long to spend a day in the lungs of a tubercular poet. It took the intervention of the Cacau-el-cabrón to bring a bit of life to the proceedings – with not a little skill and more attitude than Bette Midler – exacting terrible vengeance on Mascherano for some harshly spoken words shortly before.

Besides Otamendi, who looked hopeless, Argentina’s defence did look alright:  Samuel was man of the match for me. Still, the limitations of such a negative approach, playing with four centre backs, are obvious enough. The most important fact of the match is that Germany were useless: despite having much more of the ball, they created next almost no decent chances. Compared to Germany, Ireland yesterday looked like… I don’t know, Brazil (oho).

Like Ireland, there was no-one to distribute the ball to Di María, Jonás or Messi. But surely that’s what Verón is there for: spreading the ball wide to lift what there was of German pressure. Except for one free kick, which he belted from an acute angle at the keeper with Burdisso rushing in for a flick, he spent the whole game sitting too deep, hanging back too far in general and contributing little or nothing. The strange thing, though, is that this was his job in the game: but why wasn’t he further forward playing more or less as a number 10? For some reason he was always behind Mascherano – that is, in Masche’s position, getting in his way and confusing things. 4-1-3-2, yes, but with Verón as the number 5 and Mascherano pretty much lost, unable to do what he does best.

So to sum up: in the first half Argentina played quite well and looked canny and smart, vivos as they say here. In the second half, though, they just looked out of ideas, bored (and boring) and without much inclination even to impress a very impressionable manager.

Not everyone can pull off this look

Speaking of whom, the best thing of the afternoon was almost undoubtedly el Diego in the press conference. He refused to be interviewed with a German player beside him! With a smile on his face, he said it “wasn’t normal for a manager to give a press conference with another player beside me… I’ll wait if you want… Over there [pointing to the side of the podium].” A man with a Spanish accent kept insisting that he stay but he ended up getting up and waddling off to the side where he signed a few autographs. The German player, Muller, stood there on the podium on his own with a morto look on his face.  After an awkward moment or two he set off towards Maradona… but walked right past him and out the door, whereupon the manager of the Selección waddled back up onto the podium.

In general he was in good humour, laughing at the interruptions of the fussy German’s translators (- Sorry but would you let me translate… – Well if you let me finish speaking, you can translate it afterwards!) and looking bemused, playing with his water bottles, as he waited for them to finish. He wouldn’t accept any comparison with the German team of ’86, nor with the supposed ‘dichotomy’ between the Barca Messi and the Argentina Messi, saying he just thanked God Messi is Argentinian.

As regards what he actually said, there wasn’t much: he said that Argentina were better than Germany in every part of the pitch, that they were comfortable enough defending Germany’s crosses, that he was chuffed with the clean sheet and that, “We wanted to show, against one of the powerhouses of football, that we’re alive and well.” The best frase maradoniana, all the same, and the most accurate, I reckon, was that “We both threw a load of meat on the barbeque and the weight and class of our players made the difference.”

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Maradona/Goikoetxea

It might seem incredible, but very shortly before that happened, Shuster had gone in hard on Goikoetxea. As the Basque had injured the German, the whole stadium was screaming “Shuster! Shuster!” applauding the revenge. The Basque was going mental: “I’m going to kill that guy” he was saying. He was by my side as he was marking me, so I said: “Take it easy, Goiko, chill out, sure you’re losing 3-0; you’ll just get booked for nothing.

The cover of Maradona's score-settling, record-crookedinininning tome

Maradona’s version of the horrific foul by Athletic Bilbao’s Goikoetxea that broke his leg when he was playing for Barcelona in 1983 (from Yo soy el Diego (de la gente)):

It was the 24th of September 1983. That morning something unbelievable happened. I went to hospital to see this kid who had been knocked down by a car. His legs were in bits, the poor little thing! When he saw me his face lit up; I said hello, I kissed him on the cheek and I was about to go as I had to play a match that night. I was already at the door when, from the bed, he pulled himself up and shouted: “Diego, look after yourself, please, ‘cause they’re after you now!” That’s what he told me: Now they’re coming after you.

When the Basque Goikoetxea broke my leg, we were beating Athletic 3-0! I saw the video two days later. I was in bed in the hospital in Barcelona and I managed to say “Goikoetxea knew what he was doing”. I didn’t see him coming. If I had, I would’ve dodged him as I had so many other times before. But I felt the blow, I heard the snap, like a piece of wood and I knew straight away. When Migueli came over to ask me what was wrong, how I was, I told him, with tears in my eyes: “He shattered me, smashed me up.”

It might seem incredible, but very shortly before that happened, Shuster had gone in hard on Goikoetxea. As the Basque had injured the German, the whole stadium was screaming “Shuster! Shuster!” applauding the revenge. The Basque was going mental: “I’m going to kill that guy” he was saying. He was by my side as he was marking me, so I said: “Take it easy, Goiko, chill out, sure you’re losing 3-0; you’ll just get booked for nothing.

I swear I said it to him as I could see he was nervous, not to take the piss or anything. And straight after, well you know what happened. They cleared the ball and I went to get the ball in the middle of the pitch. I ran as I thought Goiko would get there first, and as we played the offside trap I imagined he’d be clear through if I didn’t… I got away from him, touched the ball with the toe of my boot, and when I went to turn around, crack, the axe fell, I felt as if my leg was trapped, as if it was shattered…

Afterwards the only thing I wanted to know was when I could get back to playing. El Flaco Menotti came into the room and said: “You’re a legend, Diego, you’ll come out of this OK. I hope your sacrifice will lead to an end to violence once and for all.”

[….]

Over time I learned to forgive Goikoetxea. At that time my brothers and the Barca fans were saying that he was a thug and I didn’t contradict them. The person I can’t forget, however, was Clemente, who was manager of Athletic at that time: in the immediate aftermath of the game he said he was proud of his players and, later, that he was going to wait a week to see if I was really that injured. All the same, the best statement came from Marca, where they had the perfect headline: “No Artists Allowed.” (Prohibido ser artista) It was a good synthesis as at that time there was a huge clash between those of us who actually played football and those who… just ran about. And I was pretty much the standard-bearer of those who had fun with the ball, and right in the country where they put the boot in more than anywhere else. As the Italians knew how to mark you, but the Spaniards would try to kill you on the pitch.”

Speaking of life-changing injuries, el Diego goes on to say that it was in Barcelona that he first started to take cocaine. He doesn’t specify but it seems quite probable that it was during his recuperation that he first dallied with that “bullshit cocaine”.