Argentine football team in God’s hands

Argentina’s most beloved son, Diego Armando Maradona, is to be the new coach of Argentina’s national football team. The news comes just over a week after the team’s humiliating loss to Chile in its latest world cup qualifier, which prompted former coach Coco Basile’s resignation.

Maradona, often cited as the best player in the history of the game, is famous for his controversialHand of God” manouver, which resulted in an illegal but unpenalised goal against England in the quarter-final of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico City, along with the “Goal of the Century“, an amazing feat which saw him dodge and weave past six England players in that same match. While football aficionados appreciate the technical brilliance of the latter, Maradona’s countrymen are particularly fond of the Hand of God, expressing as it does, so eloquently, the national love for the “chanta” – the wise guy who cheats and gets away with it.

Maradona’s rags-to-riches story begins with a childhood spent in Buenos Aires’ slums, followed by a glittering career which saw him play for the iconic Buenos Aires team Boca Juniors, and later in Europe for the Barcelona and Napoli clubs. While playing for Naples, he was suspended after failing a doping test. He has had problems with cocaine addiction, but has lately been in good health. Argentines are hoping he is the dose of inspiration – and technical expertise – that the team needs to lift its game.

Coach resigns after Argentina’s hopeless performance

In an update to our earlier post, Alfio “Coco” Basile has resigned as coach of Argentina’s national football team after a string of lacklustre games that reached its nadir with Argentina’s pathetic loss to Chile last night.

Historic loss to Chile

It seemed as though there were 22 Chileans on the field to Argentina’s 11 during last night’s World Cup qualifier played in Santiago.

The Chileans were on top of the Argentines from the beginning, interrupting their passes and taking their marks. The home crowd was a sea of red t-shirts urging Chile to end the decades-long losing streak against its neighbour and rival, and the players looked as hungry as could be. The only hope for Argentina was that playing such an intense game would wear the Chileans out half way in.

The Argentine team looked like a bunch of superstar players that had gotten together for a friendly reunion. It was hard to detect any strategy. Messi barely got a chance to perform his usual dart-and-shoot goalmaking magic. Riquelme’s presence (denied due to a yellow card during the weekend’s messy but ultimately victorious game against Uruguay) was sorely missed, with Messi acting as playmaker and Agüero stuffing up the scarce opportunities to score. Some players were unusually useless – Cambiasso took the prize there – but on the whole, hopeless and pathetic. They didn’t even look like they were trying.

And the Chileans didn’t get tired, not one bit. They scored a goal in the first half and didn’t give Argentina any chances, while the Argentines were beyond creating any.

The win was delicious for Chile – rivalry with their neighbour is always vigorous, and they haven’t beaten Argentina in 35 years. Also, Chile failed to qualify for the last two World Cup tournaments, and this puts them closer to competing in South Africa in 2010.

“Chile was the superior team, there are no excuses,” said Coco Basile, Argentina’s coach.  “They beat us well – they beat us in every corner of the field… They were just a running machine. It was impressive.”

One minor salve for Argentina’s hurt pride may be that Chile’s coach, Marcelo Bielsa, comes from the other side of the Andes. But the fans and the sports writers here are inconsolable. They’ve been disappointed with their team’s lacklustre performances of late. Even in winning matches against others in the South American pool, the selection has lacked sparkle, seemingly devoid of a common sense of purpose. The sports columns are wondering whether the team is suffering from one of the national illnesses – excessive individualism. It does seem sometimes, watching them, that they’re a bunch of stars without a constellation.

Beauty prize for the match goes to Matías Fernandez of Chile, who did a great job on the field while adorning the scene with his delightful curls.

Two golds in a row for Argentina’s footballers

A quieter than usual Friday night in Buenos Aires erupted in cheers, horn-blowing and, in my street, the usual aimless youths bashing on an old tin gate, as the city celebrated Argentina’s 1-0 win against Nigeria for the Olympic gold medal in football. They also won the gold in Athens, against Paraguay.

The game wasn’t quite as exciting as the Brazil-Argentina match on Tuesday morning, which buzzed with the habitual frisson that these neighbours and old-time rivals generate. Brazil hadn’t conceded a single goal when they met Argentina, but were convinvingly outplayed 3-0. Strangely, Brazil has never managed to bag Olympic gold in football.

While I was tucked under a rug all cosy, the players looked like they occasionally struggled in the 32-degree heat. The umpires even stopped play a couple of times so the footballers could have a drink of water. By 2.30am I, too, was struggling, having trouble keeping my eyes open on the couch. But I managed to catch Ángel Di María’s goal, set up by that ingenious little man, Lionel Messi – known here in Argentina as “La Pulga”, or The Flea, for his lightening-speed dribbles. As always, it was delightful to watch Messi’s amazing moves. It’s just so thrilling whenever he has the ball – it’s like the pleasure one gets watching the best dancer in the room.

Messi! Photo sourced from LaNacion.com.ar

Messi! Photo sourced from LaNacion.com.ar

The win reverses Argentina’s 1996 loss against Nigeria in Atlanta, and makes Javier Mascherano, who was also part of the winning 2004 team, the only double gold-holder in Argentina. Argentina is the first team in 40 years to successfuly defend the football gold medal, after Hungary won in 1964 and ’68.

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