Wednesday, June 30, 2010
I read some of you were angry with Paul, the octopus, who keeps predicting Germany's results and so far has had a 100% record (including guessing their shocking defeat to Serbia).
It's incredible how much publicity this octopus got. And here you can see him picking Germany for Saturday.
And here at Mundo Albiceleste we have to admit he was right! (sorry, I couldn't find a link in English).
So there you have it: Germany 3-1 Argentina.
But wait a minute...wait a minute...there is another character who can predict the future and he has other things in mind. He comes from the land of the 'asado'. He comes from the land of Diego.
I give you...'El chorizo vidente' ('the future-telling chorizo') and he's got his own personal prediction for Saturday.
Apparently, Diego and members of his coaching staff have agreed in playing 3-4-3 v. Germany.
DEMICHELIS-BURDISSO-HEINZE (SAMUEL is apparently not ready to make a comeback yet)
Jonas GUTIERREZ-VERON-MASCHERANO-Clemente RODRIGUEZ;
That's your 3-4-3.
Whilst I think it's risky to play with a backline of three after playing with four every game so far, I don't think this is such a crazy idea.
We are talking about a 3-4-3 that could very well be considered as a 5-2-3 or 5-3-2 when we are under attack.
How? Jonas and Clemente could drop back and become defenders. They would be out there covering ÖZIL and PODOLSKI and helping MASCHERANO in chasing MULLER or SCHWEINSTEIGER (if he joins their forwards), but they could also join in the attack when we have the ball.
VERON would have a free role around MASCHERANO and would read the game to see what is needed from him at every moment.
The three at the back will have to worry about Miroslav KLOSE and will have to help out Jonas and Clemente when they are one against two in coverage.
I said it could be a 5-3-2 because I see TEVEZ dropping back a little bit if we are under real pressure.
The 5-2-3 could show up if we are set out to counterattack Germany. An early 1-0 lead for Argentina would be the perfect scenario for this. With Jonas and Clemente not needing to surge forward that much and with VERON launching long passes for the three guys up front.
Honestly, without even talking about the names, I don't think this would be such a crazy idea and I actually like it.
You could think of Maxi or DI MARIA instead of Jonas and Clemente. You could have a case for BOLATTI or PASTORE instead of VERON.
With this tactic and with the players we've got in South Africa, I think Jonas and Clemente would be better options than Maxi and DI MARIA. And I also think this could be a good chance for VERON to dictate the rhythm of the game and use all his experience. It could too much to give PASTORE his first start in such difficult conditions -even though I don't doubt PASTORE for a second, but the game is 90 minutes long -possibly 120- and he can still make an impact as a sub depending on how the game develops).
It still pains me to be without Javier ZANETTI as this would have been a perfect game for him. And Esteban CAMBIASSO would have been perfect to do the same on the left. ZANETTI and CAMBIASSO instead of Jonas and Clemente and I'd be 100% sure of our victory. With their experience, their form and their ability to play as wing-backs and midfielders with the same level of peformances, it would have been just perfect to have them out there.
Still, I think it's a good idea and I think it could give us the best possible chance to play Germany, probably be solid at the back, have a couple of holding midfielders (and one of them who could be a playmaker too) and all that without sacrificing none of our three forwards.
Wow! That's a long analysis based on a crazy rumour! I'm sure you'll understand I can't think of anything else than this game on Saturday!
So I'm taking this information from the national media reporting on what Diego MARADONA said today.
Among other things, Diego said the following:
"I would be a sin to change now. Those matches we played against Uruguay (final week of the World Cup Qualifiers) and Germany (1-0 win in that friendly played in March in Munich) were tactically perfect. But right now, with different needs, the story is different. The truth is that we can't change the way we are playing now. It would be a sin to do that with the kind of players we have".
"I don't have time to think about what Bastian SCHWEINSTEIGER said (Note: He said Argentine players like to provoke their rivals). My players are thinking of getting out there to the pitch and have revenge from 2006. So I don't care about what he says about penalty-kicks, about how we don't know how to accept defeat. We don't care about that. Each match is a whole new story and this will be no exception. We are going to attack them and we are going to play on their half. Maybe that's why they are so nervous".
Diego showed his support to Martín DEMICHELIS and Angel DI MARIA.
"Who says DEMICHELIS is playing badly? Whoever says that must be Andrea BOCELLI (Note: An Italian blind singer). DEMICHELIS is playing great. He is a top centre-back. And I'm very happy with DI MARIA. He is doing everything I ask of him and he can explode in any minute. His moment will come. It's in the air".
After these comments, we still don't know what our starting XI will be, but we can pretty much know that we will go on and attack Germany. It also looks as if DEMICHELIS and DI MARIA will remain starters. We will know more about our probable lineup for Saturday when the team trains again on Thursday.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
It's the late hours of Tuesday, 29 June and even though most of you will read this on the 30th, I can't ignore the fact that 24 years ago today, Argentina defeated West Germany 3-2 at the Azteca Stadium to win the 1986 Mexico World Cup. How many times have we watched those images and how many frustrations have we lived since then? 24 years later, it's Germany in our way again and we need to stop with this painful streak against them. It still hurts to remember how they beat us in the final in 1990 and how they eliminated us on penalties four years ago. It's time to stop them now.
And what would be the best way to do so?
Frankly, I'm not so sure. Do we try to beat them at their own game? Or do we try to play our way?
What do I mean?
Simple. Do we play with wide midfielders (Maxi, Jonas or DI MARIA for example) to run their dangerous offensive midfielders down the flanks and try to beat them at their game? With pace and power?
Or do we play possession midfielders (VERON, BOLATTI, PASTORE plus MASCHERANO)?
Both ways could work. Both could fail.
I heard Jonas could be playing instead of DI MARIA and the rest of the team would be unchanged from our starting XI v. Mexico.
I see then Maxi on the right (chasing Lukas PODOLSKI and helping Nicolás OTAMENDI) and Jonas on the left (going after Mesut ÖZIL and giving Gabriel HEINZE a hand). Thomas MULLER plays more of a free role and roams around the entire 3/4 when they attack, so I'm thinking MASCHERANO could be minding his runs.
That formation and lineup would probably keep us covered at the back. I use the word 'probably' because with the talent Germany have (especially up front) you are never sure of cover for all of their weapons. They could be thinking the same, of course.
That's the other matter. How will we attack them? MESSI, TEVEZ and HIGUAIN should all start, but if we really are playing with Maxi and Jonas together with MASCHERANO in midfield, my fear is: who would provide our three forwards with the ball?
That's why I'm also thinking of the other option (not that MARADONA has it in mind -as far as I know-). What if we forget about what Germany do and concentrate on keeping the ball a la Spain and attack them instead?
I know we won't get to the same level of beautiful passing game Spain have shown since even before they won the Euro 2008. But we could try to frustrate Germany by denying them of the chance to enjoy a lot of possession.
I would be playing a fast RB like Clemente RODRIGUEZ instead of OTAMENDI (though I don't have a problem with the way Nicolás is playing, I would incline on using Clement because of his speed) and sticking with Gabriel HEINZE on the left (no, I'm not a fan of him overnight, but I have to give him credit for playing a very solid World Cup so far and I need my LB to defend exclusively if I'm going to use a midfield with more possession and attacking mentality).
My two CB, by the way, would be Nicolás BURDISSO and Walter SAMUEL. I'm not trusting Martín DEMICHELIS so far. I'm sorry.
In front of them, I would go with a combo of holding midfielders with MASCHERANO and Mario BOLATTI. Both could turn into defensive mode if we lose the ball and both could link up well with passing the ball around (especially BOLATTI). A little bit forward and just behind MESSI and TEVEZ, I'd use Javier PASTORE.
He would create mis-matches all over the pitch for Germany. Playing together with MESSI and knowing that TEVEZ could drop back a little bit every now and then, our rivals wouldn't know who to mark and where to mark him. Yes, we could risk being a little exposed on the flanks, but if Germany attack us from the wings, BOLATTI and MASCHERANO could give some support to whoever needs it. Just the thought of thinking of the creative mind of PASTORE linking up with MESSI and both benefiting from TEVEZ's X-factor and HIGUAIN's movement, makes me dream of great things.
That's why I keep asking myself. Do we play them at their game? Or do we play our traditional style?
I don't know. I keep playing this game over and over in my head. It's killing me.
How is this match developing in your brain and in your heart?
Sunday, June 27, 2010
The reason? Apart from a horrible refereeing mistake that allowed our first goal in a clear offside position, was nothing more than our incredible individual quality.
Mexico put us under real pressure early on and Carlos SALCIDO hit the bar from outside the area. It looked like Sergio ROMERO completely misjudge that ball's trajectory but it also appeared to me that he did manage to touch it just a little bit. Maybe enough to deflected against the bar. Then Andrés GUARDADO sent a shot just wide and again we were lucky for Mexico not to score.
And without attacking that much or that clearly, we found the opener courtesy of a Carlos TEVEZ header and thanks for the referee that didn't see that clear offside position.
It looked like the linesman wanted to have a word with the referee and I was ready to punch a wall or something because I clearly saw the linesman running towards midfield with his flag down (a clear sign that he saw no offside) and then it looked like he watched a replay and thought differently. Had they ruled that goal out, it would have been an even bigger embarrassment for FIFA, because they don't allow the use of technology in those kind of plays and had the ref taken a decision based on how the linesman saw the play on the big screen, it would have make matters really worst for FIFA. Especially coming from a terrible blunder that costed England the chance to equalise and get back in the game earlier against Germany.
After that, Rafa MARQUEZ seemed to have lost his mind and got a really quick yellow for a foul on Lionel MESSI. He was clearly frustrated for that call.
It looked like after that opener, Argentina would destroy Mexico with counter-attacks and when Ricardo OSORIO tried to step on the ball to change the direction of the play and simply gave it away to non-other than Gonzalo HIGUAIN it sure looked like game over.
Pipita was incredible and with a sweet step on the ball (that's how it's done, Señor OSORIO! That's how it's done!), he left Oscar PEREZ lying on the ground and prompt me to shout: "GOOOOOOOL" a good few seconds before he even hit that ball with his left foot.
He is now alone at the top of the goalscoring charts with 4 goals in 3 matches played. Not bad, Pipita.
The second half saw Argentina happy with the 2-goal difference and sit back a little too much for my liking. But Diego's team got lucky to find a third goal right after the break. With seven minutes gone, TEVEZ tried a through pass for HIGUAIN but was blocked. Right after he noticed the ball was still on his reach, he never thought twice about it and he sent a beautiful rocket into the top right corner. 3-0. Second goal for TEVEZ in this game and his third in World Cup matches (reaching Maxi's level, slightly behind of Pipita's four).
After that, it was more of the same. We were not controlling the ball and we let Mexico came at us. You can't fault them for not trying, but it was clear they didn't have the individual talent to reach the level of effectiveness in front of goal that Argentina were showing.
Diego then introduced VERON in place of TEVEZ, who looked clearly frustrated as he really wanted more. I liked Diego's idea of sending VERON onto the pitch to try and get more possession, but I though TEVEZ was on fire and he should have stayed. Maybe replacing HIGUAIN and releasing TEVEZ and MESSI upfront would have been a better way to make the most out of TEVEZ happy day and move your star man a little more forward for him to try and finally get his personal goal and have that problem out of the way.
We looked shaky at times and DEMICHELIS was again at fault in the goal we conceded. Second goal we concede in this tournament, second clear mistake by DEMICHELIS. No. This was not even close to the mistake he made v. South Korea, but he let Javier HERNANDEZ turned him inside out and he allowed the new Manchester United signing to have a clear shot on goal that was just too much for ROMERO to defend.
That is a concern. That is a real concern going forward. Germany have a lot more talent than Mexico up front. They have very intelligent players in OZIL, PODOLSKI and MULLER and they have a hit-man that knows what he is doing and is getting closer and closer to RONALDO in his quest of becoming the top scorer in the history of the World Cup. Miroslav KLOSE got another goal today against England and he is now at 12 compared to RONALDO's 15.
Yes, England scored two (though only one was allowed to stand), hit the post once (though DEFOE was unfairly judged offside) and forced Manuel NEUER to a couple of crucial saves. All of this, even with the Three Lions playing an average game and showing nothing even closer to the firepower Argentina have in the final third of the pitch.
Dave already sent his player ratings but I have to say my man of the match was TEVEZ (not only because the two goals he scored but also for his movement and for what he did especially in the second half), but very close to him I have to put Gabriel HEINZE! What a performance today. As I always say...when the team is in the middle of chaos, the more chaotic players will shine (examples: PALERMO v. Perú; HEINZE v. Mexico today -especially in the second half-), but that doesn't take anything away from El Gringo. He made a couple of goal-line saves that were fantastic and saved us from a nervy finish. He was very solid, made no mistakes in his marking and he even gave us a classic moment when he hit that cameraman when he was celebrating with TEVEZ and HIGUAIN after our second goal.
This marked the first time we win a knock-out World Cup match in regulation since we defeated Brazil in 1990! Yes. You heard me! After that, we advanced v. Yugoslavia and Italy on penalties. Then lost to Romania in the round of 16 in 1994, defeated England on penalties in the same round in 1998 (before losing to Holland in the QF) and defeated Mexico in extra-time in 2006 before losing to Germany in the following round.
That was a terrible streak and I'm more than happy to see it end. It goes to show how hard it has been for Argentina to advance deep in the World Cup recent history.
Another run? Last time we lost a World Cup match (not on penalties) was back in 2002 when England beat us 1-0. Since then: a 1-1 draw with Sweden (though it meant we were eliminated); wins v. Ivory Coast and Serbia & Montenegro, a draw v. Holland, a win v. Mexico, a draw with Germany and then these four consecutive wins in South Africa. That is the longest run we ever had in the history of the World Cup with 10 matches without defeats.
We move on, but we need to improve if we want to avenge our team from 2006 and beat Germany as a pay back we've been waiting for during the last four years.
ROMERO 6.5: Was caught flat footed a couple of times throughout this game, but when it came to being tested from long range he was confident in his hands. On the goal scored he could not do much, the blast was from 8 yards out and with a lot of power. Good game for ROMERO, first game where he was truly tested with more than 5 shots.
OTAMENDI 7: Throughout the first half he played with immense confidence and calmness at the RB position. Was good getting forward even-though we attacked mostly through the middle or down the left. In the second half when Mexico was attacking more he was beat once or twice, but he made some very key sliding tackles which halted their attack. On the goal where DEMI got turned on OTAMENDI tried to get back but he too was pushed up 1 step too many. Happy to see
a solid defensive right back, played better than JONAS in that position.
DEMICHELIS 6: Overall a decent game for DEMI, however, as usual he made 1 or 2 mistakes. One on the gol which HERNANDEZ scored, he was playing his left side too tight and high which allowed from him to turn way to easily. Also, there was a moment when he made a header which went right to a Mexican attacker. Other than those mistakes, DEMI was good in the air and at the end of the first half he had a key touch on the ball to stop and shot. But definitely our shakiest defender all night.
BURDISSO 8: Very solid match from BURDISSO, not much to say about him because he was in the right position all game. No mistakes all game and put good pressure on the Mexican attack. He was good in the air and stood his ground well on many of his tackles. Looking forward to seeing more of BURDISSO he is a very calm and cool defender when compared to DEMI, playing well filling in for the missing SAMUEL.
HEINZE 9: Wow very impressed with the hustle and passion HEINZE played with. His intensity was high as usual but this time he could not do any wrong. Pushed forward all game and still got back in his LB position to halt all attack down the right side for Mexico. Many key tackles, lots of
picked off passes, and saved 2 goals with his diving head; one which was off the line. Very scrappy worker and his work rate all game was only matched by TEVEZ. Played a good ball into the middle which TEVEZ received and eventually blasted into the net. HEINZE
played excellent tonight and will hopefully carry this over into Germany where his confidence will grow.
MASCHERANO 7: Did his job tonight. Blocked many passes and shepherd the Mexican attack everywhere their midfield went. Applied pressure to the attackers when our defense needed help and made some good tackles throughout the night. Happy to keep possession moving along the back line for awhile, but did not really distribute well to MESSI or DI MARIA. Typical gritty performance tonight.
MAXI 6: Was looking to see MAXI push up on the right side of the midfield which we missed with VERON playing last game. However, he instead floated towards the middle of the pitch and never really got involved in the attack. In the first half he played alongside MASCHERANO and was another defensive midfielder. This is why our attack was a little left side biased, going through DI MARIA and MESSI or TEVEZ on the left side. The second half he came out better
and looked to combine with MESSI, but once we took the 3rd gol he settled back into a more
defensive role. Quiet game for MAXI tonight. In the first half we seemed to be missing that link between the center mid and MESSI, maybe VERON playing would have made that better.
DI MARIA 5.5: A non productive attacking game from DI MARIA this game. However, was impressed with his hustle and intensity to come back and play defense all game. Looked to move down the left side all night but was not successful in providing many dangerous balls. In the first half he seemed unsettled and many of his touches were a little heavy, but as the game continued he enjoyed better play in possession. Good defensive effort, but was subbed out for the the
better defensive winger JONAS.
MESSI 6: Full of energy as usual, looked to take players on and shoot before combining with players tonight. This is okay to do but MARQUEZ played good defense on him all night. Messi was frustrated this game and did not get as many touches on the ball as he usually does. Played a great ball to TEVEZ which set up the first goal and chipped it in to his head, even-though he was offside. Other than that had a few shots which the goalie saved, but never really played many dangerous passes all night. They were usually blocked or cut out. Towards the middle of the 2nd half seemed to disappear from the game, we were playing a defensive style at this point but still looked to be frustrated with his performance.
TEVEZ 8.5: What can I say, we missed his hard work rate and never ending hustle in our last match. Good to see him back and he caused trouble on the Mexican defense all game. Made a good run on MESSI's pass which he got a touch on before the goalie did which allowed for MESSI to play him in again, although he was offside. Amazing second gol, which came out of nowhere, the ball bounced off a defender and he ran on to it one time from 22 yards out and blasted it into the upper right of the net. The most impressive part of his performance tonight was that he played every position on the field. Ran from striker to center mid to center back all game. There were 4 or 5 times where I saw TEVEZ back helping out BURDISSO and HEINZE. Great passion and hustle all game, great team defense by TEVEZ.
HIGUAIN 6: Not much to say about El Pipita tonight. Had a gol when a Mexican defender gifted him a ball which he took in 1 on 1 with the goalie and made a smooth move around him to score. Other then that he missed one header, and when he was on the ball he usually held on to it way to long. Also, most of his passes were a little heavy and like MESSI, was very frustrated with his performance tonight. He did not get much service but he still seemed to find a gol for himself. A
lot of very good individual performances was the reason why we won tonight.
VERON (68min in for TEVEZ) 6: Came on to settle the game down, and was not too effective in doing so. Pretty much sat back on top of the back 4 and helped MASCHERANO.
JONAS (78min in for DI MARIA) N/A
PASTORE (86 min in for Maxi) N/A
Mexico without Argentine-born Guillermo FRANCO.
They play with:
We're getting there and I can't write anymore. I know you are feeling exactly the same I'm feeling, wherever you are in the world.
OK, Diego, jugadores, let's do it!
Saturday, June 26, 2010
"I will pick those players who are at their best form to honour our shirt like it should be honoured. That's what fans of Argentina deserve".
Therefore, Nicolás BURDISSO will most likely partner Martín DEMICHELIS in the middle of our back line of four. Nicolás OTAMENDI and Gabriel HEINZE will play on the flanks.
Friday, June 25, 2010
So here we are. Some people say: "The real World Cup starts with the Round of 16". I would tell those people to look at Italy or France and think again.
I would go even further...the real World Cup starts with the World Cup Qualifiers! But they are history now. We need to talk about the present and here are some points I thought I'd raise for all of us to engage in conversation.
- What a great pleasure it is to see South American teams doing so well. Chile were the only ones which couldn't top their group and/or finish undefeated. They were just one goal shy of making it. The other four? No defeats and top of their groups. Uruguay didn't even concede a goal. Up to the point when David VILLA scored Spain's first goal on Friday, no South American team had even trailed at any time in any game! They were never behind in the score until VILLA scored. That defeat by Chile meant that it will be impossible for all CONMEBOL teams to make it to the Quarter-finals (can you imagine 5 out of 8 teams from the same region?). It will be impossible because La Roja will now face Brazil (a clash which, on the other hand, guarantees at least one South American side in the QF).
-Asians did a good job too. 2 out of 4 is not that bad. Australia are from Oceania but they qualified though the AFC so they count as an Asian representative in my opinion. And they missed out on goal-difference mainly because of their terrible performance v. Germany. South Korea and Japan are still alive and this time nobody can say it's just because they are hosting the tournament!
-What a disappointing tournament for Africans! Cameroon 0 pt; Algeria (no goals scored) and Nigeria 1 pt; Ivory Coast and South Africa (only host in the history of the World Cup to be eliminated in the group stage) 4 pts and only Ghana qualified (also 4 points). It was a perfect opportunity for them to shine and they were terrible (the exception being the Black Stars, a team that coped well despite missing their main star Michael ESSIEN and suffering with Sulley MUNTARI bothered by injuries too).
-CONCACAF? The only two decent teams from that confederation surprised a few people and made it to the Round of 16. Mexico did so by coming out of the so-called Group of Death, whilst the USA topped the group their shared with England. Honduras on the other hand...
-And the Europeans...well...only 6 out of 13 teams from the UEFA are still alive in the competition. But guess what? They will all face European rivals in the second round. So three of them will be eliminated. Not what you can call 'progress' after we saw four European sides playing the semifinals in Germany 2006. Giants like France and Italy have hugely disappointed. Greece and Switzerland came to take part in a track and field competition or something like that...because they didn't care about the ball. They were just running around. Preferably just a few yards away from their goalkeepers. And then some other teams like Slovenia, Serbia and Denmark which didn't have what it takes to advance.
-One big concern for me going forward is THE REFEREES. We've seen some guys call things they wouldn't get away with in my neighbourhood. It seemed like some of these referees have never played or even watch enough football. I've seen matches ruined single-handedly by refs. Switzerland-Chile is an example of a man possessed showing yellows and reds at will. The joke of a referee that ignored TWO hand-balls by Luis HANDIANO...sorry...Luis FABIANO in the same move -that ended in Brazil scoring their vital second goal v. Ivory Coast- was just that...a joke. He topped it up with a good laugh with Luis LIARIANO...sorry...Luis FABIANO, who swore he never touched it with his hand! Not to mention the man who denied the USA of a fantastic comeback win over Slovenia when he saw a ghost pushing a Slovenian defender in the penalty area. I mean...if we are going to see this kind of referees in the knock-out stages, we better brace ourselves for a very bumpy and uncomfortable ride. Sort it out, FIFA! Sort it out!
-Enough with the Jabulani argument. When I hear it from Diego, I respect his opinion, but you have to admit that it would be impossible to blame the ball for every sin there is in this World Cup after seeing how HONDA and ENDO sent the damn thing wherever they wanted to send it. Or how PODOLSKI, MÜLLER, LAHM and ÖZIL seem to have no problems with it. Or how MESSI keeps being denied by the woodwork or whoever is in goal against Argentina but he rarely sends a ball off target. None of the many goalkeeping blunders can be blamed on the Jabulani either. They were all human errors (especially Robert GREEN's). Very short grass and wet surfaces, however, topped with a little bit of altitude could very much be more solid arguments to explain the lack of precision and the below-average level of football we've been watching.
-When it comes to the best players from this first round (and after having watched every match -the exception being those which happened at the same time of others in the third round of matches, though I checked the highlights and some of them I watched simultaneously in two different screens-), here's my attempt of the ideal starting XI:
Diego BENAGLIO (SUI - He kept Switzerland alive until the very end. Conceded only one goal and was the main reason why they got a win over Spain and then lost only by one goal to Chile. A shame he couldn't score. Neither could his team-mates!)
MAICON (BRA - You gotta give it to him. Scored a brilliant goal against North Korea to help settle the nerves of his entire team. Played a good game v. Ivory Coast too and didn't make mistakes v. Portugal. Didn't play his best yet, but with what he did, it proved to be enough).
Tulio TANAKA (JPN - This is the man who scored two own-goals in two friendly matches just before the World Cup -England and Ivory Coast-, though he became famous for breaking Didier DROGBA's arm. It looks as if he left all that madness behind and he has become the backbone of a very tough Japanese defence clearing everything that went his way for a team that lost only marginally to Holland and conceded just 2 goals in three matches).
Bruno ALVES (POR - No goals conceded by his team. Very solid and commanding. Impossible to beat in the air -so far- and able to start attacking actions from the back).
Fabio COENTRAO (POR - Yes. Two Portuguese in my ideal defence. Who would have thought? But this man has been immense. Great pace and very dangerous going forward without forgetting about his defensive duties. One to keep a close eye on).
Mesut ÖZIL (GER - Impressed v. Australia and was the best player in a very solid Germany team. Faded out a little v. Serbia -though the manager replaced him with 20 minutes to go- and then gave Germany the ticket to the next round with a great goal v. Ghana. He is a very classy left-footed playmaker that is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise very industrious team).
Egidio AREVALO (URU - One of only two players from Uruguay (the other is sub GK Martín SILVA) that are still competing in his domestic league. He plays for Peñarol. This bald holding midfielder has been a beast for Uruguay. He is everywhere. He is a constant help for his defenders and he can also show up by surprise in the opposing penalty area. A motor in the middle for La Celeste).
Keisuke HONDA (JPN - Yes. My second Japanese here. Somebody should check this blonde Japanese's passport because he looks like someone from South America. The way he plays is just a joy to watch. He gave Japan three points with a sweet finish against Cameroon. Then he opened the scoring in their crucial match v. Denmark with a rocket of a free-kick (Jabulani is not a Japanese word, is it?!) and to finish up a glorious first round for him and his team, he created something out of nowhere and gave his team-mate Shinji OKAZAKI a lovely back pass for him to score in front of an empty net. More of this, Keisuke San please!
Forwards: (I'm going with a 4-3-3 formation, yes. It could be a little unbalanced with only RIOS marking, but I don't care!).
Lionel MESSI (ARG - He didn't score yet, but who cares if he will provide the kind of performances he is providing. The best thing about it is that he is still not even close to his best. Everytime he is on the ball, things change. With him being at a 6 out of a possible 10 it was enough for Argentina to walk through their group and be one of only 2 teams with perfect record (the other being Holland). Played a part in 4 out of 7 goals scored by Argentina).
David VILLA (ESP - He missed a penalty v. Honduras. Had he scored that one, he would be top of the scoring charts in this World Cup. All important goals for El Guaje, especially on Friday v. Chile to help La Furia get closer to the Round of 16 after being in danger for losing to Switzerland in their debut. He is a constant threat and he has become Spain's all-time leading scorer at the World Cup -beating legends such as RAUL and Emilio BUTRAGUEÑO).
Robert VITTEK (SVK - No Gonzalo HIGUAIN for me. He is up there together with VITTEK and VILLA with 3 goals, but he played only two matches -this could be a reason to rank him higher, though I'm not going for it- and his performance v. Nigeria left a lot to be desired. VITTEK, on the other hand, was more consistent and his goals gave Slovakia 4 points (they got four points to qualify from Group D). He scored against New Zealand and then he scored two v. Italy. Big, strong centre forward with a surprising speed. A big reason to explain Slovakia's qualification to the next round).
Best Manager: Takeshi OKADA (JPN) - He keeps saying Japan are going to get to the semifinals. I'm starting to believe he is being serious about it. There was a brilliant and very funny Japanese TV show I used to watch when I lived in England and it was called 'TAKESHI's CASTLE'. Well...this Takeshi is damn serious about his job. Nothing to laugh about here.
Bench (one in each position):
Fernando MUSLERA (URU - Only one of two goalkeepers that haven't conceded a goal yet -the other being EDUARDO from Portugal. MUSLERA has been safe whenever someone managed to get past the tough Uruguayan defence).
Rafael MARQUEZ (MEX - Rafa has been crucial for Mexico. El Tri's captain scored against South Africa and sent a clinical assist to Javier HERNANDEZ for Mexico to open the scoring against France. Apart from that, the Barcelona defender-midfielder has been excellent in every aspect of the game).
Michael BRADLEY (USA - He has proven many times that he is not there just because he is the son of the manager. Michael scored many crucial goals for the USA in the WC qualifiers and he came up big when it mattered the most, scoring the equalizer for the Americans v. Slovenia. He's been outstanding for the USA in every game they played so far).
Landon DONOVAN (USA - And if BRADLEY was crucial for the Americans...what can you say about clutch performer Landon DONOVAN? He started the comeback v. Slovenia with a great goal and then clinched the USA qualification for the Round of 16 with a late late late goal v. Argelia).
Outstanding figure in this first round: Who else but Diego Armando MARADONA? Not only he managed to get 9 points and give all but one outfield player (Ariel GARCE) some minutes, but he's been stealing all flashes and microphones since he arrived in South Africa. He sent PELE to the museum, he had an argument with KARAGOUNIS when the Greek midfielder wanted to pick up a fight with MESSI, he gave Lio the arm-band he wore like no other man did in the history of our national team and he even stopped a ball coming his way with a sweet 'taquito'. And all of this wearing that grey-almost-silver suit with a tie and a white shirt. May this endless series of serious and fun moments continue for a few more rounds. Four more rounds to be exact!
When Friday's training session started, Jonas played as a RB and VERON played in the middle. Exactly the same lineup we started with when we faced Nigeria.
Later on, Diego tried Nicolás OTAMENDI at RB and Maxi RODRIGUEZ in the middle. A lineup that we never tried entirely. It looked like this: ROMERO; OTAMENDI, DEMICHELIS, SAMUEL, HEINZE; Maxi RODRIGUEZ, MASCHERANO, DI MARIA; MESSI, TEVEZ and HIGUAIN.
Nothing decided yet. I will keep updating when I hear something relevant.
Oh, by the way, I'm leaning towards the option with OTAMENDI and Maxi as I think it's a much more balanced team than the other.
If everything goes just how our hearts are planning it and we keep advancing, this result guarantees that there is no way we can meet Brazil before the final match.
And that's my dream. I dream of a final between Argentina and Brazil. I don't think my heart will be able to endure such a classic match, but I'm willing to test it!
You all know I'm really cautious and that I never think ahead and that I always take one match at a time, but in this case, I think it's worthy to at least mention it and why not, secretly (or not so secretly since I'm writing it here!), start savouring it while there is still a chance for us to witness such a memorable epic encounter between us and the men in yellow.
Do you think it's possible? Do you want it to happen?
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
That's Mundo Albiceleste's wish. May all your wishes come true, amigo! Especially THAT one.
As you can see, Lionel, our road to the ultimate prize has just gotten a little tougher, but keep doing what you're doing and your goals will eventually come.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
I'm back from Japan and France, amazing trip, anyway back to the real action good performance tonight and love the passion and chemistry our team has right now....bring on Mexico (again)
Sergio ROMERO, (6): Was not really tested all match until the end of the game when Greece has some desperate shots. However, when he was tested he came through with safe and sure hands, had some clean punches from a few corner kicks. Other than that nothing else to do for ROMERO.
Clemente RODRIGUEZ, (6.5): Very good game from Clemente. Seemed calm in possession of the ball and got involved in the attack very well throughout the match. He did not have to do much defensively because of the way Greece was playing, however, when he was needed he was there. Some dangerous crosses into the box and good combination down the left side. When DI MARIA came in Clemente combined well with him. Good
performance from Clemente and is definitely and attacking back that we may need in future games.
Nicolás BURDISSO, (6): Quiet solid game from BURDISSO. Was not needed much throughout the game because we were in possession of the ball the majority of the game. Made some good tackles and very confident in the air. When DEMICHELIS made a mistake and allowed a break, BURDISSO was there to recover and put pressure on the Greek lone striker. Did not make any mistakes all game, but was not really tested too hard.
Martín DEMICHELIS (6.5): Early on in the game Martin played excellent and was bodying the Greek attack around. Good in moving the ball up to the midfield finding BOLATTI and VERON. However, as the game went on a little bit Demi started to misjudge some balls in the air. He slipped out on one ball he tried to head which allowed a break for the Greek defender. After that mistake he seemed a little rattled, but towards the end of the match settled back down and put in our first goal off a corner kick, good reaction off the deflection from MILITO.
Nicolás OTAMENDI (6.5): Impressed with OTAMENDI's performance tonight. He was
able to get involved in the attack early on because the lack of the Greek attack. Was solid throughout making good runs in the attack and moved the ball well. Made some very strong decisive tackles in defense and worked hard the entire match. Other than DEMICHELIS' mistake our defense performed very well tonight. Much confidence in all our defenders right now if Jonas, HEINZE, or SAMUEL get hurt or suspended.
Mario BOLATTI (6.5): Replaced MASCHERANO as the warrior in the midfield and performed very well. BOLATTI was quiet during this game but ran hard and cut of passing angles and made good tackles to stop any distribution up to the Greek striker. Was always near VERON if he ever needed to pass the ball back which was key in us keeping possession the majority of our game. Unlucky to have his shot saved by the Greek goalkeeper on the corner kick, but good strike none the less. Solid
replacement for MASCHERANO.
Juan Sebastián VERON (7): Played the entire 90 mins and ran the entire midfield. Every ball went through VERON tonight and he started every attack, and slowed the game down when needed. He paced the game with balls across field and attacked with quick combos with MESSI. Some of his passes back and forth with MESSI were a little hard or just out of reach but when they worked well it was dangerous. Great midfield General and you could definitely see his experience pouring out of every touch he made on the ball, he knows what he is doing and where every pass he made is going to go. Had some good corner kicks, as well a solo blast from 25 yards out which the goalie was forced to save. VERON knew that Greece was packing in their defense and was content to just move the ball around midfield and our defense until they pushed up a little, great in possession and keeping the ball.
Maxi RODRIGUEZ (5): Maxi had a very quiet match in his 60 mins. Made some good runs and combined well with VERON but overall did not get too involved n attack or defense. Had a shot which was saved by the keeper but other than that not much activity from Maxi, helped move the ball around but no attacking moves or passes, partially because of the Greeks defensive wall
Lionel MESSI (7): First game as captain and played great in his playmaker role.
MESSI was moving well throughout the game, however, there were times when the Greeks were too strong for him and they would simply push him off the ball. This was because there was lack of movement from MILITO and AGÜERO so MESSI was forced to hold on to the ball a little longer than usual. However, he did make his usual 3 defender beating runs and had some dangerous balls through the middle which were unfortunately not knocked in. Moved around well with VERON, and even better when
PASTORE came in for the last 15 mins. Towards the end of the game as it loosened up MESSI showed off his talent with quick one twos with PASTORE and DI MARIA and was unluckily denied by the left post again. PALERMO eventually got our second goal off of a deflection which was created by MESSI. Great performance by Pulga tonight. Look forward to seeing what he can great create against Mexico.
Sergio AGÜERO (5): Quiet game from El Kun, did not get as many chances as he would have liked with his time on the pitch. Partially because of Greeks 7 man defense but still was able to beat defenders and get some good looks on net. Had some good movement with MESSI, however when the finishing touch was needed, he could not finish. Missed some of the dangerous movement and runs that TEVEZ would have gave us. The spark plug off the bench may be his best role at this moment.
Diego MILITO (5): Started out this game with good energy and movement, but our
distribution to MILITO tonight was a little off, as well as some of the runs that he made throughout the match. MILITO sort of became anonymous as the game went on and really did not have much to do with our attack tonight. There were 2 chances, one where he could have headed the ball into the net, and the other where a cross came through the middle and he just missed it with his foot. Became frustrated with
himself and eventually was taken off in the 79min for PALERMO. Not a confident performance which we would have expected from MILITO.
DI MARIA (62 min for Maxi), (6): Added immediate pace to our attack when he entered, and played very well with Clemente down the left side. Looked confident on the ball and towards the ened played very well and fast with PASTORE and MESSI. Good burst of energy off the bench.
Javier PASTORE (75 min for AGÜERO), (7): Even though he played only 15mins PASTORE made an attacking impact with every touch on the ball. PASTORE showed his pace and skill when passing with VERON and controlled the game in the final minutes. Created lighting quick counters by pushing the ball up to MESSI and DI MARIA. Used a lot of quick skilful one touches and seemed very confident every time he was on the ball. Looks like another great replacement if we need an attacking punch or want
to control the game.
Martín PALERMO (79min for MILITO) N/A: Came on with 11 minutes left and hold 1 or
2 touches on the ball but was in the right place in the right time to get a deflection off the goalie and place the ball into the lower right corner. Good finish by PALERMO.
"The fact that I don't score doesn't worry me. Of course it'd be nice to score some goals, but as long as the team win, it doesn't matter. Today I have a man marking me the whole time and it was difficult. Especially because the referee didn't show the cards he should have shown and it made it easier for them to keep fouling us".
"I tried to bring their defenders out of the area and that's why I pulled back a few metres to start our circuit from midfield".
"To wear the armband was something really special. It's something beautiful. All my team-mates showed me their support and it was nice".
"What's the deal with that famous 'Fair Play' thing! It's all very nice with the yellow flag and all that, but it's not happening! How else can you explain how MESSI gets fouled everytime he is on the ball and the referees will never show yellow cards to our rivals? Start booking some players and you will see how you will start seeing some fair play".
"I'm gutted with how the goal is not coming for Lio. He is hitting the post every game now. But not only the post. He is hitting the inside of the post! He's been very unlucky".
"A lot of the journalists were very wrong in their criticism of most of my players. Most of these guys are the same we used in the Qualifiers and most of you were saying they were useless. I'd be pleased to see those journalists apologise now".
"I told PALERMO: "Get out there and finish the game off for me". We were thinking about Pipita with my staff members. Well, in fact they were thinking of sending HIGUAIN to the pitch but I said: "No. Give me Martín". I think our substitutions paid off. With DI MARIA coming on we improved. I'm not surprised at all by Javier PASTORE. He doesn't respect nobody. He looks like he has played four or five World Cups".
"I would ask all FIFA directors to stop talking about me and to start working on having a proper football to play in this World Cup. This ball is useless. It's impossible to control".
"Set pieces are not all we've got. Our team are showing a solid game, despite some mistakes every now and then. We knew we would force Greece into making mistakes if we really attacked them and we did a good job".
"I think our people identifies with our team when we attack. When we make substitutions to try and get the result. When we play a lot of passes. I think our people are happy. They can rest assured that this team will give all we've got in every match".
"The road gets narrow now. And when that happens, class is what counts. We are talking about a lot of teams and when it comes to the semifinals and the finals it's always the same four or five teams that get there. Mexico have a great team. I know Javier AGUIRRE from when he was with Atletico de Madrid. There is no margin of error now. We will make sure we will play with the best players we have on Sunday and I think what I want is for my players to be respected. We will show
"All my players did the job I wanted them to make. They all did exactly what I asked them to do. We will start thinking right now about Mexico. I think Clemente was fantastic today. He can do exactly the same on the right. He's got no problems with that. OTAMENDI? From my point of view, he was man of the match tonight".
I thought Greece would have had the need to try and get something out of this game. I thought they would attack or at least try something to get what they needed from this meeting with Argentina. They gambled on getting a draw and shutting down Argentina and then on getting a result go their way from the other match in our group. Well...I'm glad it didn't pay off for them. Not only because we won, but also because I can't believe how negative they played tonight. It felt like they didn't want to be there in the first place. And I don't like it when teams that don't want to play football stay alive in the competition.
That brick wall they built was enough to keep us at bay for a long time, but I'm glad we kept trying and we kept attacking when if any of the teams could have had the luxury to take it easy that was Argentina. But no. We refused to take it easy and we kept going forward. That's what we do. That's what we like to see.
It was tough, but in the end we managed to find a way to get all three points and make it 9 of a possible 9.
I was pleased to see the goal came from Martín DEMICHELIS. He was having another nightmare at the back. He made a couple of mistakes that could have costed us and he was not looking confident. Then he found a goal, opened things up for us and settled down. I'm glad for him because we need him.
I wasn't pleased to see how the goal keeps evading MESSI in this tournament. He did a lot in all three matches to find the back of the net but it's just not coming for him. It was ENYEAMA in our first match, then the post denied him from scoring against both South Korea and today Greece.
Don't worry, I'm not going to skip the point in which I speak about Diego MILITO! haha!
The first thing I feel I have to say is that given the circumstances, he didn't play bad at all. In fact, I think he played a good game. He was unfortunate the referee didn't give us a penalty kick when he was pulled back by KYRGIAKOS. We were playing in blue but we are not Italy to be given those calls, are we?
He didn't have clear chances to score but always tried to get involved in the game and always fought the big centre-backs from Greece. He was involved in our first goal (though he didn't mean to) and he could be given an assist in those fantasy games we play! And then I knew he was going to be replaced and not play 90 minutes! It must be just his luck.
And what Diego MILITO lacks, PALERMO has. And tons of it! Great one-two between MESSI and DI MARIA and the Barcelona star is denied one more time by TZORVAS only for the rebound to fall right into PALERMO's path. He couldn't miss from there and he didn't! His emotions after the game were great to see. As I have always said here on Mundo, I have nothing against PALERMO and I think he is probably one of the best guys there is in football. I still think he is nowhere near the level of MILITO and HIGUAIN and I don't want him starting at all for Argentina in this World Cup, but he has already shown he's got that super-sub X-factor.
I'll wait for Dave's player ratings but I think I have to say I was really impressed by Clemente RODRIGUEZ.
I guess it was good to see we never lost our patience and we kept going for it. We showed we really wanted to get three points even when we didn't really need them. Greece? They just showed me they didn't want to stay in South Africa enough.
We still need to improve and we have to think that the game against Mexico won't be the same as this one, but we have to be prepared for our rivals to come and play against us with a bus parked in front of their goal and with 11 men behind the ball. We need to be able to break them all. One by one.
So, here's a space for all of you to come and vent your anger, share your joy or just write whatever the hell you want to write using our comments' box during the game.
ROMERO; OTAMENDI, DEMICHELIS, BURDISSO, Clemente RODRIGUEZ; BOLATTI, VERON, Maxi RODRIGUEZ; MESSI, AGÜERO, MILITO.
Blue shirt like the one we wore exactly 24 years ago when Diego scored those two mythological goals against England.
Uruguay waiting for the second team from our Group whilst Mexico will be facing us like in 2006 if we manage to win the group.
Right...I'm off to watch the game!
Monday, June 21, 2010
Now this was the story about a Spanish knight called Rodrígo DÍAZ DE VIVAR, born around 1041 or 1054.
Known as 'El Cid Campeador', this man was a master military tactician and he was feared by all the other armies. He was invincible.
In 1094 he conquered the city of Valencia and became the ruler. It was a strategically placed city and it was under a constant pressure from the Almoravids. In one of the Almoravid attacks on Valencia, El Cid was hit by an arrow and died two days later.
Here's when the story gets interesting. Soon after he died, the Almoravids heard about it and decided to charge again to conquer Valencia. Little did they know that on the eve of that epic battle, El Cid's army came up with a brilliant plan.
What did they do? They got El Cid's dead body on his famous horse called Babieca and then they tied him up so he looked like he was alive (pretty much like the movie 'Weekend at Bernie's' if you allow me to compare such a classic novel with a silly -though incredibly funny- movie!). They gave him his sword and they formed around him as they defended the city from the Almoravid attack.
What happened next?
His enemies couldn't believe what they were seeing. They thought they had killed the man already. That's when they started thinking El Cid had supernatural powers. They thought the man was from another planet. They were scared to death and they had no option but to surrender and escape. How could they beat a man coming back from death and famous for having won every battle he fought?
Such was the fear and horror his figure would cause in his rivals. He was death. He was gone. But still, he managed to win that famous battle anyway.
I see Lionel MESSI (though he is pretty much alive and kicking and he needs no horse or sword, thank goodness), as a player that's able to cause the same effect on his rivals. Will Greece be as confident in their chances as they would be if our very own Cid Campeador was not playing? I don't think they will surrender and leave the pitch...but for sure they will fear him and they will take precautions if they want to stay alive and Lio can eventually make them pay.
Kind of like what MARADONA did when his ankle wasn't ready to play against Brazil. I mean...that thing had the size of a melon! He couldn't walk properly, but he played through pain and eventually, he killed Brazil in 1990. Four or five men in yellow lost their heads and went only after him. They wanted to stop that almost mythological figure and in trying to do that, they committed a capital sin and they left Claudio CANIGGIA wide open. That was their undoing. That was all our General Diego needed to lead his team to victory.
The more I though about it since yesterday, the more I realised we really need to play him from the start. Let him rest only if we are winning comfortably after a reasonable portion of the game has gone.
Keep MESSI on the bench when qualification to the next round is not secured at your own risk.
Give him the captain's armband and then wait for him to inspire our troops while he frightens the enemy.
I think this thing really has the makings of an epic story.
Diego had another press conference really early today and he hinted his possible starting XI with MESSI included. But the most surprising development is that, even with VERON set to start too, Lio would very likely be our captain.
Oscar RUGGERI, in his new role as a journalist with privileges, said that MESSI was going to be our captain v. Greece and Diego, though he didn't confirm it 100%, said:
"Back in the day, I went to Barcelona to tell him not to be worried. And now his time has come. Yesterday (Sunday), when I told him what I told him, he got emotional. It's something beautiful".
Diego admitted he was forced to make some changes in his starting eleven but he also said:
"MESSI wants to play every match and I love that. I was thinking of giving him some rest, but to have a player of his talent, the best in the world and with a big difference over the rest...it would have been a sin not to give his team-mates and the fans the chance of seeing him play again. That's why we are using him. He was super happy".
"If he is in a bad scoring run, but he keeps giving me and the team these kind of performances, let him stay in a bad run! I'm absolutely pleased with what Lio is doing. He comes out to play and he makes his team-mates play. He is creating chances, though his goals are still refusing to come. And anyway...in 1986, against South Korea our scorers were RUGGERI and VALDANO. Against Bulgaria VALDANO and BURRUCHAGA. I scored when we needed it the most and MESSI will do the same".
The starting lineup that is almost confirmed?
OTAMENDI, DEMICHELIS, BURDISSO, Clemente RODRIGUEZ
Maxi RODRIGUEZ, BOLATTI, VERON
Sunday, June 20, 2010
He did send those pics before the South Korea match but with so much going on lately for us, we couldn't quite post them on time.
Here they are now.
I have really enjoyed these quality pics. Especially the almost frame-by-frame slideshow of Gabriel HEINZE's goal!
Thank you Craig!
Friday, June 18, 2010
Before you accuse me of counting my chickens ahead of time, I don't mean who are we going to face in the round of 16. We are not quite there yet. I'm cautious. Not pessimistic. Just cautious.
I'm also not an ignorant. I know we play Greece next. That's not what I meant either when I asked that question in the headline.
I mean...who do we play? Which players do we keep?
We will have two players unavailable: Jonas is suspended for getting two yellows. Walter SAMUEL would be playing if this was the final, but since it's far from being the final, he won't be risked. The other 21 are ready to be picked and eager to be trusted by Diego.
There are others who have picked up yellow cards: Javier MASCHERANO and Gabriel HEINZE and the wise decision would be not to risk him getting another one and missing out on the round of 16 (if we get there -hmmm...maybe I'm being too cautious here, right? I don't care! I'll keep my feelings for my self. I won't go and imitate the media from England or Spain who were already printing newspapers with their captains lifting the trophy -figuratively speaking-).
So there you have it. No Jonas. No SAMUEL. No HEINZE and no MASCHERANO.
But what do we do with the rest?
Do we play them? Do we rest them?
Will it be better to give the team more minutes to keep improving?
Will it be best not to risk injuries or suspension to some of our best players?
Honestly? I can't decide.
There are many ways of seeing it.
Do we give Lionel MESSI a chance to find the back of the net and help him raise his confidence even more? Do we want to risk him picking up an injury (don't worry, I'm already knocking on wood whilst I write this)? Wouldn't it be better to give him some rest so he can have more than a week to recover and be ready to give 100% in the next round?
What do we do with VERON?
What about Gonzalo HIGUAIN? This just occurred to me. Wouldn't it be better to keep him out of the next game and avoid a dip in confidence if he doesn't manage to score v. Greece? Wouldn't it be better for him to have some rest and then play in the round of 16 on the back of his hat-trick performance and with his confidence as high as the city of La Paz?
What if we give Diego MILITO a chance to start instead, see if he can find some form and score in the process and then have two World Class strikers ready to play for you whenever you need them? I mean...it'll do wonders to MILITO's confidence, it will take away some of the nervousness and it'd allow him to find some rhythm.
Why don't we give Sergio AGÜERO a start instead of TEVEZ? TEVEZ has been running a lot and we need him fresh. AGÜERO showed he is sharp. He can benefit from playing more minutes.
Wouldn't this be the perfect opportunity for Javier PASTORE to make his debut playing in a safe environment with not much pressure? I mean...if everything goes wrong and we're trailing or drawing at half-time you can still send a couple of your top guns and win this, right?
So let's look at our defence:
It looks like Nicolás OTAMENDI will definitely get a start and that's great news. He will play at his favourite position too (CB).
With Jonas, SAMUEL and HEINZE out, we will really see which are Diego's B Options to play on the flanks and we will see what he decides to play in the middle.
It looks like Nicolás BURDISSO will be our RB, whilst Clemente RODRIGUEZ could be in pole position to cover for HEINZE. With DEMICHELIS and OTAMENDI the pair of centre-backs.
There isn't much we could see back there.
In the middle? No MASCHERANO means this is a good opportunity to see what our team can do without him. Anybody miss CAMBIASSO yet? Anyway...
It looks like Mario BOLATTI has chances of starting and it remains to be seen whether Juan Sebastián VERON will be used and what is going to happen to Maxi RODRIGUEZ and Angel DI MARIA.
Are we keeping them out of this? Are we sending Maxi to the left, use BOLATTI as our central holding midfielder and VERON more on the right?
Are we sticking to the same formation? Three up-front?
Will we see a mix between some starters and some subs? Will it be MESSI-AGÜERO-MILITO?
All starters? TEVEZ-MESSI-HIGUAIN?
What about this option with all subs? PASTORE-AGÜERO-MILITO
I can't believe how many questions I have in my mind right now.
And I still haven't decided on the answers.
But I also think I have to share with you what I would do if I was the manager and I had to make the decisions:
ROMERO: keep giving him the confidence you need from a keeper. Let him get more time to observe the Jabulani and get use to the playing conditions).
BURDISSO: definitely our best option at RB. With or without Jonas available).
DEMICHELIS: he needs to stay. We don't have too many options and he needs to get a chance to recover his self-confidence after the mistake he made against South Korea. A good performance by him, will mean that we have recover an important piece in this team and he'll be fired up for the rest of the tournament).
OTAMENDI: a perfect chance for him to make his debut and do it playing in his favourite position. The pressure in this game will be on Greece and it'll be nowhere near as tough on him as it would have been if he made his debut in the next round).
Clemente RODRIGUEZ: He is a natural LB. We need to use him. He is fast. He can join in the attack if needed. Give him a taste of World Cup football and see how he copes. We need him to be ready in case HEINZE is not available at some point in the future).
Mario BOLATTI: Great opportunity to see what he can do covering for MASCHERANO.
Maxi RODRIGUEZ: You need a natural midfielder to play on the right. If you have three forwards (I don't think we should change what's really working for us right now), then you need players to cover both flanks in midfield. He gives the team a lot of balance.
Angel DI MARIA: I'm sticking with him even if he is not really hot right now. Maybe that's the main reason why I'd keep him. Give him another chance at finding his feet offensively. Same as with Maxi, you need someone on the flanks and I can't think of another of the current squad (Jonas is unavailable) who could do the job on the left.
Here comes my main and most painful doubt I have. Maybe the only one.
MESSI or PASTORE.
Option MESSI: You put the fear of God into Greece. They can deny it if they want, but there's no way they will approach this game with the same mentality if they have MESSI in front of them or not.
Reasons why I'd use him? To give him a chance to score. To give the team a better shot at winning this thing and put all ghosts to bed. To give the forwards I'm picking a better shot at finding the back of the net themselves and find more spaces.
Reasons why I'd keep him out of this one? Fear of injury or of him picking a yellow card and then risk getting another in the round of 16 and missing out on our potential QF match.
Option PASTORE: As I said. You give this young guy a chance to make his debut without too many pressures.
Reasons why I'd use him? To see what he can give you. To test a Plan B with a play-maker other than VERON and/or MESSI. Because he can hold on to the ball and always find a team-mate with his great passing range. Because he knows BOLATTI very well for having played club football (very successfully) together at Huracán.
Reasons why I'd keep him out? I can't see too many. The only one would be because I have decided I'm using MESSI. Which I still haven't!
The other two? I'm sure about them:
Sergio AGÜERO: I've never been a fan of Kun. Not that I don't think he's great, because he is. But I never loved his kind of selfish football. He showed it in his last play against South Korea, but up to that point he had already had an assist for Pipita's hat-trick and had participated in Argentina's third goal with a great pass for MESSI that was what really made a scoring chance of that attack. I'd ask him to give the team what TEVEZ did in the first two games. Play a little farther from the penalty area and to open spaces for others.
Diego MILITO: I gave you my reasons above. We already have one striker playing on the back of a hat-trick. Why don't we give our second-choice striker a chance to show what he can do and bet on him scoring too so we can have two strikers on fire instead of one?
So many difficult decisions.
Have you made up your mind already?
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Dave P is still travelling, so I'm rating the players again myself.
Here you go:
Sergio ROMERO (6): Not at fault in South Korea's goal. Otherwise, he was his usual solid and sober self. One curious note? He had a shot on goal! I don't know if they gave it to him officially, but that was what happened when he cleared a ball running out of the area and it ended up in the hands of the Korean goalkeeper.
Jonas GUTIERREZ (6): Much better than on Saturday. Was helped by Maxi's inclusion on the right. Joined in the attack in a couple of occasions and he even showed some dribbling skills in the first half! He got a second yellow and will miss our next game. Was he thinking about it and did it throw the ball away on purpose to clean himself up for the rest of the tournament? I don't know, but it sure looked like a silly way of getting booked.
Martín DEMICHELIS (3): Our weakest link this time. Lio MESSI came to his defence and attacked the vuvuzelas after the game. Apparently Micho didn't hear his team-mates telling him he had a man on. However, that's no excuse. He can't be that careless in that area of the pitch. Just a quick turn of his head before receiving the ball would have helped him be aware there was someone coming. He costed Sergio ROMERO his second clean-sheet in his World Cup career.
Walter SAMUEL (N/A): As a rule, I don't give a grade to players that are less than 30 minutes on the pitch. The Wall got injured after only 23 minutes and had to leave. We can only hope it's not a serious injury and that he is available at least for the second round.
Gabriel HEINZE (4): Same old Gab was back today. He looked shaky. He saw a very silly yellow card after touching a ball with his hands and then delaying the resulting Korean free-kick. Got exposed in the second half when he lost his man and got off the hook because their player missed what would have been an equalizer. Never lacked the same intensity and attitude, of course. But that's not enough to give him more than a 4.
Javier MASCHERANO (6): After committing only one foul v. Nigeria, he went up to 5 today and that could be because he had more room to cover and wasn't getting to the man in possession as comfortably as on our first match. He was the player with the most completed passes of our entire team, but was careless in a tackle that resulted in a yellow card for him. Not happy with that, he kept going to the ball full-strength when the match was already 4-1 and he stayed down for a while grabbing one of his knees in pain. I think he should be more careful and manage his effort and his intensity level more wisely.
Maxi RODRIGUEZ (7): A silent warrior. Not flashy to the eye, but his inclusion gave the team a lot of balance and helped our forwards do their game, whilst helping Jonas deal with his defensive duties. He ran more than any other Albiceleste player with 10.363 km. Good to see him perform like this for Argentina and don't forget he played BURDISSO inside the area for Nico to flick it towards Pipita for our second goal.
Angel DI MARIA (6): Started off really brightly. Showed some quality early on and had a great shot on target but was denied by the goalkeeper. Faded out a little bit as the match progressed and was busy helping HEINZE in defence too. He was the only other Argentine player to run more than 10k.
Lionel MESSI (7): I'm tempted to give him an 8 because he played a part in three of our four goals. Took the free kick for PARK to score an own goal. Forced the goalkeeper into a save, captured the rebound and hit the post for HIGUAIN to score his second goal of the game and then sent a brilliant pass to AGÜERO for him to cross it to Pipita for our fourth. He didn't score. So what? Maybe, as MARADONA said after the first match, Lio is saving his goals for later.
Carlos TEVEZ (8): If it wasn't for Pipita's hat-trick, he would have been my Man of the Match. His first half was excellent. Sent a ferocious shot that went close and participated in the game a lot. He also placed a ball between two defenders for DI MARIA to cross it for HIGUAIN only for the Real Madrid striker to be denied by the keeper from close range. That was a really sweet pass from Carlitos who combined very well with MESSI. Maybe the best they have ever combined as my friend Matías pointed out to me by e-mail after the game.
Gonzalo HIGUAIN (9): I'm not giving him a 10 because I think he didn't play the perfect game despite scoring three times. He missed some clear chances and cast a shadow over his level of confidence and his overall form early on, but then he scored three striker-like goals and put the game out of reach for South Korea whilst getting to the top of the scoring chart in this World Cup.
Nicolás BURDISSO (7): Great game by Nico. Not easy to come on as a sub in the first half for an injured team-mate, but he had no problems to cope. He even had an assist after deflecting Maxi's ball towards the path of Pipita for Argentina to make it 2-0. Very solid at the back when he was called into action.
Sergio AGÜERO (N/A): Talk about making an immediate impact! Replaced Carlos TEVEZ in an attempt to give the team some fresh lungs in that area of the pitch and to have more explosion in the final third of the pitch. And he did just that. Helped create the third goal when he found MESSI against the run of play on the left and then he sent the cross for HIGUAIN to get his hat-trick. The only bad thing he did was not releasing MESSI late on the game and trying an individual effort that was too difficult to manage. Again, I don't grade players who have played less than 30 minutes, but I'm tempted to give him a really high note.
Mario BOLATTI (N/A): Another good decision by Diego. Replacing HIGUAIN with BOLATTI gave Argentina another player in midfield to better distribute the pitch between him, Maxi, MASCHERANO and DI MARIA. At the same time, we still had Kun and MESSI to attack if needed. BOLATTI played 8 minutes in his World Cup debut and didn't have an impact, of course, but he did complete 6 of his 7 passes.
"We deserved a game like this. We have insinuated we could do it against Nigeria but today we did it. Except for that problem Martín DEMICHELIS had, it was all Argentina today".
"I don't know how much I improved as a manager. I was always there for my players to use me as they needed me. During all this time, I commanded myself to our national team and I've learned a lot from watching many things. To have 2 wins in 2 matches makes me and my coaching staff really happy. If I have improved as a manager or not, I think the players should tell you that. You could have the best players but if they kick backwards, you'll be the worst manager".
"Argentina played a great game and we were ruthless today".
"I think we have evaluated who could be our rivals in the knockout stages. But we don't want to put our minds into that right now. We have to concentrate on our own internal fight for places within our team. You see MILITO came on the other day. Kun came on today. BOLATTI too. I talked to SAMUEL, he told me it hurts, but he also told me he wants to play! We are all very happy and my 23 players are ready to do whatever it takes to see our team win".
"I think South Korea could never find their feet in this game. Except for a moment in which they sent a counter-attack, they never compromised our win. DEMICHELIS can have a problem, like any player. But what happened to him made us stronger because we needed to support our team-mate. I think we were great after that. I think we managed the ball possession at will".
(The journalists said: "I'm broadcasting live for TyC Sports")
"You're always live! Ever since I first met you, you're always broadcasting live!"
"We knew that the only way Korea could have complicated our chances would be if we were not careful in midfield with possession, or to give them the ball, or to allow them to hit us with their set-pieces. We've seen videos of Korea scoring a lot of goals after flicking a corner-kick in the first post, but we never allowed them to do it. Also, our players gave us information on some of their players. Carlitos knows PARK Ji Sung".
On why is he so affectionate to his players with hugs and kisses. And the question was: "Can love help you win the World Cup?). I don't know about how accurate the translation was, but Diego opened his eyes really big and said:
"No! I like women! I'm dating Verónica. She is 31. She is blonde. She is very pretty! Don't start some nasty rumours (laughs). I may have my weaknesses towards some of my players but that's normal. I guess that just shows how good we are as a group of human beings. We think consensus is way better than tough discipline or punishment whenever somebody does something wrong".
He was asked a question in Italian by a Swedish journalist who said she was there 20 years ago in Italia 90 and Diego replied in Italian:
"Non mi hai portato tanta fortuna allora!" (You didn't bring me good luck, then!)
Bonus track: Diego opened an envelope and produced a letter. He then said:
"I have to do this. I spoke about Michel PLATINI and he sent me this letter in which he clarifies that he didn't say what you guys (the press) told me he had said about me. That's why I want to apologize if I offended Michel PLATINI. But I don't want to apologize to PELE".
What an offensive performance from the whole team!
That's the Gonzalo HIGUAIN we all want to see. He started off really cold but when he caught on fire, he jumped all the way to the top of the scoring charts in this World Cup.
If he is going to stay like this in front of goal, then I'll have no problems if Diego MILITO doesn't start every match, even though you know I'd still pick him and as I said regarding Gabriel HEINZE v. Nigeria, one performance, good or bad, doesn't change all my convictions.
"Don't expect a walk in the PARK", I said before the match and inside the first 20 minutes, we were already up 1-0 courtesy of an own goal by a player called: PARK (Chu Young) and the final result was 4-1. So...what do I know about this game? I wonder!
"MILITO is the present. HIGUAIN is the future", was another of my remarks. Well...I guess I was right anyway. I was writing before the match took place so I guess the future has arrived.
I'm taking this on a light note and I don't care if you rub it on my nose right now because I'm thrilled we won and I'm delighted we are almost guaranteed of a place in the eight-finals and we could even clinch it today (if Nigeria and Greece draw).
We opened the scoring again rather early and again through a set-piece play. We were helped by PARK Chu Young, yes, but it was the first ever own-goal we were benefited from in the history of the World Cup (fact courtesy of 2010MisterChip -who you should all follow on Twitter-).
It was relieving, but we were already seeing how Argentina were taking control of the game and South Korea were sitting back and hoping for the best. They weren't even trying to counter-attack us during those first moments. Whenever they won the ball back, they were just kicking up and as far as they could.
Right after that we lost SAMUEL for the entire match. Nicolás BURDISSO came on to replace him and he did a great job. Especially when he flicked that ball into the area and towards an unmarked and completely onside Gonzalo HIGUAIN. A good header and 2-0. It looked like the party was just starting.
I was talking to some friends before the tournament started and we were all in agreement (for a change!) when saying we were worried about our defence. I told them..."It'll be a matter of having to concede four goals in a game because we have the potential to score at least three goals a game".
Today, with Walter SAMUEL getting injured, my worries and that of my friends increased and they reached the highest point when Martín DEMICHELIS gave South Korea the chance to score and to be back in the game for a while.
Before that, even one minute before that, we were doing whatever we wanted. I want to watch it again and count how many passes there were before Lionel MESSI tried to chip it over the keeper only to send it wide to the right.
I mean it...it had 'CAMBIASSO v. Serbia & Montenegro' written all over it! One or two minutes later, from a sure 3-0 lead for Argentina, we went to a 2-1 up and half-time.
Conceding without even being under real pressure.
My heart almost stopped when KIHUN fired a shot that hit ROMERO's side-netting on 58 minutes. It could have been 2-2 and it would have been the most unfair result in the history of the World Cup since 1930!
We couldn't find our feet in the second half and then we were brilliant again.
It took a while, but the third goal. The clincher. Arrived after a great move from our speed demons up front.
Kun AGÜERO came on for the immense Carlos TEVEZ and made an immediate impact in the game. His chemistry with MESSI is undeniable and it showed early on after the Atletico de Madrid forward changed the direction of that attacking move and unleashed MESSI on the left. The Flea, still looking for his first goal of the tournament was denied by the goalkeeper and then by the post, but Gonzalo HIGUAIN, with the true nose of a striker, was there to capture the rebound and make it 3-0.
'Game over and stop scoring now' were the shouts of many superstitious who wanted the match to end 3-1 like when we beat South Korea in 1986.
They were denied, because the team had other plans. Another great collective action upfront. Pipita gave it to MESSI, MESSI chipped it over a couple of defenders to find AGÜERO and Kun crossed it for Pipita to get his hat-trick.
Mission accomplished. Great offensive performance and a lot to work on in defence.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
In our latest podcast, we spoke to Daniel CHO, my colleague correspondent for South Korea here on Soccernet, and we talked about how our teams met in 1986 and how their manager spent the whole match kicking the hell out of our manager as Diego MARADONA inspired our team to a 3-1 victory that was never in doubt.
Today, 24 years later, and after both teams have won in their Group B debut, to predict the winner of this Thursday's match between Argentina and South Korea is not as easy as in the 80s.
So I don't think we should be expecting a walk in the PARK for Argentina.
After my unsuccessful attempt of a funny pun using the surname of South Korea's best player, I have to get serious and talk a bit about how I don't think this match should be taken for granted by Argentina fans.
The first round of matches is officially over at the World Cup and with an impressive 3-0 win by our neighbours from Uruguay, the second has started. I'm probably too lazy or surely too busy to come up with a power ranking of the 32 nations that are playing in the World Cup after what each team did in their debut.
I won't give you the entire list of 32, but what if you asked me to give you my Top5? I have to say I can't say no to that hypothetical request.
So here you have it:
1. Germany: without a shadow of a doubt.
2. South Korea: Only them, Brazil and Holland managed to score more than one goal (with the exception of Germany, of course), but it wasn't just the goals as I'll explain later.
3. Japan: A dull match, but Japan really played above their (and everybody's) expectations.
4. Switzerland: Following the same logic, they weren't brilliant but they set out to beat the hot favourites and champions of Europe and made the most of their chances whilst looking very solid in everyone of their lines.
5. Paraguay: What a result they got and what a solid performance. They could have taken all three points against the defending World Cup champions but Justo VILLAR punched the air and let DE ROSSI scored unmarked.
6. Argentina: Those who know me for a long time will appreciate that I'm never very indulgent with Argentina. I always demand a lot from our team and I'm never one to believe the hype or build it up myself. But I did see some really encouraging signs from our win over Nigeria.
There you have it. It's number 2 vs. number 6 in this almost ludicrous and subjective ranking I just came up with.
I guess what I'm trying to say here is that South Korea made a good impression in my eyes. I will never ignore the fact that Greece were appalling and they don't even showed their defensive wall that made them famous and helped them win the Euro 2004.
Nonetheless, South Korea were great. As a team, they were better than most of the others I've seen so far and they can be a dangerous rival to any team. They never stop running. They are disciplined and they are compact. But they also have talent and experience in PARK Ji Sung.
Though it's not their individual talent that stands in the way between a confident prediction and me. I think we are way stronger than they are in that department.
As shown by Switzerland v. Spain or by North Korea v. Brazil (for a good part of the game), a team with less talent than the other can tactically level each team's strengths and can eventually get a result.
I'm not discovering powder here, but we should never ignore that notion and we should never underestimate a team that is convinced in playing according to a gameplan and that stick to it no matter what.
The winner of this encounter will advance and could be the first team guaranteed of a place in the eight-finals in South Africa. All they would need after their win is for Nigeria and Greece to share points when they meet up right after Argentina v. South Korea.
In a World Cup as unpredictable as this one (I'm saying unpredictable because I don't want to use foul language here! OK?), to guarantee qualification to the next stage after only the second group match could be priceless!
So Juan Sebastian VERON is out of this one. If Diego wanted to use him and this was the World Cup final, Seba would have played, because his injury is not that serious. What they don't want to do is risk it and miss him for the remainder of the tournament.
I've been getting some feedback from you and most of it has been criticizing the former Manchester United and Chelsea player.
He will be replaced by Maxi RODRIGUEZ, who will help Jonas GUTIERREZ covering the right hand side of our midfield-defence. This was probably the weakest aspect of our performance against Nigeria. VERON roamed around the entire pitch but he was seldom playing on the right flank. Instead, he was playing closer to Javier MASCHERANO and Lionel MESSI in the middle.
Maxi's inclusion will be welcomed by Jonas (it'll be interesting to see what those two do when we attack and whether they provide Lionel MESSI and Carlos TEVEZ options to offload some balls to the right and go for the one-two or an opening that they could find when Korean defenders have to pay attention to Maxi and/or Jonas. It could also work the other way around, and we all know Maxi is the player from this current squad we have in South Africa, with most World Cup goals scored (3 in Germany 2006).
There is another encouraging thing about this change in formation (and I hope these don't become my famous last words) as I think the best we have ever seen from MASCHERANO was when he had to play all alone as a defensive midfielder. He struggled when he had to share duties with Esteban CAMBIASSO in the past, he didn't shine as he had us used to shining when he was playing together with Fernando GAGO and he was always happier when he had nobody with whom he had to share chasing and marking duties with.
We have to wait and see how this all plays out, though my first impression is that we will have a faster team to face a quicker opposition and that, on paper, this looks as a more balanced formation.
What remains to be seen is what kind of a defensive strategy will South Korea employ to try to stop Lionel MESSI. Nigeria, as pointed very clearly by my colleague Kingsley on his correspondent blog here, focused more on keeping Angel DI MARIA in check and left Lionel MESSI a lot of room and time to do his things.
Am I worried about this? In theory, I'm not. As I think we have enough weapons to punish South Korea if they use two or more men to concentrate only on MESSI. On the other hand, The Flea could take on two or more men at some point and I don't even want to imagine what an unmarked Angel DI MARIA could to to Korea's defence or a Carlos TEVEZ or a Gonzalo HIGUAIN for that matter.
If they fail to click, then we also have the luxury of counting with a few other options in players such as Diego MILITO, Sergio AGÜERO or Javier PASTORE that could be game-changers up front.
Only eight hours to go till kickoff. I can't wait for 90 minutes in which at least, because of my love for our colours, I'm going to be entertained and I will be enjoying an early kick-off match for a change in this tournament! I'm absolutely looking forward for that. Bring it on!