CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Diego Maradona’s Argentina, having promised so much at the World Cup, find themselves back at square one with the same problems which plagued them in the South American qualifiers.
Argentina’s four wins at the finals, scoring first in them all, hid frailties subsequently exposed by Germany in their 4-0 rout in Saturday’s quarter-final at Green Point Stadium.
The attack was unable to bail them out. In fact, in 13 competitive matches under Maradona, Argentina never came back to win after falling behind.
FIFA player of the year Lionel Messi, touted as the potential player of the finals, retreated deeper into midfield in each of Argentina’s five matches.
A puzzled Maradona, who is regarded as having almost single-handedly won Argentina’s second world title in Mexico in 1986, said: ”It’s different now ... I think players used to play much more for themselves and today players are more practical, more team oriented ...(that is) the new fashion.
“We had players who would carry the team on their shoulders.”
On Saturday, Germany coach Joachim Loew had the answer to Maradona’s tactics.
“Argentina are a team divided between the defense and the attack. That was the key to be able to control the midfield and from there build our victory,” said Loew, a contemporary of Maradona‘s, not in the same league as a player but clearly more than his match as a coach.
Behind after three minutes, Argentina were under constant pressure from the flanks with fullbacks Nicolas Otamendi and Gabriel Heinze, both central defenders at club level, struggling to cope with Germany’s pace.
The goals Argentina’s talented forwards scored in the group games and the second round against Mexico also hid the fact that the midfield lacked bite.
Maradona, who was regularly found wanting from the touchline during the qualifiers, provided no answers from the bench except to boost his attack when Argentina were ahead.
Having dispensed with Juan Roman Riquelme or even Esteban Cambiasso or Fernando Gago as a central midfield partner for Javier Mascherano, the team’s captain was horribly exposed on his own in the middle.
Why did Maradona not play Juan Sebastian Veron, the one man in the squad who could have given Argentina more ball holding and depth of passing?
Germany’s Bastian Schweinsteiger controlled midfield doing a job that Veron might have done for Argentina, even taking the free kicks like the one that led to their opening goal.
When former coach Alfio Basile quit suddenly in September 2008, a candidate for the Argentina job was Sergio Batista, Maradona’s former 1986 World Cup team mate, who had steered the under-23s to their second successive Olympic gold medal.
The job went instead to Maradona, who opted against what would have, in retrospect, been a wise choice in taking Batista as an assistant.
Maradona returns to Argentina to ponder his future, knowing his family will urge him to carry on, since that the job has done the former drug addict so much good on a personal level.
He has an agreement with the Argentine Football Association (AFA) until next year when Argentina host the Copa America and he said in a television interview shortly before the finals he was also building toward that tournament.
AFA president Julio Grondona is unlikely to stand in Maradona’s way.
Editing by Jon Bramley