Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Big thoughts based on a tournament no one takes seriously

I don't mean to add to an overflowing fountain of hyperbole, but when a world soccer power actually performs at or above expectations in a big tournament, praise is usually warranted. If we can mercilessly make fun of the disappointments (England, England, England), we should be able to front run with the winners, right? Argentina won its second straight gold medal in the Olympic soccer tournament over the weekend, beating Nigeria 1-0 on a goal by Angel Di Maria (the man who more or less made Freddy Adu expendable at Benfica). The game was played in stifling midday heat, and was not terribly captivating to the drunken bar patrons I was sitting next to at 2am. The Albiceleste arguably made a much bigger statement earlier last week, reducing Brazil to joga feo and shocking the Dutch in extra time thanks to a great through ball from Lionel Messi. At this point, they ought to be favorites to win the World Cup in 22 months (!) time.

You could pretty much swap the Olympic squad for the current senior team and not miss much. Of the overage players Argentina brought to the tournament, the temperamental genius Juan Roman Riquelme and Javier Mascherano would certainly keep their places, but most of the U-23s already start for the senior nationals. Messi, of course, is the chief attacking threat, but Di Maria, Kun Aguero, Gago, and Banega all offer substantial presence going forward. Of the offensive-minded senior team players not at the Olympics, only Carlos Tevez is assured of not losing his place to the new generation (and of course he is only 24).

Its different at the back, where the current first choice backline, anchored by Burdisso, Zanetti, and Heinze, probably doesn't include any of the U-23s. Zanetti is 35 though, and he will most likely not be starting come South Africa. Abbadonziari doesn't exactly inspire confidence in goal, either, but at 36 perhaps he can mentor his Getafe teammate Ustari.

In any case, Sergio Batista has to be a hot commodity in Argentine managerial circles right now. Should senior team manager Alfio Basile be looking over his shoulder? There are rumblings that Diego Simeone is unsettled at River Plate, Batista's former club (River lost at the weekend). Perhaps Los Millionarios will make a move for the newly hot commodity.

At this point, Argentina certainly look like the better bet for glory in 2010 than their arch rivals, who are currently in shambles. While Brazil beat the Albiceleste 3-0 in the Copa America final last year, it was due to Dunga's use of two defensive midfielders who were able to shut down Riquelme. Needless to say, the Brazilian press is not happy with the dour, Sven-esque tactics that have been used of late. According to the LA Times, even the President is pissed off:

Witnesses told O Globo that Lula, in a closed-door meeting, labeled the Olympic defeat a "humiliation,'' and was fuming.

"I've never been so angry in all my life,'' Lula, a devoted soccer fan, reportedly said. "I saw a team that didn't show any will to win. … It's shameful to lose this way to Argentina.''

The front page of O Globo's sports section was designed as a funeral notice, announcing the "passing'' of the national soccer squad, (five-time World Cup champion), saying, "Please do not send flowers.''

First step for Brazil is to get Ronaldinho off the burgers. Then stop playing defensively when they can throw out Pato, Robinho, and Kaka in attack. Also fire Dunga. In any case, Argentina have put themselves up there with Spain as co favorites for South Africa. Olympic success doesn't usually translate at World Cups (Gold medals in the last twenty years: USSR, Spain, Nigeria, Cameroon, ArgieX2). Here's hoping that this summer's tournaments are a portend of things to come and teams like Argentina and Spain are in the final in two years time, instead of boring, defensive shitboxes like Germany and Italy.


Andrew said...

Is anyone as excited about WC qualifying as I am? I mean, not CONCACACONCACAF qualifying, but UEFA. I can't wait to see how England manages to squeak by . . . if they can even manage that.

Mike Georger said...

im excited. and i wouldnt say tevez is a lock to be starting in south africa, he will be 26 then and some of the young guys could push him out. for argentina thats not a bad thing though, theyre just deep at the position and young

so i saw a kid that could not have been older than ten last night in walmart wearing a kewell jersey from his new club. the kid was clearly foreign, and was maybe four feet tall, but for some reason i just had an urge to punch him in the face. ITS LIKE A NEW SIGNING!