It wasn’t supposed to end like this. Argentina weren’t supposed to crash out in the quarter finals. Maradona was going to run around the Obelisco in downtown Buenos Aires… naked. It was supposed to be glorious. Well, maybe not the last bit.
On Saturday evening, the usual hectic, thrashing, fun-loving Buenos Aires was silent. Even the taxis appeared to be going slow. ‘It was like a cemetery,’ a friend said. Argentina were out of the World Cup too early, and they were beaten too easily by what was thought to be a young, inexperienced German side.
It was the worst possible start for Argentina. Within three minutes, a silly goal, thanks to a defensive misunderstanding, was conceded. Heads went briefly down, but the all shouting, all prancing Maradona on the sideline jivvied up the players. It was a bump on the road to the finals. At this time the BBC presenter Mark Lawrenson described the coach as ‘a fan in a suit’. But Maradona had been on the point of silencing his critics. Despite an overreliance on Messi, his tactical game and team choices had been generally praised.
Argentina, with the most attacking team in the World Cup, battered the, ahem, Berlin Wall. But on the counter attack, waves of Germans broke through the defence in the same way they destroyed England. One hoped that Maradona studied England’s earlier destruction at the hands of Germany.
On 36 minutes, Argentina had a goal disallowed, Germany catching a grand total of four players off side. No one protested. The frustration ramped up in la seleccion. Whereas Argentina have been one of the calmest teams, playing assured confident football, the danger for this side is that they would lose composure. And it is these moments where the fiercely passionate Maradona can’t have helped. He doesn’t do calm.
An hour in to the game, and it looked like Argentina were back on the attack. But they were, like the Starship Enterprise, always going forward and certainly couldn’t find reverse. On the German break, their clinical finishing saw them score goal two, three and four. By the end, it was like an infinitely better school team who took turns to score. Argentina fell apart. They were rattled. They were over.
The post tournament analysis has already begun in the fierce Argentine press. Maradona described it ‘the most disappointing moment of my life’ (not one to experience life by halves). And with an estimated 90% of the Argentinian population watching the game, it probably wasn’t that far-fetched.
Nevertheless, the indomitable Argentine spirit, and an unparalleled obsession with football and Maradona, saw 15,000 greet the team in Ezieza Airport. The passions remain, but will the coach. Rumours are that he will go – Messi and Higuain have offered their support, Heinze and Mascherano haven’t uttered a word. As for the residents on the streets, a friend said, ‘Those who love him will always love him, but there are those who have always hated him, and they want him to go.’
In the end it will be up to him. But at least we were spared Maradona’s arse running around the Obelisco.
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