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Are Argentina the new Brazil?

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Jonathan Stevenson | 18:13 UK time, Thursday, 17 June 2010

World Cup 2010: Johannesburg

Careful who you say this to in South America, but something strange seems to have happened at the start of this World Cup: Argentina have become the new Brazil.

We are still early in the tournament, but one thing has become startlingly clear from their first two games in South Africa - Argentina have come to entertain, as well as to try to win the World Cup.

Led by their flamboyant, controversial, larger-than-life coach Diego Maradona, the Albiceleste have so far produced two fine performances and attacked with a relentless gusto seldom seen elsewhere in a tournament that has flattered to deceive.

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Highlights - Argentina 4-1 South Korea

Now, before you skip to the end to post a comment accusing me of jumping on an all-too-obvious bandwagon, this Argentina team certainly have their weaknesses, with their defensive frailties summed up in the 4-1 win over South Korea by a moment of spectacular indecision from Martin Demichelis.

Centre-back is not the only area they might struggle, either. Rumour has it that the Newcastle manager Chris Hughton was "stunned" after Maradona picked hard-working midfielder Jonas Gutierrez at right-back in their 1-0 opening win over Nigeria, a selection he repeated at Soccer City on Thursday.

Doubts must also linger over goalkeeper Sergio Romero, with the eight-times capped 22-year-old yet to be put under any real pressure as Argentina have dominated possession in both their Group B outings.

But in the middle of a World Cup critically short of flair, intention and a willingness to gamble, Maradona's Argentina might just lead us towards some light at the end of the tunnel.

In the same way that Brazil coach Dunga picked a squad in his own image with a plethora of defensive-minded midfielders and solid, dependable footballers he knew would not let him down, Maradona flooded the Argentine 23 with goals.

In choosing six strikers who between them have plundered 170 goals in the last 12 months domestically, Maradona was sending a message to the other 31 competing nations that his team would not be afraid to play on the offensive.

The Argentine coach is lucky, because no other coach can rely on such a potent strikeforce, which includes the sublime skills of the world's greatest footballer, Lionel Messi. So often criticised for his laboured displays for his country, Messi has started the World Cup like he means to win it with two peformances of dictatorial quality.

Maradona was severely criticised for not getting the best out of Messi in qualifying, but he has given his star man a roving role in South Africa and implored him to become the leader of the team in the same way he took on the mantle so successfully in Mexico in 1986.

The chemistry between the two has long been a subject of fascination, but so far at this World Cup their relationship has worked to perfection, with a jubilant Maradona lifting Messi into the air and then hugging him all the way down the tunnel after the final whistle on Thursday.

It was after the Nigeria game that Maradona, ever the dreamer, gave away his feelings on how he wants his team to function: "I want Messi to be very close to the ball. As long as he has fun, then we are all going to have fun. Football wouldn't be beautiful unless Messi is touching the ball all the time."

Every time Messi touched the ball at Soccer City against South Korea, there was a genuine buzz of excitement among the 82,174 present, even among the South Korean journalists standing nervously to my right. When the score reached 4-1, one of them even told me he wanted Messi to score, just so he could say he'd seen it happen.

With Messi starting alongside Carlos Tevez, hat-trick hero Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria, Argentina's attacking potential is frightening, especially when you consider they brought £35m-rated Sergio Aguero off the bench in the second half and left Inter Milan's treble-winning hero Diego Milito on it for the duration.

But as impressive - and most certainly as important - as their world-class quality in the final third is the astonishing work-rate of Maradona's team to close down spaces, win back possession when they lose it and panic the other team into making mistakes.

Led by the indefatigable Tevez, this was a frontline whose hard work and enterprise at times mirrored that of Messi's other team, Barcelona. They might enjoy the majority of the possession in the majority of games they play, but watch them when they don't have the ball - that's when they really kill their opposition.

That effort does not happen when a team is not playing for their manager. What is also only too clear when you watch them both on and off the pitch is that - after a difficult start during the qualifiers - these Argentina players not only adore their manager, but they trust him to make the right decisions as well.

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"I still prefer women" - Maradona sets the record straight

With South Korea piling pressure on in the second half at 2-1 down and with 15 minutes remaining, Maradona had a difficult decision to make. But he stayed true to his instincts and refused to retreat into a defensive shell, sending on Aguero for Tevez and keeping the shape of the side the same.

Two minutes later, Higuain had tapped in after Messi had struck the post and three minutes after that Higuain nodded in Aguero's cross to wrap it up. Better to be a lucky coach than a good one, eh Diego?

Thousands of Argentines lingered at Soccer City for a long time after the final whistle, triumphantly singing and dancing in the aisles as they blew their vuvuzelas in ecstasy at what they had just seen. To their surprise, they were joined by scores of South Africans who had found the perfect therapy for Bafana Bafana's devastating defeat at the hands of Uruguay on Wednesday.

Two South African fans, draped in blue-and-white, told me before the game they were supporting Argentina for the rest of the tournament. When I asked why, they looked at me like I was from another planet. "Because of Maradona and Messi, why else?" they eventually replied.

They love Maradona because they cannot take their eyes off him. Jumping around his technical area during games you can see him kicking every ball, going up for every header and brandishing every imaginary yellow card.

And when asked in the post-match news conference why he is so intimate with his players, the ever quotable 49-year-old reduced the media throng to fits of laughter: "Well I still prefer women. I am dating Veronica who is blonde and 31-years-old. But I like to acknowledge and congratulate my players when they play as well as they did today."

On and off the pitch, Argentina are unmissable.


  • Comment number 1.

    Maradona is a total legend. Lights up the world cup on and off the pitch.

    The truth is, the world cup needed him as much as he needed the world cup.

    Heinze's goal vs Nigeria was straight off the training ground, something Maradona had worked on tirelessly with his players.

    Although his defence does not have the best ability (even Van Gaal relied on the midfield, Robben and Ribery's ability to retain possession and hold the opposition back through their goal threat), you see with Maradona's Argentina that the players are in awe of him. They will run themselves into the ground for him. They press so well, all over the park, epitomised by Veron and Messi, usually luxury players of the highest order, getting 'stuck in' and giving the side a defence from the front.

    The attacking play has been typical of what we hoped for: freedom, flair, and Messi being the centre of play. What a magnificent player.

    Perhaps Maradona is not such a laughable manager, and the media are realising that he left out Cambiasso as he was bad for more important team morale, although I still do not understand the omission of Zanetti, especially when you see Gutierrez in his position!

    The Maradona and Messi show is here to stay!

  • Comment number 2.

    Argentina has certainly been one of the more impressive sides so far. With their attacking options they always have a chance, a possible quarter-final with Germany could be a classic.

    While he's no tactical genius, Diego isn't stupid. He knows he needs Messi to produce.

  • Comment number 3.

    With today's performance Argentina looks like sure for quarter final. After that its will be performance and luck. So faf Messi looks best player in this WC. Goals will follow for him sooner than later.
    Final Arg - Brazil will be great match

  • Comment number 4.

    Maradona's managerial skills are being consistently overlooked, he's actually doing a fine job (although Gutierrez at RB is bizarre). Sublime so far from Messi, his level of play is just extraordinary.

  • Comment number 5.

    They're good to watch no doubt but they have Barcelona's attack and Newcastle's defence. In the games that really matter can they hold on to a victory with their defence, I just dont think so on current evidence and Brazil outclassed them in qualifying and other recent games.

    Brazil would still be better in the knockout phase if not quite as flamboyant.

    Fair play to Maradona though, his team is as entertaining on the pitch as he is off the pitch, bonkers but funny.

  • Comment number 6.

    Argentina have been entertaining and played football with the right spirit and attitude. It is great to see all the South American teams unbeaten and doing well. Argentina were slated for finishing 4th in their qualifying group behind Brazil, Paraguay and Chile but it seems all the above teams can give a good account of themselves, playing some decent football on the way.

    Football has become too Euro-centric, with coaches playing anti-football tactics such as only one lone striker, always playing for the off-side trap and sometimes preferring speed and aggression over skill. Even though Maradona's Argentina are not perfect, it would be fantastic for the tournament if they can get to the semi's at least.

    As for Argentina's defensive frailties, no team at the moment looks secure at the back. England, without Ferdinand, have no pace in central defence, Italy look vulnerable on set-pieces , Spain were not looking the most organised....hopefully an attacking team will win this years World Cup and football will be a definite winner if quality attacking players, such as Messi can shine through with their moments of brilliance.

  • Comment number 7.

    5. At 9:49pm on 17 Jun 2010, AJBullet wrote:

    They're good to watch no doubt but they have Barcelona's attack and Newcastle's defence


    haha very true. Their attacking force is formidable, Aguero and Milito only making the bench says it all! I don't how bad Samuel's injury is but if he is out of the tournament then I expect high scoring games in the knock out stages (probably high scoring with Samuel)

  • Comment number 8.

    Maradona or Keegan as a manager are they any different

  • Comment number 9.

    So Argentina are the new Brazil,
    Brazil are the new Germany,
    Germany are the new Holland,
    Holland are the new . . . I give up.

  • Comment number 10.

    this world cup is just like italia 90.

    GERMANY start with a 4-0 win. And you just can't stop a juggernaut once its rolling.
    BRAZIL mediocre by there fair like 70,82.arg1v0bra could be chile this time.
    ENGLAND struggle to live upto the top ten ranking.2 draws and a struggle against less fancied africans.
    FRANCE didn't turn up.failed to qualify TWICE(sorry ireland)
    ITALY look towards squad players for insparation.Scalachi
    SPAIN flop. enough said.
    just waitng for the suprise africans which could well be GHANA.(england v ghana second round)just like eng v cameroon quaterfinal.
    ARGENTINA have probably the best player in the world but yet to sparkle.
    waiting for HOLLAND to implode on themself's.ger v hol.maybe the steady slovak's could cause an upset.

    defence's on top.lowest scoring world cup in history.

    oh yeah and what i can remember the weather was quite nice too.

    germany V agentina final?

  • Comment number 11.

    Does anyone think there are parallels between Maradona's management style and Kevin Keegans?

    I'm a Newcastle fan and reckon as soon as Argentina comes up against a decent team with an experienced manager they'll be exposed badly.


    Great at motivating players and making them feel "loved"
    Loves forwards, not bothered about defence
    Occasional emotional outbursts at their peers (I'd love it, love it etc and Pele's a tool etc)
    Think tactics are used to keep your breath minty fresh
    Their both comedy characatures of themselves (in a humiliating way)

    I reckon they'll lose 4-3 to Mexico in the 2nd round

  • Comment number 12.

    @8 Clearly I'm not alone

  • Comment number 13.

    South American teams are never known for their defense. So I am not too worried about Argentina having the best of defense. To win, you need to attack and more importantly score. and That my friends, Argentina have in abundance! Brazil, unusually, are paying more attention on defense in this world cup. Not very pretty to watch them play, but very effective team. However, I question some of their forwards. However, if it so happens Brazil do come in Argentina'a way of upholding the world cup, then I wud hope and root for Argentina to win! just for sheer entertainment. That's how a world cup should be won! I hope and pray for Maradona and his Team to win the world cup.

  • Comment number 14.

    shame king kev isn't england manager anymore england v argentina final would be like watching fifa 10. score would probably 8-7.

    that would be worth a watch.

  • Comment number 15.

    Messi, Messi, Messi, Messi, Messi,Messi, Messi, Messi, Messi, Messi - what a player and what a pleasure and a joy watching him!! Messi and Argentina is what football is all about, and I really hope they go all the way!!

    Shame about Brazil, they seem designed very much like a European Team - all about winning at any cost!!

    My dream final would be Spain against Argentina!!

    COME ON SPAIN AND ARGENTINA, don't just do it for your country BUT DO IT FOR THE GOOD OF FOOTBALL..

    From an englishmen!!

  • Comment number 16.

    Good luck argentina! The press forgets the trouble they were in before Maradona took over. He benefits from the fact every player in that squad sees him almost as a demi god and will do exactly what he says.

    Also, as the game gets more and more manicured and emotionless, Maradona is a rare hearts on sleeve manager. He is lost in the moment in each game, celebrating goals like they are the greatest ever and feeling like the world is coming to an end when they concede. In todays game, thats rare, and its nice to see because you know its no show from him. If he wasnt on the bench he would be in the stand leading the cheering with as much gusto!

  • Comment number 17.

    I don't think Argentina have been impressive at all. South Korea rolled over for them, and even then South Korea were somehow still in the game until Argentina were gifted a clearly offside goal to make it 3-1. Let's not forget the first Argentina goal was a complete and total fluke, one of the worst own goals I have ever seen (and that includes numerous highlight reels of outrageous own goals).

    England and their fans have a peculiar fetish for Argentina, but this team will get bounced out of the tournament the first time they meet an opponent that is not intimidated, which is likely to be the round of 16 game. Any of the other South American teams will beat them, just like happened in qualifying. Well, I'd give Argentina 50:50 against Uruguay. Germany will completely wreck Argentina if they face in the round of 16 game. And Germany are not as strong as they looked against Australia.

    When I hear people say Messi is the best in the world as if that is some kind of fact... it's just sad. He has been pretty good in the tournament so far, not exceptional. If he wasn't famous, nobody would be saying he is the best in the tournament or (for example) any better than Tevez has been.

  • Comment number 18.

    When I hear people say Messi is the best in the world as if that is some kind of fact... it's just sad.
    Erm, it's one of the most obvious things in all sport.

  • Comment number 19.

    Beg pardon, if they face Germany in the quarterfinal.

  • Comment number 20.

    Argentina and Maradona are a breath of fresh air and a more important question than are Argentina the new Brazil? Is Messi the new Maradona?

  • Comment number 21.

    Yeah Messi is the best player in the world by a country mile, possibly even the best player of all time and still, what, 22?

  • Comment number 22.

    Germany's hardly listening.

    But smiling, smiling.

  • Comment number 23.

    Argentina are great, attack, attack, attack!!!

    But watch out for Chile: same philosophy.

    Overoptimistic Chileabn view here, but is life for but to enjoy it by trying to score goals!!

  • Comment number 24.

    Sorry but Mardonna will cause them to fail as he is an average manager at best. Argentina are playing well in-spite of him. Image if they had a cappello type of boss. They will fall to Uruguay, Mexico or Germany when they face a manager with superior skill. The players with a decent manager would walk the world cup as any manager with half a brain would not have left Zanetti and Cambissao

  • Comment number 25.

    Blimey Alistair, you are half a miz-mog!!

    That said, I understand where you are coming from. The first round of games was always gonna be negative and only Argentina and germany did anything about that. Brazil were poor, but in Brazil, they hate Dunga with a passion, perhaps I am beginning to see why and Spain returned to the "choker" role that they are so familiar with.

    The 2nd round of games have already begun to sort things out, Argetina are as good as through to the knock-out phase and the French got what they richly deserved tonight.

    The Nigerians have blown it thanks to their indiscipline while we wait and see about the Dutch. All will be a lot clearer after Monday night when we are left approaching the final group games.

    This World Cup will explode into life from Tuesday (22nd) onwards, even though my country was denied by the antics of Thierry Henry, I am still looking forward to some very exciting football!

  • Comment number 26.

    My top favourites for the cup at the moment, although I know it's way too soon, but exactly this the fun of the game:
    1. Germany
    2. Argentina
    3. Holland
    4. Brazil
    5. Italy

    Certainly no on else.

    Early dropouts: New Zealand, England, South Africa, Denmark, Japan

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 28.

    yes maradona have no coaching history but beside him he has a World Cup winner in Carlos Bilardo. People just talk. Bilardo is the brain behind the team, Maradona is the body. There is noone better than him to motivate his players in a country where he's regardes as GOD.
    Guardiola had no experience but won ALL he could win in his first season. You need the players to win. Diego even said it himself that the players make it easy for him.

    Just ignore Argentina. And how can people ignore them when the others have shown NOTHING. Who should we fear if not Argentina? England? Don't make me laugh. Argentina can only beat the team they're facing. England could not even beat the US even being 1-0 up!
    I prefer Argentina to meet England rather than Mexico in the round of 16 eventhough I know that's not possible. Techinally El Tri are superior to England. I think it's destiny that LAM is the heir to DAM. Messi will lift the WC maybe this WC or the next but he will....

  • Comment number 29.

    England will be through but not to be taken for granted. I still can't see them beating the better sides and same goes for Argentina but then again they might do the Barca way of out scoring their opponents. Their play lead by Messi has been great but using midfielders as defenders will only get you far but one thing i'm realising is Maradona is using a very complicated system which could be a nightmare for teams to play against so you never know.

  • Comment number 30.

    Germans will win it no matter what messi does and listen..... dare I say Spain might not go to the next round either one of my prediction will come true which one you wana bet on it's up to you.

  • Comment number 31.

    Messi is undeniably a great great footballer, but his performances so far are being way overhyped. Give some respect to the other Argentines; over exaggerating his performances undermines the rest of the team, he really isn't the one man show so many people seem to want him to be.

    Amongst other great Argentine performances, Higuain scored a hat-trick today, and still all the plaudits have gone to Messi.

    I feel this player's status in the game is being elevated to compensate for the comparative mediocrity of this tournament so far; and the story is being worn out by fans of the game non-critically regurgitating what they've heard.

  • Comment number 32.

    James you make a good point but i feel you should pay more attention when watching. Messi has often been criticised to not play well for his country or he plays well because of the likes of Xavi and Iniesta but in this tournament he is showing he creats and creats for others all by himself. Tevez has been impressive as well and Higuain got his goals but even a blind man could see Messi 2 great performances so far. The mentality you need goals to have a great game is busted by Messi's performances and Tevez as well. Veron was out today and he was the one who controlled the game in the middle with Tevez often helping. Been top 3 players on the tournament so far and more is expected.

  • Comment number 33.

    Motty reckons Germany were written off before a ball had been kicked. Not by me - I fancied them to win the cup. But lets get it all into perspective. Germany beat the weakest team in their group. They were expected to win, and comfortably. Two of their goals were scored against ten men. They have played one game. They have two tough games to play before they even qualify. Teams that peak towards the end of the world cup tend to be the ones that prosper.

    It seems everyone who thought Spain and Brazil would win it, now all of a sudden are backing Germany and Argentina. Germany haven't qualified - they beat a team who can boast of recent loses and draws to the likes of Oman, Indonesia and Kuwait - They're whipping boys.

  • Comment number 34.

    Aguante Argentina!!!!!!! I can't see the videos, this message appears: "not available in your area"!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 35.

    "31. At 11:28pm on 17 Jun 2010, James wrote:
    Messi is undeniably a great great footballer, but his performances so far are being way overhyped. Give some respect to the other Argentines; over exaggerating his performances undermines the rest of the team, he really isn't the one man show so many people seem to want him to be.

    Amongst other great Argentine performances, Higuain scored a hat-trick today, and still all the plaudits have gone to Messi.

    I feel this player's status in the game is being elevated to compensate for the comparative mediocrity of this tournament so far; and the story is being worn out by fans of the game non-critically regurgitating what they've heard."

    to be fair mate, he was involved in all the goals and Higuain was actually quite poor aside from scoring the easiest hat-trick you'll ever see.

    I think hes had a cracking first two games, been the best player so far and unlucky not to be on the score sheet too. Sometimes folk do indeed go over board, but hes had a great start.

    I think argentinas poor defence will eventually cost them though, nigeria and korea have both made clear cut chances against them. I can see maradona setting his side out to simply make sure they score more than they concede.

    On a side note, Maradona is brilliant, hes almost as enertaining off the pitch as he was on it!

  • Comment number 36.

    Argentina are sentimental favorites all the way through. Best player in the world, only know how to attack.

    They would never get very far - except that this is football and anything is possible. Messi yet has to start scoring and we all know he can single-handedly win the most important games.

    It's also good to have a classic striker like Higuain. You don't see him but he's there, in the right location at the right time, ready to put in the easy ones. A rare quality, invaluable for the team.

  • Comment number 37.

    Whisper it softly....but I suspect that like many die hard Englishmen....I'm actually beginning to quite like Argentina!

    And with a coach who seems to offer his players nothing but support, encouragement and enjoyable training methods, (in contrast to our own), I'm even - god I can't quite believe I'm going to say this... - I'm even beginning to like Maradona!

  • Comment number 38.

    @ 5: "They're good to watch no doubt but they have Barcelona's attack and Newcastle's defence."

    Err, not really, Samuel's one of the best CB's around, Heinze's hardly a bad defender and Demichelis, today aside, is a decent player. Only Gutierrez has anything to do with Newcastle, and for Newcastle he's an attacker, so how do Argentina have Newcastle's defence? If you're going to criticise their defence, at least wait until it really slips up (one individual error doesn't make a disastrous defence).

    @ 17: Calm down, they've only played two matches, at least they've won them. If you're not impressed by Argentina, who is impressing you? Germany aside, none of the top contenders have impressed as much as Argentina.

    Also, if Messi's not the best player in the world, please enlighten the whole world with your brilliant opinion... Fact is, he's miles ahead of everyone except Cristiano Ronaldo on a good day.

    @ 24: How are you qualified to judge Maradona's managerial ability? On the World Cup? If so, he's got 2 out of 2 wins, can't ask for more.

    I'm sure Maradona had his own reasons for excluding Zanetti and Cambiasso. Squad selection doesn't define how good a manager is.

    @ 31: Did you even watch the match? Or did you just look at the match report afterwards?

    Higuain's hat trick was relatively straight-forward, credit to him for putting them away but then again, most international strikers could. Messi hasn't been overhyped. He might not have got a goal yet but vs Nigeria he was a constant threat with his runs and vs South Korea he had a hand in three of the four Argentina goals, hardly unjust to praise him.

    Fact is, Messi's been one of the best players so far, Maradona's got off to a winning start, and Argentina, despite obvious weaknesses, have not underperformed like Spain, England, France, Portugal and Italy have.

    Judge Maradona after the World Cup instead of constantly barking on about Zanetti and Cambiasso.

  • Comment number 39.

    I think Argentina have always been fun to watch, post 1978. Let's face it, Barcelona's style of play is basically South American style football. European football has gradually adopted this style and thank goodness too! Lots of short passing, good skill ect ect. As far as Argentina's defence, Gutierrez as a righ back is odd, but I suspect Maradona will go to a more solid 'proper 4' vs a bigger team, as he did against Germany just before the cup. I prefer Aguero to Tevez, as he seems more clear minded and effective. Tevez is a gritty, hard working forwards, but he lacks clarity in attack. I'm sure you lot know it, but this is a great site for tactics: England need to believe in themselves and I include the public in this as well. I lived in the UK for a spell and I was puzzled by how down you guys are with yourselves! You've got to believe! Good luck England!

  • Comment number 40.

    Here's a good article: "is Maradona set to surprise people?"

  • Comment number 41.

  • Comment number 42.

    The biggest question of all was Will Messi shine in South Africa, and Maradona seems to have done a better job of it.

    Higuain has probably scored one of the easiest hatricks in the history of worldcup – thanks to his teammates. He still needs to convert those half chances against stronger teams, and needs to be a great threats during corner kicks. Its good for his confidence, but the hatrick doesn’t mean much just yet.

    Once Messi and Tevez join the scoring riot, then Argentina will be a real threat. Messi has to lift his game a little bit to be the Golden ball winner in the World Cup 2010.

  • Comment number 43.

    Argentina are the 1982 version of Brazil.

  • Comment number 44.

    Although Messi hasn't score, he is playing at least 80% of what he does for Barca. By the way, where is Ronaldo, and Rooney who the English media hypes as better than or as good as Messi?
    Is the debate Messi vs Ronaldo valid anymore?

  • Comment number 45.

    I agree that Argentina were good but I wouldn't say they are the new Brazil until I see more of Brazil. One thing I can say is they were more impressive when the headless chicken was substituted

  • Comment number 46.

    Just two games. And Messi has done all but embellish his WC cv with a goal, a trivial detail!

    Higuain hat-trick! The trick for a good striker is to be in the right place at the right time. He did that, plus he cleverly kept himself on-side for the first goal. You could say the hat-trick was forced upon Higuain in as much as he was not found wanting...or missing. All I want to say is, in the rare 6-strong strike force, I will have Messi and Tevez upfront.

    Requelme, who vowed never to play for Maradona, may have faded from memory but when people assess Maradona as manager Cambiosso and Zanetti omissions will keep cropping up. Instead of an efficient defense available he decides to go with the slapstick Gutierrez - of Newcasle fame, if you like.

    Maradona theme is attack and at the moment, that seems to be the goods. Does it remotely resemble the side that struggled to qualify, this Argentina? And the squad as a whole is playing for Diego, the mercurial Argentine who dazzled the world with that rarest of rare talent that visits the planet only once in a lifetime. Who knows God may be with him, as He was at Mexico 1986.

    With his pantomime duplication of the team play on the touchline, his back heel ball kicks redolent of his playing days, his warm hugs of players and staff in celebration, and his flamboyant playboy repartee that he still prefers women, the fickle press corps is already warming up to the magnet, the most controversial coach currently patrolling the South African touchlines. Nothing like results,eh? Who knows he may end up making the Argentines as happy as he does Veronica, the blonde.

  • Comment number 47.

    Maradona is the king of Football, Watch Messi scoring goals next week against Greece.

  • Comment number 48.

    How can anyone claim to have an understanding of what Maradona is like as a manager? He's only ever managed Argentina and he's done at least as well as the well respected manager he replaced.

    I'm not sure managing a national team requires the same sort of person as a club manager anyway. They spend little time with the players, don't get to buy/sell if they know their defence is weak they've just got to deal with it.

    Managing a national team is about getting the most out of what you have and a lot of that is motivation as well as finding a shape that suits the players you have.

    Maradona clearly took his time deciding on who he thought was good enough, but we'll see. Maybe he's found a 'tactic' that suits his lack of defensive players and he'll win the world cup, maybe a decent side will exlploit his tactics and knock them out or maybe no matter who was manager, they were never destined to win because their defensive options were non-existant.

    we'll see, but at least they're providing good TV.

  • Comment number 49.

    Bluenotbirmingham ... am with you on this one. Messi deserves the praise he is getting and Higuain's second goal had Messi written all over it! What are people watching?

    Good strategy to start with Tevez and then bring on Aguero! Tevez will work the defence all through and when the defence thinks they are getting a break, Aguero comes in and runs straight past!

    Best of luck to North Korea though ... very impressed with the show they put against Brazil!

  • Comment number 50.

    Just what the WC needed to spice it up a little.....a character straight out of 'One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest' managing a team!

    Argentina have certainly been entertaining but I think when the opposition toughens up their defence will be found wanting. One thing noticable about yesterday's game was the refreshing absence of Veron.

    His tendency to slow everthing down in midfield and his wayward passes took the edge off Argentina in their 1st match. Will Maradona go back to using him?

    It's way too early for reassessments. Spain and Brazil are still the ones to beat in my book.

    How about a team made-up of Brazils defence and Argentina's attack? Now I'd back that team all the way!

  • Comment number 51.

    I disagree, Brazil have started the tournament the way the started the last 4 tournaments, with a 1 goal margin of victory.
    Argentina and Germany are exciting true, but how will the cope if they go down 1:0 after 10 minutes, of if the keeper in the opposition goal plays a stormer. They are the image of their coach, wonderfully talented, amazing to watch, loveable even and always extremely fragile. Watch out , it might all end in tears. I would love to see Maradona do very well, but I think getting out their group has vindicated him coach wise....anything else now will be a bonus. We are not incidently half way through the competition, it's only ligthing up now and getting nicely warm.

  • Comment number 52.

    I'm still sticking with Brazil to win the WC. They have the right balance, while Argentina are great going forward only. Kaka, Elano & Robinho have waht it takes to get past any defence in this WC with Maicon as the extra man, while the rest of the team defend, which no other team can boast of. Yes the world will miss the flair of the brazillian team of yester-years, but Dunga through his playing days and now as coach, knows that having all the flair and no good defence doesn't win you any competiton (Re: Brazil in 1982, Holland in 1974/8). A 1-0 win and 5-0 win gives you the same result especially in the knock out stage

  • Comment number 53.


    1. yes, Argentina has probably the team with the most talented attackers.
    2. but, they are organized behind the doors as Bilardo is the brain while Maradona has a kind of Mourinho-esque attitude in front of the crowd, and all the players (country) think he is a GOD - nota bene he can make mistakes.:-)
    3. but, Romero can be a quality goalkeeper! the mighty Fillol's shoes were filled with Pumpido in 1986, remember him? or the substitute Goychoechea in 90?

    I HOPE Argentina plays like this in the following 5 games and I would be very much satisfied these players win the WC!! especially on such an occasion when not losing is much more important than winning!!

  • Comment number 54.

    argentina are delighting south africans with their unabashed, gung-ho attacking and entertaining football, which, as johnathan correctly points out, has long been associated with their neighbours brazil, credited as being the originators of joga bonito.

    i have to agree with delphibbio (comment #48), that argentina's detractors are missing the point not only of what they have been doing this world cup but also of the content of this blog. argentina are as johnathan points out unmissable, and the hottest ticket in south africa at the moment.

    maradona has surprisingly done well despite his eccentricity and crazed demeanour. he has clearly decided on his team's approach and instilled this philosophy through the squad, who have embraced it wholeheartedly. he has motivated players, who have often been criticised as not reproducing their club form for their country, and while i was skeptical of his tactical nous and some notable omissions initially (zanetti & cambiasso), he has clearly identified players most suited to the style of football he wants to see.

    another quick retort to the nay-sayers, it is not as easy as it is often assumed to manage a squad of stars, particularly if they are concentrated in specific positions. undoubtedly, some become disgruntled at their lack of play, and being able to successfully merge together talented players into a functioning an irresistable attacking force is not a given. the galacticos of real madrid took a long time to get it functioning as everyone hoped it would, and our own coach, carlos alberto parreira failed abysmally with brazil in 2006 to accommodate or at least find a system wherein kaka, ronaldihno, adriano, ronaldo and robinho could operate effectively. maradona seems to have got it right.

    as delphibbio correctly says, you can't buy players if you don't have the requisite talent at national level, you have to make do with what you have, and no team is perfect or devoid of weaknesses, if so, football would be boring, so their defence is dodgy at times, so what?! i think they are probably on par with england with jonas, samuel, demichelis and heinze not much worse than johnson, terry, king/carragher, cole. both are experienced, a little unbalanced, robust, bu not impenetrable. besides, i have to agree that maradona reminds me of keegan, if we concede 3, we'll score 4. and you have to admire someone who as has been mentioned before, clearly loves the game of football.

  • Comment number 55.

    Germany played a pretty average Australian side but I wouldn't say they are lucky or it was unexpected as to how well they played. Germany is a fantastic side and always does well at world cups, I don't understand why they are never clear favourites to do well in the world cup. Their world cup record is simply amazing and the players they have built (including youngsters) are very good. Germany with Brazil have the most world cup finals appearences 7, they also have the most appearences in a semifinal 11, the most matches played in a world cup as well as brazil 93 and at one point 1982 to 1990 reached 3 world cup finals in a row. So I don't understand why they have an outside chance of doing well and/or winning the cup, when clearly they are a dominating nation at the world cup.

  • Comment number 56.

    Argentina have been good and deserve to go through.

    But even they keep missing the goal by miles.

    Only Germany seem to know how to shoot on target. Take corners and free-kicks which are not immediately wasted. And can refrain from endlesslyu fouling.

    If it carries on like this, this will be the worst WC in history!

  • Comment number 57.

    Argentina are the new Brazil? More like Mexico, three strikers and a passion for attacking football, bring it on!

    Argentina are the new Brazil . . . Brazil are the new Germany . . . Germany are the new Argentinians . . .

    and England are just the same old England . . .

  • Comment number 58.

    @39 Barcelona's style of play isn't 'south american style football', its dutch style football; the barca philosophy was completed moulded by Johann Cruyff during his time there as both player and coach.

  • Comment number 59.

    How about the dimwitted Demichelis who got duped and a clean sheet went kaput? Does he keep his place or comes off the bench? Does Maradona have enough in the defensive cupboard. Game against the Greeks may see a change but it will not provide serious answers as Argentina are practically through and the coach is likely to try out some options.

  • Comment number 60.

    I'm not sure I agree with the premise of this article. First of all, it ignores the fact that Argentina has a long tradition of playing beautiful, creative passing football. Cesar Menotti's side of 1978 won the World Cup with a notion of recreating "la nuestra" style from years gone by. And which side played the most beautiful football of the 2006 competition? So first of all, it's hardly something new to see Argentina playing fantasy football, even if the great flowing sides have been punctuated with some more... pragmatic ones.

    Secondly, have so few people not woken up to the fact that the Brazilians stopped playing like that some time after 1982? Of course they have produced many fantastically talented and creative forwards since then, and therefore produced some great attacking moves and goals. But Brazil have usually been primarily about winning rather than entertaining over the last two decades. They have pioneered the winning formula of two defensive midfielders with full backs providing width. So while Argentina put the creativity of Veron or Riquelme in the middle of the pitch, Brazil have the likes of Kleberson and Gilberto double-teaming.

    Don't get me wrong - Brazil don't have an obligation to entertain the rest of the world, but we don't have an obligation to worship their football as some sort of otherworldy gift to the sport when in reality they play quite a conservative style despite producing the best players in the world.

  • Comment number 61.

    Why are some people still having a go at Messi?! I can only assume these are the die hard Ronaldo fans! Granted, its only been two games and against relatively poor opposition but you can only play against who is infront of you and so far Messi has done the business albeit without scoring any goals yet. Ask anyone who they will want to see if they could choose one player to watch in the World Cup and 9 out of 10 will say Messi.

    This on going debate about who is better between Messi and Ronaldo is dead. Messi is better, its as simple as that. That’s not to say Ronaldo isn’t exceptional as he is probably the most complete player ever in terms of ability physicality and confidence. But Messi is a freak of nature. Simple as.

    AND another thing. People have a go at Ronaldo for being too arrogant and playing to the spot light so much. It is not his fault how he looks and if millions of people want to adorn him on their magazines and have girls running after him that’s his business. In fact it makes it all the more impressive. He has to deal with all these extra issues as well as performing on the pitch. He is truly an exceptional player.

  • Comment number 62.

    55. At 09:36am on 18 Jun 2010, kebablips

    History guarantees nothing at the World Cup. Germany may have a great record but they currently have a very average squad. Judging them on their win against a very poor Australian side is foolish.

    They always have a strong mentality but this year they just don't have enough talent to win it.

  • Comment number 63.

    IMHO, everyone here missed the point!

    Argentina is also a Top 'Defensive' Team!


    When the opponents have the ball all 11 Argentinians are defending including the likes of Messi & Tevez (Top WC players in attack & defending ability!) who not only recover the ball through backtracking but also has an inordinate amount of successfully intercepting the opponent's back passes or counterattacks!

    This is pretty well summed up by Maradona regarding his CB's mistake. I quote "It emboldened the team because in the second half they came out with a strong attitude - they did it for a team-mate who had made a mistake."

    Now is Argentina's defense weak?

  • Comment number 64.

    I agree. Argentina are here to entertain and if they continue to play the football we all love to watch then expect Diego Maradona's superstars to take the World Cup by storm.

    It's still early days of course but the signs are good for the Argies. Yesterday's thrashing of the South Koreans should serve as a warning to the other big guns hoping to get their hands on the greatest trophy on this planet.

    La Albiceleste also have another huge advantage. They are enjoying their football which was clearly missing in their qualifying games. The squad is now tightly knit with Maradona as the father figure. The harmony and confidence oozing in their camp is a far cry from the turmoil and distrust ripping apart the French national team. The contrast could not be bigger.

  • Comment number 65.

    38 Yeah I am judging him on the world cup. The qualifying stage. They were utterly appalling and nearly didn't make it. He is an average manager at best. Oh and that comment how can I judge his ability well no one here may as well post cause they have as much right as me.

  • Comment number 66.

    Diego Armando Maradonna - IS the world cup -everyone else is just the supporting cast.

  • Comment number 67.

    Your right that Argentina have dominated their two opening games and their attacking flair has to be admired particuarly when set against a backdrop of pragmatic 1-0s,1-1s or 0-0s. It will be interesting to see whether they still adpot the same tactis, or revert to their counter attacking brand a.k.a Germany 1-0, when they face sterner tests later in the competition

  • Comment number 68.

    "24. At 10:38pm on 17 Jun 2010, Skinsman wrote:
    Sorry but Mardonna will cause them to fail as he is an average manager at best. Argentina are playing well in-spite of him. Image if they had a cappello type of boss. They will fall to Uruguay, Mexico or Germany when they face a manager with superior skill. The players with a decent manager would walk the world cup as any manager with half a brain would not have left Zanetti and Cambissao"

    Where have been for the past thirty odd years?? For an Argentine Maradonna is Argentina and everything inside it you have to understand this and taking firmly on board. Those players will give 200% Just because HE is their coach. For them him leading them is as good as winning the Cup itself, they will do anything to win it for him. I don't think they would do that for "a copello type boss" as he is not even from argentina or england for that matter.

  • Comment number 69.


    Little talked about fact: Argentina started their qualifying campaign in a shambles and their previous (experienced, previously well respected) coach was fired. Maradona came in and, despite some strange decisions and poor performances, did better than the previous manager. So while most people consider that he made mistakes, let's remember that he inherited a side that was already in disarray.

    It's also worth considering that he came in as a novice and - as tends to happen - may have grown into the job with experience / learning from mistakes / taking advice from other managers. I'm not saying this enables him to catch up on the (e.g.) decades of know-how that someone like Capello has, but it's complacent to assume that just because he made some eccentric decisions that didn't work out in the first few games, he'll always be a bad manager. Even if we take it as a given that he isn't much good, there's also the possibility that he has after all those random selections hit on a system that suits the players. Add that to the fact that his players see him as a father / god, he could be the leader of a very dangerous team.

    (And let's not forget that France got to the final under Domenech last time round!)

  • Comment number 70.

    Argentina the new Brazil? PFFT. After seeing 1 game of Brazil, and 2 games of Argentina. Argentina have hardly pulled out the step over now have they. Never are they the new Brazil!

  • Comment number 71.

    Mexico or Uruguay will send Argentina crashing out of this tournament. Mexico to win the rematch of being knocked out in '06, Uruguay to win the derby. Barcelona made Messi the player he is, he would not have become so good staying in Buenos Aires.

  • Comment number 72.

    Am I the only person a little depressed how everyone seems to be talking up a Germany v Argentina final again? If not England, I'd like to see Holland or someone different make it this time around.

  • Comment number 73.

    I bet 10 euros Greece will stop Argentina's momentum just to take revenge for 1994 (already done it to Nigeria) and might as well pass to the second round! Hehe!!! Much to the dislike of the 99,999% of others who dislike defensive teams.

    Go Greece!

  • Comment number 74.

    Argentina are the new Brazil and England are the same old England

  • Comment number 75.

    No not really argentina have always played this type of football bashing every team in the group stages remember their 6-0 famous thrashing of serbia and monetrenegro 4 years ago in germany, to say they are the brazil is quiet a statement they did horribly do bad in their qualification just becuase they are bashing half medicore teams doesnt mean everyone has forgetton the time where they nearly finished in the play offs.

  • Comment number 76.

    Argentina have started good. However one of the reasons they have struggled over the years is due to their reliance on small players. If you look at Brazil's skillful stars over the past 10 years Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka, you will see that they're all around 6ft or above and weren't easily muscled off the ball. Whereas Argentina had Ortega, Aimar, Saviola and now Messi. These guys are not physically that strong and can be bullied by defenders. However Messi is an improvement from the other little Argentine players. He is very hard to stop.

    I still believe that if Pekerman had bought Messi on for Riquelme in 2006, Argentina would have got to the final.

    It will interesting to see if Argentina can pull out this kind of performance against physically big teams like Brazil, England and Italy.

  • Comment number 77.

    The big teams.. hmm, its odd just how many comments allude to Argentina faltering once they play a big team.
    So, who are these inform monsters of the world cup! Brazil? Who gave a spluttering 2-1 win over North Korea, Italy? Who crawled a 1-1 draw back from Paraguay, Spain maybe, who succumbed to the Swiss, perhaps Germany, who thrashed the football heavyweights of OZ before whimpering to the Serbs, ahh thats it, England, who scrapped a draw with the U.S.
    Argentina have played and beaten well, the sides placed in front of them the supposedly other "big" teams have not. This is not a guide to say Argentina will win the cup but it does mean that on current form they are heading the pack.

    As for Argentina being the new Brazil, Brazil stopped attacking back in 82!
    Argentina have always been explosive entertainment unfortunatley for them to often on and off the field and implosive too. In 78 they were a delight, in 82 they or more accuratley Maradona was being brutally kicked out of the match by those footballing purists, erm..oh yes BRAZIL! Until the frustrated 21yr old lashed out with one in the jewels for Batista and was sent off. In 86 he dazzled like none before or since, 1990 they gave brief beauty in Caniggia & Maradona but all too often outweighed it with uglyness. 94 saw a return to attacking care free football before imploding off field, 98 saw similar football before imploding on field -Ortega, 02 they arrived unbeaten for 2yrs with an electric attack built around Crespo only for the coach to drop his striker for the faded force of Batistuta, and 06 saw them produce the football of the tournament before Pekermen made the bench read- saviola, crespo, riquelme, aimar, messi and the pitch read, cruz, cambiasso, gonzalez, etc against Germany, Strange...
    Anyway they've never been dull and im glad this years vintage is keeping that tradition, my only hope is that they can steer clear of the button marked self destruct! LOL

  • Comment number 78.

    Quite possibly the two greatest footballers ever born are working
    together as one and it's great to see.
    Messi is a 'playstation' player as Wenger recently described just as
    Maradonna was in his day.
    Argentina are serious contenders because they will score goals,have great depth of squad,a manager who almost single handedly (no pun intended)won
    the world cup for his country and has vast experience at the top top level..Messi is in good hands with him.
    Of course it could all implode horribly, very quickly and easily.
    If they meet Italy later on i think we could see a repeat of the Barcelona v Inter Milan result with the Italians coming out on top.
    There is nothing quite so painful to watch as a 2 man marked Messi being
    bullied out of the game but that unfortunately is the only way to contain genius at the level of Messi.
    Pity George Best isn't around to see him play..reckon he would be
    a super-fan.

  • Comment number 79.

    And is this France the new France cerca 2002? Or is it the Old France cerca 1998? Or the Old France cerca 2006? or 1994?

    Which Brazil is the reference to in "the New Brazil"? 1970? 1958? 2002?

  • Comment number 80.

    The thing about Argentina is that the World Cup is really important to them as a nation. Because their clubs are not Real Madrid, Man Utd or AC Milan.

    It's like Russia and the Olympics. Their tennis players see Olympic Gold as incredibly important, unlike many others.

    Maradona will manage with the philosophy he had as a player. That football is an expression of human desire, dreams and emotion. He played with his heart on his chest and, yes although he cheated outrageously once, no-one can deny that he also lit up the football world with sublime skills and goals too.

    Not for him a functional, win 1-0 approach. Sure, he won 1-0 against Nigeria, but it wasn't far from being 6-0.

    He is blessed with a huge pot of attacking players. Less so defenders.

    So if you are being pragmatic, he probably thinks 'Along the line, we may concede goals. So best to get scoring lots of them. As we may need to score lots to win later on.'

    I don't think it's necessarily a change greater than the fact that he is trying to utilise the players he possesses in the best way possible.

    But they're certainly good on the eye to date.

  • Comment number 81.

    Let's put it all into perspective. They have not played 'anyone' yet. Nigeria were toothless and S. Korea were sorely disappointing and were content to sit back and try to keep the score down. Similarly Greece will hardly provide any opposition, but then the fun begins and the Argentine back 4 will be tested for sure in the knockout stages and they will concede goals galore as some of their defending is shambolic. Jonas and De Michelis keep running into each other, Heinze can't tackle to save himself and only Samuel looked the part. A team with wingers (Holland - Robben/Elia) will have a field day. Sure they will score goals but can they score more than they concede?

  • Comment number 82.

    put a cheeky tenner on argentina at the start of the tournament. Looks like it may pay off. Also put the same amount on messi to win the golden boot, no goals yet but he is playing so well, that it is inevitable that the goals will begin to flow

  • Comment number 83.

    Er, yeah, I agree with those posters who say that the comments in the above blog are somewhat outdated... I suggest the author read some of Tim Vickery's - his colleague, no less - fine articles.

  • Comment number 84.

    Argentina teams in their history never seemed to have the best defense in the tournament. Playing midfielder Jonas Gutierrez at the right back is Maradona's tactics I believed. He put Jonas Gutierrez at the right side to chase down the ball as JG like Tevez always chases the ball and wins it back.

    Brazil, Spain and Italy are yet to play their 2nd games, but after 2 games, Argentina is the only team playing with confidence. Looks like they will be the Winner of 2010 World Cup.

  • Comment number 85.

    Good blog. I like Argentina and have been impressed by their start. My money has always been on Brazil and I think they will improve significantly.

    What I like about Dunga and Maradonna is the combination of structure and creativity. A tight defence and defensive midfield, one or two flair players, and a hitman up front.

    Gutierrez may seem a crazy inclusion, but if it means Messi, Di Maria finding the freedom they require so be it. The omission of Zanetti, Cambiasso, Banega, and Lisandro is brave and possibly necessary.

    They have a chance but I have a feeling Kaka and Robinho will start to shine tomorrow.

  • Comment number 86.

    No offence but Kaka has not been a top player for 2 years, I dont see how he can turn it on in SA all of a sudden.

    Brasil will be there or thereabouts but they wont be exciting to watch doing it.

    I would love to see Argentina or another attacking side win it plus it would shut up the Alan Greens of the world who were slating Maradona prior to the tournament.

    Least they are playing as a team & seem to be enjoying the biggest games of their careers as opposed to rabbit in the headlights England.

  • Comment number 87.

    If you call "all balls on Messi" and then see what happens "the new Brazil", you are absolutely right. Argentina looked quite shabby against Korea, to be honest.

    If the next opponents know how to eliminate Messi like Inter did against Barca, then I would like to see how good they are.

  • Comment number 88.

    There is a dependency on Messi for sure. A nice player to watch like the old diego. ;)

  • Comment number 89.

    The Albiceleste midfield and strike force have been impressive so far. Veron, Messi, Tevez, Higuain, Palermo and those gifted stars around have been concentrating on playing creative, neat and clean football. Diving and other negative forms of play have been absent in this supremely talented side. They seem to be enjoying their World Cup stage and make the game look more of play and less of toil and hard labour.

    Nice article Jonathan. Thanks.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 90.

    Yes, it would indeed appear that Argentina have become the new Brazil.

  • Comment number 91.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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