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Argentine beauty overcomes the Greek beast

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Paul Fletcher | 10:00 UK time, Wednesday, 23 June 2010

World Cup 2010: Polokwane

In other circumstances, Greece's Sokratis Papastathopoulos might have been arrested for harassment. Like a faithful dog following his master, he shadowed Lionel Messi to every corner of the Peter Mokaba Stadium as he took to his man-marking brief with some gusto.

Messi has clearly relished the roaming enganche (roughly translated as playmaker) role that he has been given in South Africa, playing behind two forward players in a 4-3-1-2 formation. But his ability to influence Tuesday's contest was tested by the intense attention he received from a physical - and at times cynical - opposition.

It was all part of a familiar ploy by Greece manager Otto Rehhagel, who makes no apology for the negative tactics that he adopts against superior opposition.

"We will play exciting football when we have Messi, Kaka, Iniesta and Xavi on the team," said the German-born boss after November's play-off victory over Ukraine.

Rehhagel's strategy is simple - pack the defence and midfield, stymie the opposition and try to strike from set-pieces or on the counter attack. Alas, it is a strategy that often ruins the contest as a spectacle.

It is a tactic that paid spectacular dividends at Euro 2004, a tournament that Greece won, but it is most definitely not attractive to watch.

Messi had to be patient to avoid the clutches of Greece's Sokratis PapastathopoulosMe and my shadow - Sokratis Papastathopoulos was never far from Messi. Photo: Reuters

I saw Greece numerous times during their march to victory in Portugal and could not decide whether my respect for their organisation and discpline outweighed my sheer ambivalence at the prospect of sitting through another of their fixtures.

The Greek style was described to me by one journalist on Tuesday as "anti-football". I think that is harsh because, as Rehhagel argues, to try to ape the style of nations brimming with attacking talent would be to invite disaster. Even so, I doubt whether there will be many tears shed after Greece's elimination at the group stage.

In stark contrast, Argentina are clearly one of the biggest draws in South Africa. A look at the respective dugouts in the minutes before kick-off told you that.

While the experienced and respected Rehhagel had a clear view of the pitch, Argentine coach Diego Maradona could see nothing but an ocean of photographers.

The Albiceleste boss is pure box office and utterly compelling viewing. I rather hope that his team do well just so we see how his fiery temperament handles the highly pressurised business end of the tournament.

Already at this World Cup he has insulted Pele, Michel Platini and the general standard of European football. Needless to say, his press conferences are packed to the gills.

Against Greece, he was all smiles as he arrived at the stadium in team shellsuit and white trainers, still sporting his magnificent salt and pepper beard that he has apparently grown to cover a scar inflicted when his dog bit him several months ago.

He wandered around the pitch during the warm-up with the ease and swagger of a man who understands his authority, giving Rehhagel such a long embrace that his long dark mane was left decidedly ruffled.

Once the match started, it was not long before Maradona's smiles turn to snarls. The 49-year-old was apoplectic about some of the physical play of the Greeks, waving an imaginary yellow card in the direction of the referee and swivelling in disgust when it was not forthcoming.

The fury returned after the game, when Maradona answered questions about the Greek approach. It took a matter of seconds before his voice rose from normal to raging, like a sudden swell that washes over you and drags you under. His hands moved with such force that they almost distracted attention away from the glare of his diamond earrings.

"The Greeks were just pushing Lionel Messi," said Maradona. "After repeated fouls, take out the yellow card to the third player who hits Messi and you'll see that defenders don't hit him anymore. Why didn't the referee do that? It's in the regulations, man."

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The much-maligned Jabulani ball was the next subject of his ire, but just as quickly as the squall appeared, so calm returned. Maradona offered us his most earnest look as he listened to another question before respectfully suggesting that the form of his team might warrant an apology from journalists who had prematurely written them off.

I thought it was interesting that Maradona noted that, despite their defensive strategy, Greece still caused his defence a few problems, with Martin Demichelis far too easily caught out by long balls forward.

Defence must surely remain the key concern for Maradona, but after making seven changes from the team that defeated South Korea 4-1, the Argentina boss must be buoyed by the form of several fringe players.

Clemente Rodriguez - so small and quick that, according to Maradona, he can run through an opponent's legs - made a strong case to retain his place. Rarely tested defensively, he was effective going forward and is the squad's only specialist full-back.

For a while on Tuesday, it looked as though Greece's tactics might work. Georgios Samaras had a decent opportunity shortly after half-time, when a goal would have given Greece licence to be even more defensive.

But Argentina, so full of craft, skill and invention, triumphed in the end. Messi's influence on the contest grew and his team carved open Greece's defence with regularity as they secured a 2-0 win.

Beauty felled the beast - but Argentina will face much better-looking opponents before this increasingly intriguing tournament is finished.

You can follow me throughout the World Cup at


  • Comment number 1.

    Long live Argentina and all the exciting South American teams in this WC. Good riddance France, Greece and hopefully England and Italy for the good of the competition.

  • Comment number 2.

    Greece aren't good to watch, but as you say, what other option do they have? If they played any other way Argentina would have ripped them apart. That said, Argentina are definitely dodgy at the back, so Greece could have been a bit more adventurous.

    I can't deride too much Greece for their playing style though, since my team (Scotland) will have to adopt similar tactics to get anything against the likes of Spain in our Euro qualifiers. Defend for 99% of the match, and sneak one from a free kick or something. Ah, Scottish football... ;)

  • Comment number 3.

    The second round is where the WC starts now and as Maradona knows, from now on, his team will not be playing against such defense minded teams as the three already faced. Mexico's attack will be a much stiffer test than anything faced before, so it should be a good match. To continue, Argentina may need to be more clinical in attack and some of this responsibility will fall on Messi. Although he has shown moments of magic and form, Messi still has not got into his full stride - the stage is now set for Messi to show why he is World Player of the Year.

  • Comment number 4.

    Greece's tactics are 100% spot on. This was highlighted last night. Argentina scored and Greece had to come out of their shell and the Argies totally ran rings round them. It was a joy to watch and shows what will happen if you attack this team, they will hammer you on the break.

    Also, Argentinas defence looks susceotible on the break, but when they come up against better options, teams wont try to hit them on the break, they will be trying to control the game.

    Whether they win it or not, they are a joy to watch. Its hard to say as an Englishman, but for the good of football i hope its an Argentina vs Spain final.

  • Comment number 5.

    This WC needs Diego, for all his sins he is larger than life and provide as much entertainment on the sideline as his team provides on the pitch, a far cry from all those dour/faceless coaches from the other big teams.
    There seem to be a genuine love and respect between the players and their managers. Altough Argentina may have defensive worries (in my opinion not worse than any other big teams) he seem to be able to count on a formidable depth on the bench. The world cup is won by 23 players and their coach not the starting 11 only, eventually some players will get injured : brave coaching move to replace 7 from the "starting" line up then replacing with other bench warmers (bar Di Maria).
    He rested his squad for the next round and can now have confidence in the bench.
    I am not fooled by his rants, he is doing the "special one" tricks of deflecting all the attention from his players onto him.
    Go Diego, it would be nice to have him lifting the trophy on the 11th.

  • Comment number 6.

    Good article, Paul. You always manage to present a balanced argument, which some other journalists (who shall remain nameless!) seldom do.
    It is an interesting debate, and yes indeed, beauty did fell the beast, but football was not always the fast flowing game it is today. I know it's a terrible generalisation, but it does have some truth in it - teams like the Hungary and Brazil sides of the fifties are often said to have created attacking football, certainly at international level. The archacic formations packed defence and midfield meaning often less atractive games often played out like chess matches. You only need to look to Italy today to see that this is still the process.
    In my youth I was always told 'if you don't concede, you don't lose' and therefore always have a chance of winning (not that as a junior my team ever once thought about anything other than scoring as many goals as possible!), and it can pay dividens. When Spurs played Arsenal at White Hart Lane toward the end of the season, we relied on a sturdy defence (I use 'we' being a lifelong spurs fan!) to get us through, sure we created chances, but Arsenal were far superior in terms of possession and chances. We stifled them, Gomez played a blinder and we scored a wonder goal and a breakaway goal. That's football. If you're Greece, or anyone for that matter, setting out against one of the most potent attacking forces in world football then you could argue you have no choice. Samaras had the chance to put Greece ahead and if he did then perhaps a different reaction would be percieved in today's press.
    Now, I don't want to see anti-football taking over exciting football, but the object is to win the game, is it not? My memory may be hazy, but when England faced Argentina in the world cup in 2002, we spent most of the game on the back foot and defended like lions. Courage, defiant and warriors, the players were portrayed, but had we not 'won' a penalty, had David Beckham not despatched it then the story might've been different. In fact, the story was different come the quarters against Brazil and, after we took the lead we sat back, didn't cause a threat and were undone by a coalition of Ronaldinho, fluke and David Seaman...
    My point being is that people remember results, not necessarily performances. It is only occasionally that one's abilities are remembered over one's accomplishments. Take the Dutch in 74. The best team in the world, stifled and defeated by the organised machine of West Germany and then again in 78 defeated by hosts, Argentina. As a contrast, take the Mathews' Final in '53 when Stan Mortensen scored a hat-trick and Stanley didn't even score, yet it is Matthews who is remembered for his performance though his inspiring second half performance.
    I think it is often forgotten that there is more to football than scoring goals, however some teams, as Greece showed last night, often forget that goals are part of the game altogether!

  • Comment number 7.

    The Argentinians came to the WC still perplexed about the awkward paradox Destiny had put before them:

    'There is only one Maradona: Messi'

    Now they seem to have fully accepted their fate, with Maradona making Messi Captain in front of Verón. I still think Argentina's midfield is poor, with Verón too old for these endeavors, and the Defence is suspicious too.

    That said, Messi can fire up the team by himself, and lead them to win this WC. Sergio Aguero, Higuaín and Tévez are all great partners for him - Maradona should think in those three over other players to make company for the Messiah, which itself, should be the priority for D10s.

  • Comment number 8.

    I actually don't believe for one minute Maradona is the brains behind this argentinian team. I am convinced he is just a mascot figure head, and one of the backgroud staff is doing all the work. This is not the same team or strategy that struggled through qualifiers. .... Wait till they get some real opposition. Greece should have gone for it last night.

  • Comment number 9.

    Now Argentina have got what seemd to be the relative formality of their group stage matches out of the way, it will be very interesting to see how they perform against the bigger teams in the knock out stages. At times they have looked a little vulnerable defensively (but in fairness who hasn't?) and there is always the worry that they may have peaked too early. This happened to Holland in Euro 2008 when they cruised through the "Group of Death" before getting dumped out by a well organised Russian side in the quarters. I will be intrigued to see how Diego handles the pressure of World Cup knock out football.

  • Comment number 10.

    Good article, unlike the BBC pundits last night, who told us Greece were rubbish and Argentina would get 6 or 7 goals. Then blamed Greece for spoiling our entertainment by not letiing them. And was this the same Alan Shearer that spent 90 minutes, not so long ago, running round just jumping into the Arsenal players because you have to get "in their faces" to stop them running rings round you.

  • Comment number 11.

    Nicely balanced comments on the whole but I think the premise of describing Argentina as 'Beauty' and Greece as 'The Beast' is subjective. Rehhagel freely admitted - as you state - that his side play more 'negatively' against 'superior' opponents and that he would play a more 'eye-pleasing' style if he had those types of players - but we have to respect this as good tactics. As you say it won them a trophy at Euro'2004. What would we give for that?

    In the Premier League if a 'smaller' team 'parks the bus' in front of the goal and holds out for a nil-nil against say Arsenal..they are praised for their doggedness.
    Alan Hansen might argue the Greeks defending was 'beautiful' and Argentina's 'beastly'. It's all in the eye of the beholder I suppose? A hard but fair tackle is sometimes better to watch than lightweights going to the floor at the meerest touch - which is becoming the norm. Diego would have it that there would be an 'exclusion zone' set up around little Lionel so he can weave his merry dances unchallenged.

  • Comment number 12.

    Greece bless them sadly cant play any other way they just dont have the players simple really. And like any time you have to play to your strengths they are not pretty and tbh they are bloody awful to watch but if they opened up against Argentina they would have been walloped. As for Argentina the maradona thing is wonderful it is all a charade designed to take pressure off the team and its clearly working.

    Who cares let them manmark Messi they have an abundance of strikers who at any time will score Messi makes space that is his asset. Although their weakness is defence being Demichelis and Guteirrez i just think they will try to simply outscore the opposition.

  • Comment number 13.

    #8, they struggled through the qualifiers before Maradona took over, their results improved dramatically after he took the helm. Even so, I'm sure he will be getting input from his coaching staff like all coaches do. Any team with that much talent will be dangerous, I dare say that even if he coaches them to glory, people will say that he had nothing to do with it and was just along for the ride. Sticking stubbornly to a press-perpetuated prejudgement is all very well I suppose, but the reality is he's done rather well so far. Long may it continue.

  • Comment number 14.

    Paul, why do so many journalists keep making sarcastic comments about the Greek style? Sure, it's definitely not pretty to watch, but what other option do the Greeces and Switzerlands of football have when playing against the Argentinas and Spains? Go out there and try to pass their way to a win? That would be a foolish strategy. If you had the Greek squad to manage, you would also pick the system that's most likely to suit it regardless of how pretty it is. In any case, the worst game of the world cup in terms of quality was by far England vs. Algeria!

  • Comment number 15.

    #13 : well said, coaches always make the team

    there is the same controversy in RSA about the rugby coach that some people consider a token . Despite his achievements (he has done better than the previous incumbent but not yet played the WC) The Boks win because the senior players MAKE the team, tactics............
    but Jake White won the world cup because he is a good coach ... nonsense

  • Comment number 16.

    I beg to differ that Veron looks too old for such endeavours. In both matches he's played so far he has dictated play as well as working hard defensively, a factor seldom associated with the man.

    You may yet be right but lets pass judgement once Argentina face sterner tests.

  • Comment number 17.

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

  • Comment number 18.

    Further to 6 and 10, I really do want to express my appreciation for this very good blog, which is in stark contrast to some others on the BBC that are quite simply garbage.

  • Comment number 19.

    I have to agree with post #8 by collie21 that Maradona is just a figurehead.
    When the camera zoomed in to the Argentine bench, just before their first substitution with the game at 0-0, I noticed a tall figure giving instructions to an attentive sub about to come on, while Diego is standing right in front of them watching the game without a care in the world.

  • Comment number 20.

    13. At 1:01pm on 23 Jun 2010, Stevat wrote:
    #8, they struggled through the qualifiers before Maradona took over, their results improved dramatically after he took the helm. Even so, I'm sure he will be getting input from his coaching staff like all coaches do. Any team with that much talent will be dangerous, I dare say that even if he coaches them to glory, people will say that he had nothing to do with it and was just along for the ride. Sticking stubbornly to a press-perpetuated prejudgement is all very well I suppose, but the reality is he's done rather well so far. Long may it continue.

    Not at all true, he didn't settle on team till the world cup. They qualified fourth, thanks to a very scrappy final match where I believe Boletti scored in the 86th minute against Uruguay. They were dire in qualification and the last gasp effort prompted Maradonas outburst for which he was fined by fifa. He also oversaw his team being hammered 6:1 By Bolivia and threatened to quit after two weeks in the job, because the Agentine FA said no to his chosen assistant. The were also beaten 2:0 by ecuador 3:1 by Brazil ...and 1:0 by Chile..........he has 4 central defenders, and any team willing to have a go unlike Greece, will hammer them.

  • Comment number 21.

    But the big question you consider Maradona's hairstyle a 'mullett'?

  • Comment number 22.

    @19. Rubbish, it's been reported in some Spanish speaking newspapers (as opposed to the anti-maradona anglo tabloids) that all substitutions and strategy have been Maradona's only decisions, very often against the advise of his assistants, so far he’s been always spot on.

  • Comment number 23.

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

  • Comment number 24.

    At 20 they were rubbish when he took over to, you never mentioned that. All that matters now is how they do in the world cup, the qualifiers mean nothing. This applies to England to.

    I have seen the stupid emabarassing comments made about Maradona before the world cup. The problem is you all look silly now and find it hard to take especially your good self. Watch them play without defending your blind pre mediated views.

  • Comment number 25.

    Perhaps people have to separate each person's role here. The role of a football team, as well as their manager, is to win matches. The only reason why any manager would cave in to journalists' 'demands' for more open matches, would be if the teams were funded by broadcasters, irrespective of the results they brought.

    And in this case, why? In order to see a team brought down in a fireball for your viewing pleasure? Of course, this wouldn't be the case if this commentary applied to the English side. Then it would be "Whatever wins the day". Only that, with no 'buts'. Imagine England playing defensively and winning the long awaited world cup. Any journalist in Britain that would dare to say "Sure, we won it, but it's not like the matches were pretty enough to watch", would be lynched the next instance. Maybe your "respect for [Greece's] organisation and discipline" should have outweighed your "sheer ambivalence at the prospect of sitting through another of their fixtures" in the first place, because if it won England's matches, you wouldn't care. You'd love them for their wit!

    A final comment on this. Turning sports into shows is what baseball, American football, NBA, hockey on ice and NASCAR are all about. With the NBA as the sole exception (which I don't mind watching even though it looks like street basketball by extremely skilled players), I'd rather watch cricket, rugby and Formula One. Otherwise I would be watching just to see bashes, dunks, crashes and explosions. They're football teams, with athletes and strategists, not rodeo clowns and gladiators acting for your viewing pleasure. In any other case, we could bring back old favorites in sports' history, like the "Christians' 200m hurdles chased by lions"... A truly eventful sport to watch!

  • Comment number 26.

    I can't read Anglo tabloids from where I am , i like the guy, I just don't think he has what it takes, and from what I have seen of the qualifying and seen of this world cup, it's not him calling the shots.

  • Comment number 27.

    It wasn't just their tabloids their broadsheets as well: plus the comments on Tim Vickery's blogs....They were comparing him to Gascoigne managing England.

    For the sake of the beautiful game I hope they win the thing. I'd buy up all the papers and read them squirm.

  • Comment number 28.

    I'm fairly astonished at some people claiming that Maradonna is just a figurehead, and that other people are the ones pulling the strings. You're saying that based on virtually nothing - e.g. #19 saying that because he saw a sub speaking to an assistant and not Maradonna that therefore Maradonna has no control! Unbelievable basing your opinion on the man on 10 seconds of footage!

    If the team was doing badly they'd be saying Maradonna is a rubbish manager, but when they're doing well it's because other people are steadying the ship behind the scenes. Some people are biased against him, perhaps still bitter about 1986, but I'm delighted he's at the world cup, he's certainly entertaining!

  • Comment number 29.

    oKay, hang on, a lot of feeling here. I have outlined clearly for football reasons why I have my suspicions. I think they are like their coach fragile. I am Irish, I would love Argentina to stuff England. I am not at all Anti Maradona. This is a guy who was an incredible player and is known to be pschologically weak. That is a fact see his drugs problems. His press conferences are brilliant. Yes Argentina are here now, and playing beautiful football. Scoring lots of goals. I just don't think Maradona is the guy with the tactics. He may be, but none the less if he is only motivating the players, no doubt his infectious enthusiam helps, but stop having a go at me for having a view point. It's my view and I am sticking to it, come back with some facts if you want to argue.

  • Comment number 30.

    The Port Elizabeth pitch is in a bad way because the area is classed a disaster area due to drought conditions,no water is allowed to be used
    This message from PE

    The pitch might well be rough - we have a water emergency here. We're a declared disaster area as a result of drought. We can't water a thing

  • Comment number 31.

    Now then,

    Many thanks for your thoughts and comments. Very interesting. Sorry for the delay in replying but the BBC bus had a rather long drive this morning, six hours with a few wrong turns thrown into the mix.

    All is going well, though, with the tyre blowouts and birds in the windscreen incident very much in the past!

    Let us start with Greece. I'm not sure they have any option but to play in the style (if such a word is appropriate) that they do. However, that does not mean that neutrals have to like it - and I'm fairly sure that most don't relish the prospect of watching it.

    As for Maradona - I reckon he will have his tactical ability tested during the knockout stage and so we will be in a better position to judge him after that.

    Most Argentines I know reckon everything is black or white with El Diego. And whichever one of those is good is what we have at the moment.

  • Comment number 32.

    well i am a neutral viewer and i don't hate those tactics greece or any other smaller teams are playing coz i understand why they do that, no teams likes to be thrashed 5-0 or 6-0 in a world cup game by playing offensive if they don't match the quality of the players other teams have, counter attacking is the best option for them and it sometimes works as we have seen in the spain game, i think whatever the tactics the better teams should be able to break them that's why we call them a better or a good team isn't it? argentina proved it yesterday by scoring 2 goals even if the greeks were defending heavily, so if you are a good attacking team you should be able to prove that by breaking that tactics...

  • Comment number 33.

    From a Greek point, I have to say I'm really proud of our team. I thought it was an outstanding defensive display, and who knows what might have happened if Samaras had scored at the beginning of the second half. Also, there is artistry in defending and it's naive to call Rehhagel's style 'anti-football'. I was thoroughly annoyed by the constant carping of the BBC commentators, as if they expected Greece to roll over for the sake of viewing figures. Generally, I don't mind watching a good attacking team versus a good defending team. The drab matches – like Ivory Coast v. Portugal – occur when two teams play badly. Neither Greece nor Argentina played badly last night.

  • Comment number 34.

    Its little funny to see some top blokes being sarcastic.. Coollie,if argentina were losing those match what would be your stance? 'Maradona is a non-competant,psychopathic manager working for money who knows nothing about tactics etc etc?' Isn't that what you would say had the circumstances been other way?
    Not trying to argue.Just want to make a point. Even if there were some strategist or whosoever behind all this,in this age of information wouldn't that thing be revealed? And why would such a good strategist want to hide himself when he know his revelation can notch him a top club or big money? I don't think its the age of wise ppl who'd do it solely for the love of the game or country.
    And even if by any means theres such a guy then also it doesn't depreciate Maradona's value,coz he has soaked so much pressure and still running.And the motivation he radiates is actually the fuel and the essence of this side.
    I hope i didn't make many ppl feel sleepy.

  • Comment number 35.

    I am very fond of listening music

  • Comment number 36.

    I would just like to say I was disappointed by the commentating for this Argentina v Greece match. I sat down to watch football, not two men constantly complaining and moaning about the way the Greeks were playing. Yes they were being defensive, but they still tried getting forward and managed to create a couple of good openings. Who cares how they play? A someone said earlier "If you don't concede goals, you don't lose" and they had a chance of going through if they didn't lose, so I don't see how the commentators could moan so much about it.

    I hope the BBC ensures that commentators focus less on making negative remarks on teams and actually tell us what is going on.

  • Comment number 37.

    P.S: facts!!Hmmm!
    All central defenders
    jonas as full back
    + veron + palermo
    102 players tested in the qualifiers and friendlies.
    Pretty daft.Isn't it?Who else could do all those things?
    I came to conclusion that only maradona can.

  • Comment number 38.

    watching Messi is better than sex

  • Comment number 39.

    Greece did something they had never managed before in winning a World Cup game during this tournament.

    I was at their 2-1 victory over Nigeria and was impressed by some of their attacking play and ambition. But they only showed any desire to attack after Nigeria had a man sent off.

    I thought it was good management by Otto Rehhagel to change his tactics so quickly but if every limited team was so defensive in their thinking then there would be a lot of dull games.

    Having said that, every Greek fan (over a certain age) has the memory of Euro 2004 - which is more than supporters of many so-called bigger nations can claim.

  • Comment number 40.

    I'd be more than happy to see Argentina go a long way in this tournament, if it werent for the tiny little detail that England are now drawn to play them in the quarter final if both sides get that far. It does seem that Maradona is proving his critics wrong, although the evidence of the shaky qualifying campaign was hard to ignore.

    For Greece, their style may not be pretty but then again as Paul Fletcher says, they can point to a winners medal in fairly recent history, and that should shut a lot of folks up. I actually quite enjoyed watching a good defensive display, rather like the one served up by Switzerland the day before when they held off Chile for most of the match.

  • Comment number 41.

    Thanks for being so far the only BBC reporter who has been kind to the Greek football team! The match report was very unfair! Boring football yes, but not "poor" at all. The ploy nearly worked and they still tried their very best in a sportsman like manner. By the way the same was true of the BBC reporting at Euro 2004 when Greece won. The reports (before the final) were so dismisive and condescending. Please have a word with whoever wrote that report yesterday! Marks please for effort and making Argentina sweat! Still thank you for understanding how Greece had to play!

  • Comment number 42.

    As an Argie I really don't get the way greeks played yesterday. I understand the logic behind the reasons given in this blog, but I can't manage to feel them as right.
    If you want to play counter attack is a thing... but if you refuse to play at all that is a complete different matter.
    Greece didn't showed any intention to score.. no even when they knew the need it to advance. How can anyone defend this strategy? It seems they accepted that the story was over, and they didn't want to loose for a big score.

  • Comment number 43.

    Hey everyone, I am Argentinean and I recently found this interesting posting on the BBC (the previous was Jonathan Stevenson’s, after some wandering around over the international press in order to see what they think of the World Cup so far, and this time I couldn’t resist to drop a few comments.
    First of all, I definitely agree with the statement that the Greeks had nothing but to play like that, so what’s to say or complain about that (tough I do believe the arbiter should have given a couple of yellow cards earlier, when their defenders were coming out in turn of their imaginary lane to foul Messi); even ourselves have done that in, for e.g. Argentina Brazil in the 1990 World cup, when we were way inferior to them, and ended up winning. The most famous recent example, for that matter, is Mourinho´s strategy in the Champions final, against the very superior Barcelona team, which obviously paid off too. The point is that whoever wants to be an attacking team has to know that more often than not, you will have to deal with semi or full catenaccio (Italian for “Lock”) strategies, and of course you are the only responsible for breaking it, and if you can not, go cry at home but can not complain. It is as legitimate as any other.

    About Diego (as a coach or manager), I would like to throw some information that you probably don’t know: he was put there by the highly questioned and dictator like Grondona, known as the Argentinean, football “Godfather” (president of the AFA since 79, vice-president of FIFA since 1988, chairman of the billion U$S financials committee) only as a favour return for “prestige” earned as the AFA manager after Mexico 86, which catapulted him to FIFA later, under the likes of semi-mob people as Havelange and now Blatter (only to mention the 2, that for e.g., have resisted even to date the incorporation of technology to help the arbiters in name of objective justice, based naturally on ridiculous reasons to it, which just hide their obvious purpose) . Also, because he was the most claimed by the ignorant crowds, and some paid and arranged sectors of the sports media; not because his credentials as a coach. In the South Americans play-off he performed far from well, calling over 100 players in 15 months, never transmitting a game clear idea or system, losing vs. Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, and even Bolivia 0-6, and only qualifying in the last minute in two consecutive games. Finally, for the definitive list he left outside players even at their best like Cambiasso and Zanetti, but not for football reasons as you may be surprised. As it turns out, he also favours the internal semi-conspiracies groups, like the one with Veron and his followers, who had (and have) an internal fight with the formers stars of Inter, a similar case with the Gago case, that as we all know here, Higuain once asked out his girlfriend when team-mates in Madrid, and was never called again since by Diego. What about Heinze?, the most discussed player before the definitive 23 list: well, his brother runs a publicity company who very recently helped Diego a lot when he was broke (literally took him out of the hole), so they became sort of partners and secured the very dubious hardly skilled and far from his best, defender, a place in the final list. But did anyone know that before that list he made a semi-final list, with 30 players. As it was instantaneously discovered by the local press, most of the other players, virtually unknown even here, were represented by the same two or three managers, as most of the whole main team still are.
    Well, that tells quite a bit what I think of his style as a person, and also the people he surrounds himself with, and I haven’t told the half I know only because of space reasons.
    But as for the selection of the players he has done a good (if even obvious) job; even here the statistics show (with the exception of Zanetti and Cambiasso) that they agree with at least 80% of the team, so the most respected coaches here when interview told so too.
    And once they stepped on African land, surprisingly enough, even for me, they all seem to be responding quite well among each other, and also to the coach orders too. Diego to his own luck, has taken mainly all good decisions too, with the exception of Jonas as a starter, and even in my view the inclusion of Veron as such too, although quite a lot of people disagree with that; in any event is not clear as we do not have an undisputed star to play in the classical number 8 position.
    But obviously football players are not PHD holders and they seem to enjoy and feel better with a charismatic worm affectionate motivator type of person that with a clear conscious scientifically style like one (of course as long as they fell OK –and especially shut up about- with the 2nd paragraph statements that they all know).
    Anyway, I still hope that all keeps working out for the best- and we eventually win the Cup-, but I still have my doubts about the generally unskilled and unprofessional approach of Diego and his team could actually be rewarded with the World Cup. But except from Brazil, no one has shown even similar good level, so those are the guys to be afraid of (and Argentina too of course), and I hardly believe anyone else can rise to.

    Best regards from Argentina,


  • Comment number 44.

    Check this info Adolfo "losing vs. Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, and even Bolivia 0-6". I think Chile was Basile's last mach.
    The rest of the info I just call it rubbish yellow press

  • Comment number 45.

    Thank god Greece are out. I'd rather pull out my toenails with rusty pliers than watch their dismal football again. And no, i wouldn't be happy if England won the World Cup playing that style.

    Good luck to Argentina, i hope they go far in the tournament.

  • Comment number 46.

    Dear Mr Fletcher,
    let's see England first, playing with Argentina, and then I will reply to your comments for the Greek team.


  • Comment number 47.

    guyastral, you're a tard.

  • Comment number 48.

    Don't go overboard too soon about Argentina lifting the Cup. Yes they have an exceptional talent in Messi and his performances have been a delight to watch, but oh that Argentine defence is very shaky and I'm sure that if any team is brave enough to have a go then they will score against Argentina. But if teams try to play defensively, like Greece did, for 90' then they will lose. Let's not forget that Bolivia went after Argentina in a qualifying game and tore their defence to ribbons. I saw the game.
    I'm thinking of teams like Holland, Chile, Portugal and Brazil who have wingers who will run at the likes of Heinze and Guitterez who are poor tacklers, while De Michelis is also none too secure in the middle.
    I think Argentina will get past Mexico okay, but then after that who knows?

  • Comment number 49.

    Yep, I stand corrected; I meant Ecuador, as Chile was indeed the last game of the former coach. That of course makes no difference to all I said before, as they are all well known facts except that most people –and even a huge side of a press- don’t wanna know or tell, but in any event that was not even the main point of my lines. That was, 1st, that no one can blame Greece for the way they played, that’s legal and a viable (likely for them, the only) strategy. And that Diego didn’t get to his position for his earlier merits as a football coach, and that is barely debatable, together with some appreciations about our football political leaders (or the one), as well as FIFA´s too, which I of course stand for.
    But also said that he has done really well so far –in the WC-, so good for him and for us. Hopefully he keeps on track and puts a 4-4-2 (or 4-3-3) with the back ones being Otamendi on the right side, and Clemente on the left, which himself highly praised them after the match with the Greeks, but I highly doubt he would do so.

    Best regards from Argentina (again)


  • Comment number 50.

    Adolfo: i seems gossip is one of the best sports in Argentina. I don't know how you can tell that all that you wrote is a "well known fact". Some things could be true, but is far from being a well known fact.
    Everything that surround Maradona is at least suspicious, but if you aren't his brother, Grondona's son or someone with real power in the AFA I don't see how you can back up your saying's.

  • Comment number 51.

    I love watching attractive beautiful football and clearly most enjoy watching the likes of Brazil and Argentina, but I also understand there is often a need to play park the bus football.
    However since the WC started I have decided I dislike Greece and Switzerland, because there was no mix in their strategy. Against Argentina of course I understand the Greeks only option to possibly get something is to play defensively, but against the other teams they have to attack. To qualify for the knockout stages, as they didn't, you have to attack and score at some point. When Argentina did eventually score, and Greece knew if it stayed that way they were eliminated they still refused to attack. That I'm afraid is anti-football.
    Whatever I've said on Greece though, Switzerland are even worse.

  • Comment number 52.

    Believe me, unfortunately I cannot give you the specific sources as they are football political leaders and the players themselves which of course, they only give that information if they know you, you pay them, and above all keep their names in reserve. I am specifically from the city of Veron and Bilardo themselves and I’ve known them forever and talked to them uncountable times, as well as lots of other people who know them closely. I didn’t even mention (I let you to find out) the way Diego arrived after Basile, the forthcoming related issue with Riquelme, and only to give you a single source because he said that on public TV, the pitch helper from Basile (Jorge Ribolzi) told that Diego was “trash as a person” (my translation to “una basura como persona”. One source [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]In one of the most popular TV football shows which runs on Sundays, right before the start of the World Cup, a well known journalist explained openly live, exactly all I said before in the second paragraph of the 1st comment (43rd), a very long time after everyone around football indeed knew it long ago (and no one on air denied it, even one of his present closest friends and consultant –which Grondona did not allow to be part of Diego’s team-, but came up with lots of other crap against the journalist’s person)
    But even if we didn’t know (or couldn’t confirm) any of the former, the question would remain: under what merits Diego earned the right to coach the national team? Whatever reason you may think about could be worth listening to, but for sure no one related to his merits as a coach.
    Anyway, regards to everybody again, and now that we know that England is in, we may even have to face you in the quarter finals if we beat Mexico, so with Capello coaching I would definitely bet that the guy from comment 46 (salamastra1) would have hit the right irony, but hope that he would be wrong (heh) as we all in fact hate defensive boring football. .

  • Comment number 53.

    Well. Throw me a bone here. If you are the chairman of Estudiantes de la Plata then I'll give some credit to your sayings. If you believe in the press... well, I assume you also believe in politicians and that lawyers seeks justice in courts.
    I heard a lot too, but nothing to repeat as a well known fact. For example, A former player from Estuadiantes told me that Veron had to make the tactis in the half time of the Argentina Brazil match in Rosario because Maradona didn't had a clue.

  • Comment number 54.

    Heheh, I start to feel some kind of scepticism fading away (well done!). Note that I only quote an specific person appearing in the media, and another journalist that I know too, but only cause they said things that I already knew, not because “I believe in all press or something”.
    Anyway, I don’t believe that football tactics are rocket science, and already countless times good teams with good players have shown that they need no coaching as they are professional players who have been doing the same (usually they play their whole lives in the same one or two positions) forever and they know what to do. In any case that doesn’t mean that the figure of Diego isn’t positive for them; from a psychological point of view and why not, even from the tactical one (I mean, I love chess as much –or may be more- as football, which by the way I personally played and had many coaches, so you can guess in what esteem I have “football tactics”-)
    I only wanted to make one point about the main blog´s theme, and another one about some staff that one assumes that international public (and even media) ignores.
    If you British guys can take over Germany, will see you then there! (If so, don’t “Capello” too much the game please, for nice football’s sake. You, unlike the Greeks –same for Germany- have the material to NOT do that.)
    Good luck for all

  • Comment number 55.

    Is it just me or does Mourinho behave just like Maradona during press conferences and on the sideline. Looking at Greece I see a typical Mourinho team. Maybe Mourinho is a Maradona and Reghagel rolled into one. They love him in England. They think that he is a great manager (like Reghagel) and has Charisma (like Maradona)!

  • Comment number 56.

    Beauty hasn't felled every beast - the beastly Maradona is still in the tournament, sadly. Oh well, perhaps FIFA will get around to doing drug tests on the managers, too - that ought to get rid of that fat, little beast Diego in a hurry!

  • Comment number 57.

    @19 Helinico. Oh come on. just before Joe Cole was coming in as substitute he was getting his intructions from someone other than Capello.What does that make capello. Assts usually hand out last minute instructions, it is a common practice.

    Maradona just being there in your dressing room, add few uplifting words from a man who has uplifted everything (referring to the good things in the sport) can lift anyside in the world.

    May be he is short on 'coaching' skills but let Maradona be the coach for a day of my club (small home town club) I can see all players giving their best and much more just to impress the man. That's Maradona !

    Maradona, Messi and team have a great chance of taking it all !
    Go Argentina !!!

  • Comment number 58.

    This is what is going to happen in New Zealand when the All Whites beat Paraguay today!

  • Comment number 59.

    Argentina will go no further than the semis. That will be vindication enough for Maradona I assume.

  • Comment number 60.

    Have to say, much as I want England to win, I wish we played more attractive football.

    The Argies (and others) have some flair and they arent afraid to show it.

    We, on the other hand, are only one step up from Greece.

    Too many long balls. Too much reliant on the quick break.

    If only we'd get and keep possession a bit more and pass it around a bit.

  • Comment number 61.

    Overall the South Americans have been most impressive, with Argentina the best of the lot. They have so many attacking options that they must be in with a shout.

    Diego will fancy his team's chances, particularly when he even gets a goal from Martin Palermo.

  • Comment number 62.

    Wonderfully conveyed article Paul. The quality of your blogs are really starting to outstrip that of your fellow BBC writers. Your portrayal of Diego "Box of Frogs" Maradona was spot on.

    It's not the first time we've heard the term "anti-football" from an Argentine, by the way. Messi accused Glasgow Rangers of adopting this style several seasons ago when the club was drawn with Barcelona.

    Our manager, Walter Smith, continued the "box them in defensively and attack on the break" approach throughout the season and eventually got to the UEFA Cup final beating European teams and punching well above our weight.

    It can't be "anti-football" if it wins you matches, if anything it can be called "strategic genius". Though, Argentina were good enough to beat the trap. My money is on them to lift the Cup.

  • Comment number 63.

    Re39: Correct Paul. Nice commentary above. Let me add a couple of notes.

    Indeed from a neutral point of view, none wants to see matches with teams like Greece playing. Especially, none wants to see them playing against strong teams like Argentina with the potential to trash with ridiculing scores since Greece is one of those teams that developed in the 00s into a team that simply does not permit so easily large teams to perform any "heroics" (not that this did not occur at times). And it is not just the spectacle. Far from the spectacle, neutral viewers somehow have an inner need to divide the teams in hero-teams and worthless underlings and then see the hero-teams trash the underlings showing their superiority and then at the grande finale see the hero-teams do the clash of the Titans.

    Well commencing from the likes of Danmark back in Euro 96 and a number of other teams that rose in the mid 90s, like Cameroon, S.Korea, Croatia, Turkey, teams with different styles, competition increased and it would be never the same for the hero-teams. Football became much more democratic, more unpredictable and far more interesting than the usual Brazil, Italy, Germany, Argentina, France, Holland, Britain, Portugal, Spain. However, even today ask any such of the above "neutral" fans and he would pick 8 of the above 9 teams to have his dream quarter-finals, semi-finals and final.

    The offensive football (i.e. the basic tactic of putting the most capable attackers you have to score as many goals as possible) has been repeatedly beaten in the 70s and by the early 80s it was not even the main strategy (with the exception of Argentine). One only needs to note the fate of Brazil which throughout the 80s had remained with archaic tactics and managed to resurface in the 90s only after having done something for its defense, thus presenting a more balanced team. Yet, the 80s became almost a trauma and since the times of Italy it became an obcession to make everything possible to have on the top only offensive teams. Change this law, change that ball, etc. etc. Thus the overpraising of teams that run forward and the bashing of teams that play a more defensive style.

    However for the case of Greece there is a 3rd "problem". Not only it does not enter in the category of hero-teams, not only it plays defensively, but also it cannot even procide a hero-footballer. Back in 2004 this was obvious. What could the football-crazy kids in Poland, Britain, Spain, Hungary, Norway or... Luxemburg remember of Euro 2004? Which player out of the Greek team? Not only 85% of their names were unpronounceable, not only 100% of them were unknown but besides that, they did not have a particular player that distinguished; Greek team's EC was the result of a tight teamwork. But this does not sell. Teamwork does not appeal to kids and thus it does not sell. As much as defensive football does not sell. Hence the Greek team is double bashed - triple bashed if we take into account that many of the commentators are ex-footballers most of whom have seen the EC only from the tv. Sour grapes?

  • Comment number 64.

    Put it straight: even back in July 2004, no Greek ever claimed the Greek team was the best ever team to arrive on the planet and no-one claimed this or the other player to be of any status even close to the likes of the Portuguese superheros Figo, Costa and the prodigy back then Ronaldo. But the delight was to see the Greek team working in a tight system, under the given strategy of Rehagel, playing with perfect coordination a clean defense which was an international first: such a defense with no strong fouls - even yellow cards were given on the limit of clean-foul/yellow-card, such as the ones Maradona demanded for Greeks marking his shou-shou Messi. Which paid off in beating 2ice Portugal favorite, inside Portugal, and stealing the cup from the hands of little Ronaldo who was left on the pitch crying his sorrow out!

    It would be difficult for Greece to repeat it in 2008 as everyone knew the tactics by heart. But did the less predictable team, Danemark, do anything else after 1996 either? No. People did not bash Danmark though, they did something worse: they totally forgot about them.

    Back in 2008 Greece indeed played 1 very dull first game, a slightly better second and a quite OK third (but was too late and left the competition). And a defensive team when plays dull it is plain bad. True. In this 2010 WC despite being 6 years older, the oldest team, the most tall, the most heavy, they started with a dull performance caused by momentary confusion, then they played much better in the second game winning 2-1 breaking not only the team's bad record in WCs but also being the first team of this WC to upturn a negative score, and last, they played an excellent game of defensive football of the exact style that got them the EC back in 2004.

    Shearer perhaps he wants to forget about this last fact as well of the 2 following remarks:

    1) Ball possesion was about an impressive 80% for Argentina. Yet the first real occasion for scoring came from Samaras in the second half!!!! This alone says a lot of how it could evolved.

    2) Messi could only pass the ball. Others faired only slightly better.

    3) Greeks did some fouls but no foul was strong like the ones we saw in other matches. Maradona* protested especially over the marking of Messi but while young Messi was pushed around by the match more corpulent Greeks (tallest and most heavy team of this WC), this was over-exaggerated and one needs only see what happens to other matches (legs, knees, heads... total war) to understand this.

    4) ON THE CONTRARY: none ever cared to notice that it was Argentinians that really hit hard upon Greeks out of their frustration of beng unable to pass over them. In 2nd half they became so nervous that they hit Karagounis who could not march properly and Torosidis, forcing Rehagel into 2 unecessary substitutions in early 2nd half of defenders who were playing brilliantly till then. Yet French commentators (I saw it in French tv) did not even go into the trouble of commenting on Karagounis* & Torosidis and accused Rehagel of destroying his chances. Incredible!

    2) While anyone can claim that statistically with 80% ball possesions Argentina would at some time score, the dull reality is that both Argentinian goals came by chance. 1 scored by an (underperforming in this game) defender Demichelis, the other in the last minute when it was all over (given the result of S. Korea-Nigeria), by Palermo, a 36 years old veteran who enterred "for the honour".

    * Did anyone notice that after the game - and while later he naturally tried to justify his team's non-impressive performance down to Greek "strong foul-prone marking" - Maradona went on to the Greek side to apologise to Karagounis for what he had shouted to him during the game in the 1st half and when Karahounis was hit hard by the Argentinian midfielders. And it is really to the honour of Maradona that he did so.

    The above do not imply that Greece had ever any more chances to pass over Argentina. What they imply is that despite the phenomena and despite the incapacity of Greece to go to the attack leaving Samaras dancing alone the tango with 3 and 4 Argentinian defenders while all others were dancing syrtaki back in the defense, despite all that, Argentinians really rarely managed to deploy a proper attack like the ones we all know they do, and that means that if Samaras had scored - which was not far from happening - we were not really that far from having the miracle happening.

    But I guess, the super-hero team scored 2ice even without its super-hero players doing it, that is what is written on the paper, the unfashionable dull team is out of the competitoin and that is what counts for most "neutrals".

    Again I clarify this: this is 100% understandable. But the reality out there was much much different. Up to the last minutes all chances had been played. Each from his own corner, each with his own tactic.

  • Comment number 65.

    Strikers Messi, Higuain, Tevez, Milito, Palermo and the Argentine midfield led by Juan Sebastian Veron and Masecherano look confident and creative. These men can take their team far in the tournament. To have all this rich talent in one team is a huge blessing. Diego Maradona is indeed a very fortunate coach. Best wishes to the team and its fans.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho


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