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Argentina’s Gaping Holes (Part 1/2)

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Argentina’s and of course their manager Diego Maradona’s dreams to join Franz Beckenbauer to have won the World Cup both as his country’s captain and manager ended unceremoniously as they were utterly obliterated and generally capitulated ironically against an extra terrestrial Germany that is sure to be on a different time frame (faster) than their hapless opponents and simply thrash them one by one like pathetic mosquitoes facing the electric mosquito racket. As many people within the footballing universe have now grown accustomed to, even prior to this World Cup campaign, fans around the world, mainly Interistas and people who suddenly become Interistas after their marvelous Treble winning campaign have been constantly voicing out their utter discontent over Maradona’s decision to exclude both the defensive midfielder Esteban Cambiasso and right back Javier Zanetti. At first I was baffled with this persistent complaints from the Interistas as I am not one of them, and I simply dismissed their complaints about Cambiasso and Zanetti as a simple example of a case of sour grapes  towards Maradona as two of their key players in their aforementioned Treble winning season are not selected. This was even more so when Argentina blitzed through the Group Stages with three wins out of three even though they were against Nigeria, South Korea, and Greece.

Their 3-1 win against Mexico who looked like contenders just because France played like a pub team simply carried me away up up in the sky and further laughed the Interistas’ complaints off. However, things went terribly wrong against Germany in the quarter finals, and amazingly, their destruction all stemmed from both defensive midfield and right back position, especially the latter. This played straight into the Interistas and will undoubtedly be the main source of ammunition against Maradona not only from them, but by most if not all pundits in their attempts to make an inquest against Maradona’s World Cup campaign. Even I am starting to believe those Interistas after looking at how Germany systematically took apart Argentina on their way to a massive 4-0 victory that sent their Chancellor Angela Merkel dancing wildly in the stands. The Germans totally exposed their weaknesses and those weaknesses happened to be the positions occupied by Cambiasso and Zanetti, and I have also found the reasons on why the Intersitas were right after all. I will divide this into two, and I will start with my personal assessment on what Cambiasso’s inclusion might have done to the Argentine team.

First things first, we know that Maradona played a rather attacking 4-4-2 diamond formation in World Cup 2010 to simply try and overwhelm their opponents and for their strong area (their attack) to be expressed. But Maradona should have played two defensive midfielders at the same time to  screen and protect their fragile backline, an inherently weak area of a South American team, let alone Argentina. Their captain, Javier Mascherano can be one of the two defensive midfielders. But how about his partner? It is either Maxi Rodriguez or Juan Sebastian Veron who can partner him in that position in the current team. Both Maxi and Veron are all attacking oriented players and were certainly playing out of position and looked comfortable, despite many that might argue that since Maxi and Veron are ageing players, they have evolved and adapt to their advancing age by playing in a more withdrawn/defensive position but still, both players are still playing in an attacking role in their respective clubs and still, they are not comfortable playing as a defensive midfielder. Even if one might argue that Maradona could have fielded Mario Bollatti as Mascherano’s partner, he still won’t provide the same benefits that Cambiasso might have dished out for the team, and this will be argued and explained more and more as this goes on.

Since Mario Bollatti has come to the picture and he indeed could have partnered Mascherano had Maradona opted for two defensive midfielders to be played n his formation. But we just take a look at these two players. Bollatti is not really an experienced player on the international stage, as he only has 4 Argentina caps to his name, and he is so famous just because of his solitary and winning goal against Uruguay to clinch their place in the World Cup finals while consigning Uruguay to a tough and controversial playoff against Costa Rica. On the other hand, Cambiasso is a world class players with plenty of experience on the international set-up with 11 times the caps that Bollatti have amassed so far at 44 caps for his country. This would mean that had Bollatti partnered Mascherano, he would be a liability instead of becoming a useful helping hand to Mascherano. His inexperience will still be exploited ruthlessly by the mean machine, efficient, and even extra terrestrial Germans and Mascherano will be left covering for Bollatti and saving him for problems, and all this while he still needs to perform his own duty well to thwart the Germans. Also, there’s no guarantee that the Germans won’t do what Arjen Robben did to Michel Bastos and Felipe Melo, especially the latter. This will only mean that Mascherano will still be a one man defensive midfielder in the team, the team will be deprived of one attacking player which would inhibit their attacking flair (their strong point as mentioned) to be expressed properly, and also, carrying a potential liability and a time bomb. Cambiasso is experienced enough to avoid any dirty provocations like what Felipe Melo experienced and to slot into the formation perfectly and simply facilitating his partner Mascherano and to further augment the Argentine defense. In any case, for the German game especially, I still think that Argentina should have gone for a formation with two defensive midfielders as Walter Samuel, the only rock solid defender in the Argentina squad was absent with injury. When your team’s defensive spine consists of Nicolas Burdisso and Martin Demichelis as your best options, and Sergio Romero as your very last line in defense, you really need to consider putting some kind of solid barricade in front of them.

In light of the previous explanation, the second effect of Cambiasso’s presence in the squad will certainly still revolve around augmenting Argentina’s rather porous defense. The presence of both Cambiasso and Mascherano, two world’s premier defensive midfielders in front of the defenders and goalkeeper will certainly give them some kind of protective aura from which they could draw confidence and security in strutting their stuff on the pitch. The reason why Burdisso looks uncomfortable, Demichelis committing grave errors one after another, and Sergio Romero looks like an invisible man at times in goal is simply because they are continually called into action and ruthlessly exposed. Even seasoned central defenders and goalkeepers with nerves of steel will crumble and erroneous when chronically and consistently exposed against the brute of opponents’ attacks. Thus, when the Argentine backline is screened with two world class defensive midfielders patrolling in front of them, chances of them being totally exposed by the opponents’ attackers are considerably slimmer, and even if they are able to get past Cambiasso and Mascherano it’s probably after a mountain of effort and even with s stroke of luck, and Burdisso and Demichelis can confidently and coolly and perhaps easily dispossess the shaken attacker and/or boot the ball away or pass it to another player to launch a fresh wave of attack. The psychological edge of having the aforementioned feeling and aura of security cannot be underestimated. Even placebo effects are so amazing, in which if one believes that a glass of ordinary plain water is a holy water taken from a particularly holy spring able to cure any diseases, the drinker will certainly feel so much better right after drinking the water. Thus, I strongly believe that the trio of Demichelis, Burdisso and Sergio Romero will certainly perform so much better had there been a proper screening and cover in front of them.

At this point of time, Argentina’s fans will certainly think, “Hey, are you asking our proud national team to do a Dunga and even a step further by abandoning our proud attacking culture to Mourinho’s Park-the-bus-in-goal tactics?” Definitely not, as it would certainly be such a waste of Argentina’s array of massive attacking talents at Maradona’s disposal in this tournament, and that parking a bus without doors and windows is never a good idea to prevent someone form slipping through easily through the bus and to the other side. Thus, the third and penultimate role that Cambiasso would have played had Argentina really fielded Mascherano and Cambiasso as two defensive midfielders, besides augmenting the defense, it would also be to bridge the defense and attack properly with his penchant of sending beautiful through balls whether on the ground or a long through ball in the air. Before I go further, I would say that the kind of formation that Maradona should have set-up would be a 4-2-3-1 formation widely used in this tournament. The “3” attacking midfielders would be Angel di Maria on the left flank, Maxi Rodriguez or even Javier Pastore as the right winger, and Messi as the “trequarista” with free role just behind the lone targetman Gonzalo Higuain who is a target striker in the mold of Ruud van Nistelrooy and Filippo Inzaghi.

We know that during the German game, Argentina’s attacks were never successful and each time, they were thwarted properly in a scarily efficient manner. It seemed that they kept on running into an unbreakable invisible wall. (I won’t say out the name of Germany’s capital city as many Germans are still angry when one mentioned the word “Wall” after their capital city’s name). Thus, the perfect solution would resemble Brazil’s goal in their sad 2-1 loss against Holland in which Felipe Melo sent a through pass to bypass the entire Dutch midfield and defense to send Robinho clear on the goal one on one with the goalkeeper and duly scored from there. Thus, Cambiasso’s penchant of sending precise, incisive through passes will be called into action here. Again, I am sorry I can’t help but to refer to World War II to better illustrate what Cambiasso would do to augment the attack. Berlin was totally cordoned off and no food could be transported into the city (I won’t go through the vivid details as it would mean I am out of point and I am diagnosed with ADHD), thus the Allies’ solution was to send food and other necessities through the small air route that the Soviets had opened for air transports to and from Berlin, which was known as “The Berlin Airlift”. It is the same thing for Argentina. They had no way to go through the packed and efficient defense, and they kept on getting thwarted. Whenever di Maria and Messi tried to weave their magic, they can go past one or two Germans, but three or four more are waiting behind them and simply dispossess them. What to do? Even Messi can’t do anything. Enter Cambiasso. He could have sent a incisive long ball which would bypass the entire midfield and defense of Germany (unless one of them is Superman’s real identity and simply jumped up to head the ball away, I can’t say anything) and to the path of Higuain who is certainly in the penalty area waiting for the ball as usual and he would just head the ball or send a deceptively simple tap-in into the net. I know it is not that easy as even in that match, he had one of his tap-ins ruled offside. Besides that, Cambiasso could also send a through pass to Messi, di Maria, or Maxi/Pastore and simply send them to be in a better position to dribble around and send that final ball to Higuain from a closer distance.

In any case, Esteban Cambiasso is a world class player with plenty of experience in the club scene as well as the national set-up of Argentina and will certainly add plenty of steel in defense while adding plenty of ammunition especially with his laser guided passes as mentioned above to further facilitate the attack, either directly to the targetman (Higuain) or via the creative players such as Messi, Pastore, and di Maria. What’s done is done, and just like any inquest from any pundits in any medium, this is as futile as it could be, and still a theoretical framework which might not work well in practice when it is really implemented on the pitch. Detractors will still remind us to the 2006 version of the Argentina vs Germany match but it was the case of tactical mistake by the then manager and when utilized properly, Cambiasso will certainly add a lot of dimension and massively strengthen the Argentine team. The next part will be about Javier Zanetti, another player whose exclusion is lamented by Interistas worldwide, and which I also think they have a case as well, just like for Cambiasso.

Written by cp

05/07/2010 at 20:27

Posted in Football, World Cup

Tagged with ,

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