It’s World Cup time. Argentina could win. And you’re living in Buenos Aires – your timing is impeccable!
As I write this the Albicelestes have just played their second game in the group stages of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. It was a convincing 4-1 thrashing of South Korea in which superstar Lionel Messi shone and teammate Gonzalo Higuaín hit a hat-trick of goals, the first so far in the competition.
But you knew all that, right? It’s pretty hard to live in Buenos Aires and not get caught up in Mundial fever with 40 million people shouting ‘gooooooool!’ in perfect harmony every time the blue-and-whites find the back of the net!
Argentina has one of the most successful national football teams in the world. They’ve won the World Cup twice (in 1978 and 1986) and the Copa América 14 times. They’ve also won the Confederations Cup (in 1992) and the Olympic Football Tournament twice (in 2004 and 2008). They also had, in Diego Maradona, one of the best players of all time, a man who lead them to victory at the World Cup in 1986 and to a second-place finish in 1990 (more on him later).
So much for history. What about the current crop of Albicelestes though – do they have the stones to make it to a fifth World Cup final, and even to win?
In a word, yes. Despite a series of stuttering, unconvincing performances in their World Cup qualifying campaign, this star-studded team has now put two wins on the board at the and looks to be peaking at just the right time.
Any description of the Argentina national team must of course start with the current world’s best player, Lionel Andrés Messi. With his small stature, Beatles-esque ‘do and quiet personality, Messi is an unassuming young man…until he gets on the pitch, where for Barcelona in Spain’s La Liga and for Argentina he tears other teams apart with his blazing speed, insane dribbling and lethal shooting with both foot and head.
Voted Fifa World Player of the Year in 2009, Messi is one of the few players to really impress so far in the 2010 World Cup. At the age of just 22 people are already saying that he might be the best of all time, better even than the former ‘world’s best player,’ the current manager of Argentina, Mr. Diego Armando Maradona.
What about the rest? Yeah, they’re pretty good too! They include the abovementioned Gonzalo Higuaín, also 22, who plays for Real Madrid as a striker and bagged an amazing 27 goals for his club in the 2009-10 season. Joining him up top are Sergio Agüero, another 22-year-old, who plays for Atlético Madrid and is engaged to Maradona’s younger daughter, and Carlos Tévez (26), Manchester City’s star hit man who scored 25 goals for the club last season.
In midfield there’s Angel di Maria, yet another 22-year-old, an exciting winger who plays for Portuguese club Benfica. He scored the winning goal in Argentina’s Goal Medal game against Nigeria at the Olympic tournament in 2008.
Protecting the defense from midfield Argentina has team captain Javier Mascherano (26), the enforcer who plays for Liverpool and is regarded as possibly the best central midfielder in the world.
Between the sticks Argentina has the talented 23-year-old shot-stopper Sergio Romero, and in front of him they have the experienced Marseille and ex-Manchester United left-back Gabriel Heinze (32), and the commanding Bayern Munich centre-back Martin Demichelis (29), among others.
So that’s the team. But what about Maradona? His position as Argentine national manager is somewhat bizarre. Yes, he was a great player – undoubtedly one of the greatest of all time – but his personal life since his late 20s has been an absolute train wreck: cocaine addiction; cavorting with hookers; yelling abuse at journalists and paparazzi; gross obesity; stomach stapling; friendship with Fidel Castro, and the list goes on. He has been both idolized and crucified many times over in Argentina. Is this really a guy you want captaining your ship?
Probably not, but for better or worse he’s the man in charge at this World Cup. And even if that’s Argentina’s loss, it’s definitely our gain, because his crazy antics and wild ranting at officials, opposing managers, journalists, the new Jabulani ball and anyone or anything that dares to cross him ensures that there’ll never, ever be a dull moment when he’s around. In short, he’s a walking headline, but you just have to love him all the same.
The best player in the world (and maybe of all time), a brilliant if sometimes erratic team, and a crazy manager who’s the ex-best player in the world and the biggest character in the game. Yep, I’d say the stage is set for more thrills and spills in South Africa and possibly even a big ole’ trophy at the end of it all.
I don’t know about you, but I’ll be watching every game.