Category Archives: Argentina

Angel di Maria’s failed rabona

Mark Lawrenson, unbelievably, spoke for us all when, about 60 minutes into the Argentina v Switzerland game, he let out a groan followed by a rant as Ángel di Maria (who the BBC were keen to tell us gave the ball away 51 times during the game) broke in behind the Swiss defence, only to attempt an ill-advised rabona and send a would-be pull back skewering off into the crowd. The rationale behind this odd decision, when most players would have simply used their right foot to cut the ball back to one of the three team-mates running into the penalty area, was, apparently, that di Maria didn’t trust his right foot enough to do that. This incident crystallises one of my pet hates about contemporary football: the significant number of players who are so absolutely, unapologetically, hopelessly, one-footed.

The king of one-footed players is Robin van Persie, whose weird shovelling body language is his unique way of getting the ball onto his left foot. He’s lucky he’s got a great shot on him when he does, finally, get it onto that left peg, because sometimes he looks like he’ll be turning in circles for hours before he gets a shot away. If van Persie’s one-footedness is conspicuous enough when he plays for his club side, a one-footed klaxon goes off when you watch the Netherlands because his partner up front is Arjen Robben, not only another one-footer but another left-footed-one-footer. How they ever manage to pass to each other is beyond me. There’s Gareth Bale too, and of course, a discussion of one-footers wouldn’t be complete without a mention of David Beckham, who made such a career of whipping in crosses and free-kicks with his right foot that it’s conceivable one could actually come full circle and claim that he’s actually a two-footed player because his standing (left) leg was so important to that relentless reliability of his right.

Why does this rile me up so much? Surely if your left foot is as good as either van Persie’s or Robben’s, or, for that matter, as di Maria’s, it makes sense to use it? Obviously that’s a fair point, but my gripes don’t come so much from them using their best foot – all players do that – but from their over-reliance on that foot. I react to it as a sort of insult to the profession: they’ve spent their whole life playing football (almost literally, given how early academies sign players these days) and yet they can’t work out how to kick the ball with their weaker foot. What’ve they been doing all that time? Yet, in a way, one-footedness is a kind of ultimate professionalism, a physical paean to the late-capitalist division of labour, just taken a step further and extended not only to defenders and attackers, but to the two feet of individual players. If there’s been a lot of talk recently about team selection, and in particular whether you should take lesser but more team oriented players, or better but more individualistic ones, might one-footedness hint toward an answer (of sorts) to that dilemma and be an argument for even more specialism, rather than less? To indulge in a bit of futurism, might we see new rules emerge to better account for this increased sub-division of tasks? Might FIFA take a leaf out of hockey’s book and allow players to be brought on just to take a corner or free-kick and then go off again? Why leave it there? Why not have time-outs every time a defender is about to play a long raking diagonal ball up to the forwards, in order to get your right-footer or left-footer on in time to take it down on their perfect one foot? Then they could stop the game again while they go off and your more all-purpose player comes on to finish off the move. After all, a World Cup is supposed to be an arena for the world’s best players to show off their skills. Aren’t we just depriving ourselves of more beautiful moments of the footballing art – the kill-it-dead left-footed trap, or a geometrically bedazzling right-footed free-kick – by asking the 11 players on the field to be able to use both of their feet? Is the trend of having one pink and one sort of luminous greeny-bluey-turquoisey boot actually a rather subtle campaign strategy on the part of one-footers?

Posted by Mark West

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Preview 2 – Argentina

Let us mull, for a moment, on the achievements of Miroslav Klose, as unlikely a hero as the World Cup could possibly muster. He is a gangling, birdlike figure in the most elegant of chorus lines. Out of place and out of time in a world of tiki-taka, Klose sometimes resembles the type of forward who is parachuted into QPR’s team in the second half of next season as Harry Redknapp attempts to squeeze all he can from his limited financial resources in a valiant effort to beat the drop.  And yet, by the end of a group stage in which the not-as-tall-as-he-seems German forward will almost certainly be pitted into action against the USA and Ghana, he could very well find himself bearing the title of the all-time leading goalscorer in the most celebrated tournament in world sport. Beginning his international career in a Germany team that has since been utterly transformed, and remaining a central pivot for all that time despite the great shifts in the dynamic around him, this is a lesson in overachievement and defiance of the populist opinion.

The history of pricked expectations hangs heavily over the World Cup. Toto Schillachi was the unexpected hero of Italian football in 1990, yet Roberto Baggio, the most feted player of the subsequent tournament and its shining star for its majority, missed the conclusive penalty to hand the trophy to Brazil. Ronaldo was ready to heave the world onto his broad shoulders in 1998, before suffering an apparent fit in the hours before the final, and handing the initiative to France to clam glory on their home turf. Geoff Hurst notoriously sneaked in front of England’s best striker, Jimmy Greaves, to land a place in the starting XI at the 1966 World Cup. England’s so-called golden generation was a failed experiment in alchemy that left us with little more than a big pile of frazzled-looking base metals. Heightened expectation is all too rarely a means of delivering success in so fickle a landscape as the World Cup.

And so we come to Lionel Messi. It is almost certainly the lack of a World Cup winner’s medal jangling amongst the silverware on his wardrobe door handle that prevents commentators from pronouncing Messi’s name with the same reverential whisper that greets Pele or Maradona (although Messi is granted a much saucier, Roger Moore-style low burr by our smitten pundits).

Expectation has been piled high on Messi because of the astonishing, gatling-gun rate at which he scores goals for Barcelona, yet it has often been noted that he has yet to translate that irresistible form to international level. In the qualifying campaign for this tournament, however, he scored 10 times, only one fewer than Luis Suarez, to take Argentina through at the top of their group. Aged just 26, and with what are generally accepted to be a footballer’s ‘peak’ years still ahead of him, Messi is just 19 goals short of Gabriel Batistuta’s national record of 56. Argentina’s talismanic forward is primed and ready to deliver on the international stage.

It has been 28 years since Argentina last lived up to their potential and lifted the trophy, and that time they had to thank a diminutive, yet dynamic, left-footed forward. But a laboured comparison between Maradona and Messi does not account for the gulf between the personalities of the two. Messi, famously reserved with his public speaking, remains enigmatic in his home country. However, his edging Carlos Tevez out of the squad means that the country will far more look to modern football’s most naturally-gifted looking star to deliver. This looks like a pivotal moment in Messi’s international career. He’s in form for his country, and has received a significant demonstration of support from his national coach. Despite a strong cavalry at his shoulder the hopes of the nation will lie at Messi’s feet. Pablo Zabaleta, Ezequial Lavezzi, Gonzolo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria are all capable of playing the lead, but will be lining up for the ‘best supporting actor’ gongs come awards season.

Argentina’s time out of the spotlight has lasted far longer than it perhaps ought, but the ease with which they qualified could suggest that the intermission is ready to come to an end. Coached by former Sheffield United midfielder Alejandro Sabella, the team sailed through qualifying. With Bosnia, Iran and Nigeria waiting to face them in Brazil, they can also expect a similarly smooth passage into the second round. But while the team’s achievements so far demonstrated the capabilities of a squad of glittering talents, it also heightened expectations. Argentina’s squad stands up to scrutiny against any other in the tournament ­– but theirs is a team which must overcome its own complacency before any opposition.

Posted by Thom Kennedy

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