June 12th, 2002. Miyagi Stadium, Japan. Argentina need to beat Sweden to advance to the Eight Finals of the World Cup Korea-Japan 2002. The two teams are evenly matched and they are still to break the scoreline.
Manager Marcelo BIELSA made Argentina one of the favourites to win the World Cup over the previous four years, but his style and his decision not to play with BATISTUTA and CRESPO together are about to take him down and leave the team and his dream to win the bloody cup in shambles.
58th minutes into the match, a free-kick for Sweden just outside Argentina’s box and BIELSA decides to replace BATISTUTA with his long-term back-up Hernan CRESPO.
The younger striker takes Batigol’s place in the wall as Anders SVENSSON prepares to shoot towards Pablo CAVALLERO’s goal.
The Swede’s strike is superb and our helpless keeper can’t do a single thing to help the ball going into the back of the net.
Argentina had to score twice in half an hour without his recently replaced all-time goal scoring leader. The team fails to deliver, while consistently keeps on trying the same formula it tried against England in the previous game: running through the wings and crossing the ball to cheaply give it away to the big opposing central defenders.
Our talented offensive midfielders like Pablo AIMAR, Ariel ORTEGA or Marcelo GALLARDO are totally ignored and left out with this incredibly silly style of football that, of course, doesn’t suit them like the creative passing game they are used to play since they were little boys.
June 30th, 2006. Olympiastadion, Berlin, Germany. Argentina is beating the hosts 1-0 and is ready to advance to the World Cup semifinals for the first time since Italy 90. The team is playing a good game (not brilliant) and is in control since kick-off.
Germany is starting to run out of ideas (if they ever had one, in the first place). Another cross comes to Argentina’s box and as Roberto ABBONDANZIERI prepares to catch the ball in mid-air, he is meet by Miroslav KLOSE’s right knee and the referee Lubos MICHEL sees none of this.
71 minutes into the match and Argentina is forced to change their first choice keeper, one of the pillars of the team throughout the tournament.
One minute later and PEKERMAN decides to make a move that was going to be very controversial after the game. He takes playmaker Juan Roman RIQUELME out and he sends defensive midfielder Esteban CAMBIASSO to replace him.
By doing this, he sends a clear message to his rivals and to his own players: ‘I’m going to defend this lead for the next 20 minutes and hopefully we will win’.
Things are not looking bad, to be honest. CAMBIASSO gives the team a renewed energy while Lucho GONZALEZ and Maxi RODRIGUEZ can move forward a little bit and have some more possession beyond the midfield line. While TEVEZ remains a threat down the left and CRESPO navigates in dull ostracism between the German central defenders.
The problem came a little bit later.
Just like BIELSA four years before, PEKERMAN made a move that was going to haunt him down, maybe forever.
With 79 minutes gone, he brings his third and last substitute in Julio CRUZ, replacing Hernan CRESPO.
That was his last bet to maintain the lead for the last 11 minutes of the game.
He thought CRUZ, the tallest player in our squad (apart from the keepers), could help the team by winning some headers in both, our box and the German box.
Well, call it fate, call it misfortune, call it bad judgement, exactly like what happened with BIELSA four years before, one minute after that controversial substitution and Germany scores!
I think all of us thought in that very moment that it was the end. It was beautiful while it lasted, but that was it. We had three of our best players sitting on the bench (MESSI, AIMAR and SAVIOLA), while our most dangerous striker (CRESPO), our unique playmaker (RIQUELME) and, on top of that, our goalkeeper were already substituted.
Did we have the team to go after a second goal in those last 10 minutes?
NO, WE DIDN’T.
Granted, losing ABBONDANZIERI meant not only that a totally untested keeper took his place instead of our ‘Ace of Spades’ when it comes to penalty shoot-outs. It also left us with one less possibility for a change.
That’s no excuse to get it wrong.
Right after the game, PEKERMAN said in a press conference, that we were forced to make to substitutions (ABBONDANZIERI was injured and RIQUELME was exhausted).
Now, I’ve got a couple of things to say about that. I love RIQUELME and the regular readers of this blog can testify that. But I can’t understand why can a professional football player be tired after 70 minutes of play? This was not the extra time. I don’t care if he played 120 exhausting minutes against Mexico. That was one week before!
Seriously, that’s really beyond me. I don’t want to accept it. I won’t accept it.
If I’m wrong and he really couldn’t move his legs, then OK, replace him. But can you just replace him with somebody who plays in the same position? What the hell is wrong with playing AIMAR for those 20 minutes in which a player like him would be a real nightmare for the German defense with his flashy runs forward?
In any case, that substitution was more justifiable than the other one.
PEKERMAN said that against Holland, when he played TEVEZ and MESSI together, the team played greatly but they needed to have a reference inside the box. We were controlling the ball but we had no real threat in the form of a striker.
I agree with that. But here are my questions. If we wanted to just defend our 1-goal lead. Did you need to have a big man inside the box? Did you need to score? Did you need something else than having the ball and causing troubles like TEVEZ did all day long against FRIEDRICH?
The answer to all of those questions is an implacable NO!
We didn’t need a big man in the box. We had CRESPO and he did very little those 70 minutes he played.
We didn’t need to score. It was OK with a 1-0 result. We were in the semifinals. And deservedly so.
We didn’t need anything else than to keep possession. We were just fine when we were in possession and MESSI is arguably one of the best at keeping the ball and generating fouls by the opposition.
Horrible decision and we paid for them. The match went to a penalty shoot-out and there was one particularity about that. Both, Germany and Argentina were undefeated in those kinds of situations. 3 wins a piece.
But a couple of key factors eventually proved to be enough to give Germany the upper hand:
ABBONDANZIERI. A keeper with a great tradition of winning cups at club level with Boca Juniors, stopping several shots in this kind of tie-breakers, was out.
LEHMANN. A keeper with great reflexes but even better information sources. He ‘guessed’ in each and every shot by our players and later on it was discovered that he received a piece of paper containing information about the place where each Argentina penalty taker will most likely place his shot. Rocket-science? I don’t think so. I think all credit should go to the German’s goalkeeping staff for getting together this crucial information that today proves to be the difference between a great team knocked out of the cup and an average team qualified for the semifinals.
I think that I (like many millions around the World) was not prepared to be knocked out of the World Cup so early.
That said, I want PEKERMAN to stay and I’ll give you my reasons in another article soon.
But as one of the biggest sporting brands in the world says in an advertising campaign: ‘A team that suffers after being placed between the top 8 in the World, deserves our admiration’
I hope, and this goes for those who have been reading my blog for some time now, that next time if we are ahead in the score, we play the only way we should never abandon: ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK!
If any of you know where can I buy a DeLorean, just let me know. I want to travel through time and go back to the future to see if a 23-year-old MESSI is lifting the cup in South Africa 2010.
I apologise to all of those who still didn’t get my reply after writing me at firstname.lastname@example.org I couldn’t cope with all of the messages, but I’ll find the time to try and answer all of them