France ’98. Group H. Third match. Argentina and Croatia had to play in Bordeaux and they were both qualified already for the second round (after beating both Japan and Jamaica).
A few people talked about it at that time, but it is believed that Croatia didn’t try hard enough to win that match (Argentina won 1-0) and because of that, Argentina had to face England in the second round (2-2 and a penalty shoot-out victory after 120 tiring minutes) and then Holland in a very tricky quarter final tie. ORTEGA losing it, hitting VAN DER SAR with his head to see the red card and Dennis BERGKAMP scoring the winner, that was the end of our journey in that World Cup.
On the other hand, Croatia faced Romania in the second round (1-0 in only 90 minutes) and then Germany, not an easy rival, against which Croatia displayed what’s probably their best performance in history (3-0) on their way to the semifinals. They lost to France and the rest is history.
What’s my point? My point is at this stage, when a team is qualified before the last match, there is always room for speculation and for the manager to make changes to his team in order to avoid further yellow cards, injuries and stress to the key players.
And if you let me give you my opinion, I think that’s fair enough, but I also believe we should try and win against Holland at all costs.
Losing will mean we have an extra day of rest before facing the winner of Group D (Portugal or Mexico). But it will also mean we’ll have to face, in case we go far in this World Cup, England in the quarter-finals and Brazil in the semifinals. All this speculation is according to logic and with England and Brazil winning their groups (like they are winning them at the moment of writing).
Winning (or getting a point against Holland) will give us 1st place in Group C, a day less to rest before our second round fixture against the second of Group D (Portugal, Mexico or –believe it or not they have chances- Angola). But most importantly, it will mean we will avoid facing the likes of Brazil, England and probably Germany, Spain, Italy and England before the final!
What? Yes, what you’ve just read! Let’s play a little game here. If Germany fails to beat Ecuador, they’ll finish second in their group and will go to the other side of the draw. They could face England in case they win or draw against Sweden and either Ecuador, Sweden or –believe it or not they have chances- Trinidad & Tobago could be our rivals in the quarter finals.
An old saying goes like this: ‘To win the World Cup, you’ve got to beat the best teams’. Yes, I agree with it, but it won’t hurt anybody if they play against each other on the other side of the draw while we avoid facing the creators of the game or the home team in Quarter Finals and the 5-times World Champions or the catenaccio masters in the semis. Are you with me?
That’s why I think this Wednesday’s fixture against Holland has so many implications and could be crucial in our way to Berlin.
PEKERMAN is with me and he definitely wants to win the group, but at the same time he needs to preserve some key players.
As I’m writing this, it appears there will be some interesting substitutions from what was our starting line-up against Serbia & Montenegro. Have a look:
ABBONDANZIERI will remain in goal. BURDISSO, AYALA and SORIN will also keep their places in defense, but Gabriel HEINZE, who saw a yellow card against Ivory Coast, will leave his place to Gabriel MILITO, a solid central defender who plays for Zaragoza.
A big question mark on CAMBIASSO and MASCHERANO, the inclusion of one from Lionel SCALONI or Fabricio COLOCCINI could see one of them to sit on the bench.
It could be the lucky day for many many many of you asking about Pablo AIMAR. PEKERMAN could use him to give some rest to Juan Roman RIQUELME. So against Holland, ‘El Payasito’ AIMAR could have his chance to play from the start.
Up front? Both CRESPO and SAVIOLA carry a yellow card and PEKERMAN wants both of them ready for the weekend. The pair with more chances to play from the start are: Carlos TEVEZ and Julio CRUZ.
I agree with this changes, because TEVEZ could perfectly play SAVIOLA’s role, while CRUZ is the only player in our squad with a similar game to CRESPO (a big hitman who plays inside the box, can win in the air and has a knack for scoring). Plus, he has experience playing in the Dutch league (Feyenoord 1997-2000) and that could prove vital in a one-off match.
Lionel MESSI will again wear the super-sub suit he so elegantly wore last Friday.
Marco VAN BASTEN has also said he will preserve all of his players who have seen the yellow card. That includes Arjen ROBBEN, Gio VAN BRONCKHORST, John HEITINGA, Mark VAN BOMMEL, Joris MATHIJSEN and Khalid BOULAHROUZ. So Holland won’t be facing their strongest line-up either and it could be a matter of who have the deepest bench.
I think we do. Let’s crush some oranges!