When a World Cup campaign is over, one of the first things you have to do is a recap. Look back and recognise our positives and negatives. What worked great, what worked good and what didn’t work.
Here’s a brief list of things, players, situations that were the key to get the result we’ve got.
KILLING THE GHOSTS: The first game against Ivory Coast was more important than how it looks like today. Argentina had the horrible images of being out of the last World Cup in the first round and our players were carrying a heavy burden. We tasted some good feelings (going up 2-0 and playing solidly) but we also received a couple of bad signals that were going to turn into disaster eventually (we started playing defensively to defend our lead and ended up suffering).
TURNING ON THE STYLE: My question at that time was: ‘How to keep the cool?’ I still want to smile when I remember that match against Serbia & Montenegro. I think it was the best performance by Argentina in the history of the World Cup. Granted we defeated what turned out to be the worst team in this tournament (they ended up in the 32nd position behind Togo and Trinidad and Tobago). But the way we played was beyond those analysis. Some might say we peaked very early while France, for instance, had a shocking first round and then they eliminated Brazil. I don’t think that is necessarily like that. Our form didn’t quite decrease after that. We crashed out for other reasons: call it bad substitutions, inability to take penalty kicks, lack of killer instinct.
SUPER SUBS: Against Serbia & Montenegro Argentina became the first team in the history of the World Cup having all 3 substitutes in the scoreline. Carlos TEVEZ, Lionel MESSI and Esteban CAMBIASSO came off the bench and each had a goal in that match. Before the World Cup, Carlos Alberto PARREIRA (Brazil’s manager) said ‘our substitutes are levelled with Croatia’s starting eleven’. I thought Brazil was the one with the best bench in this World Cup, but it turned out to be Argentina. Having MESSI, AIMAR and TEVEZ on the bench gave us an X-Factor. Unfortunately they were unable to play all-together against Germany and we suffered from that. But I think this was one of the strongest points of our team in Germany 2006.
KEEPING THE CRITICS AWAY: Very few people before the World Cup believed in Roberto ABBONDANZIERI. PEKERMAN trusted him and he started delivering from day 1 (when he stopped a very difficult header against Ivory Coast). He then kept a clean sheet for two games in a row (Serbia & Montenegro and Holland) and had no responsibility in none of the two goals he conceded (Drogba’s and Marquez’). He was one of the finest goalkeeper in this World Cup and was unlucky to be injured with 20 minutes to go against Germany.
HIGHS AND LOWS: Our defense was the main source of troubles in those weeks prior to the World Cup. AYALA and HEINZE were both coming back from injury and missed a huge portion of their seasons. They were tested right before the World Cup and they were able to play. Whilst I must admit HEINZE really let me down (yellow cards against Ivory Coast and Serbia & Montenegro. Yellow card against Mexico –when some say he should have seen red-). He was never in control. He looked shaky and I had the impression he felt uncomfortable when he had the ball. He used to give it away cheaply or simply throw it out of bounds. Whilst he plays with his heart, sometimes he should think first and react later. To me, he was at fault when Mexico scored (he should have marked Rafa MARQUEZ) and against Germany, I think he was the one supposed to go with KLOSE. AYALA went to challenge BOROWSKI, SORIN was paying attention to ODONKOR’s moves down the left of our defense and HEINZE is caught in between BOROWSKI and KLOSE. Marking nobody and making it look like SORIN lost him. Yes, it was a collective error. But if I have to blame somebody, then in my opinion the only one totally out of position and marking nobody was Gabriel. On the other hand, I have to give my apologies to Roberto AYALA. When I wrote a few lines about each and everyone of our players before the World Cup, I said AYALA was ‘past his prime’. Well…ROBERTO proved me wrong. He was, along with CANNAVARO, the top central defender in this World Cup. Had a goal disallowed against Ivory Coast and then scored against Germany. He was one of the highest points in our team and he showed he still have great pace and a Jordanesque leaping ability. I felt terribly sorry for him when he missed his penalty but I think he had an excellent World Cup.
SORIN was more concentrated on defense than offensively. He did a good job but we lost probably his best asset which we can see when he goes forward. A prove to that is the start of our first goal against Serbia (a back-heel pass to SAVIOLA before MAXI scored) and that ‘assist’ to MAXI against Mexico.
Our right back was well covered by BURDISSO but then he got injured against Serbia and we never got a good option to replace him. SCALONI had a couple of good moments against Mexico but overall, his performance was not the best. COLOCCINI struggled against Holland and improved a little bit against Germany but apart from his colourful haircut, nobody will remember him. Gabriel MILITO did a good job against Holland and I’ll talk a little bit about him and some more players that could become the core of our defense in the next four years.
LOW PROFILE, HIGH PERFORMANCE: It’s time to give credit where it’s due. GRACIAS MAXI! What a great revelation this guy was! Not only he scored 3 goals playing from midfield, he gave us the ticket to the Quarter-Finals thanks to a brilliant goal (probably the best in this World Cup if you consider the moment in which he scored). He was all over the park. He helped in defense, he obviously had a big part on offense. Here’s to a long career in our National Team. See you in 2010 MAXI!
KILLER INSTINCT: You need it. If you want to win the World Cup, then you have to be ruthless. You have to kill off the match when you have the opportunity and you have to do what you do best. In Italy’s case, that’s to defend. In our case…we should have attacked, attacked and attacked all the time. I’m not saying sending all your men forward when you’re winning. I’m saying keep the ball beyond the midfield line and keep on threatening your rival with runs forward and fluid passing game. If you have the tools to do so, then DO IT! Or pay the consequences. That’s what we did in the end.
ACCEPT DEFEAT: I’m hurt after what happened between our players and the Germans in that big brawl during and after the penalty shoot-out. It seems to be a horrible habit we Argentines have every now and then. We can’t accept defeat, or at least many of us. If the Germans were celebrating before it was over…then let them. Why do you have to start a brawl and fight them? I was surprised when MAXI got involved and threw a punch towards SCHWENSTEIGER. Those are not the kind of images we wanted to see from them. Specially after being used to winning, not only the Youth World Cup with PEKERMAN, but also the FAIR PLAY TROPHY. I’m not surprised by CUFRE instead. I don’t know what’s going on with him, but he always seem to have this kinds of troubles. He has a history of violence and I think it’s time he leaves that behind and grow up professionally. Yes, it’s horrible to lose on penalties, but it’s even uglier to be looked as a bad loser and a violent person.
ONE TEAM, MANY COUNTRIES: I’ve been in Argentina in each of the World Cups I have memories of. And believe me, I don’t know if it is because of the great TV coverage we had during the tournament (a couple of channels broadcasting almost 24 hours live from Germany) or because this was a better time-zone than Korea-Japan 2002 when we had to get up at 4 AM to watch Argentina. But the truth is I’ve never seen the people so actively behind the team. Even in defeat, they were received by many in the airport and they are still looked in admiration. It’s not so easy for a manager to have the backing of the vast majority of the people after he loses before getting to the final. And PEKERMAN has it. I’m not sure he will answer the people’s invitation to continue at the helm, but he has it.
But in all honesty, the best thing I’ll remember about Germany 2006 is this great experience of sharing all my thoughts and views with die-hard fans from all over the World! Thank you very much! You’ve made me look at my National Team with another perspective. Ever since I opened an e-mail account especially for this occasion, I’ve been getting messages from places I couldn’t have imagined we had supporters in!
A BIG THANK YOU TO SOCCERNET AND TO ALL OF YOU!