I became a permanent football fan somewhere around the age of 10, when one night I watched a small Argentinian score a goal with his hand, then out-run 5 English players - including the goalkeeper - to score the most outrageous goal in football history (yes, that was my first World Cup match).
A few days later that same man out-foxed 6 Belgians to score another mega goal, and take his team into the finals. The following Sunday I stayed up to watch that small man single-handedly win Mexico '86 for his team.
I think this year could just be Argentina’s time once again (don’t remind me of 2002); please senors, allow me to explain why Argentina will be this year’s very, very dark horse.
The big thing going for Pekermen’s boys this time round is mainly the absence of expectation. Former manager Marcelo Bielsa’s announcement in 2002 that the AFA ought to clear room for the trophy in their cabinet has proven itself a grave error and put incredible, unnecessary pressure on an otherwise capable team; it eventually led to their premature ejaculation from JPN/ KOR.
Then there is this formidable team. Crespo, Messi, Tevez and Julio Cruz make a cunning and thoroughly dangerous strike-force.
Directing the orchestra from just behind the front two is the thoroughly influential Riquelme, who – if he’s really in the mood – can turn a match on with the flick of a switch. Pekerman is likely to also play Javier Mascherano – a future MU player? – with Riquelme, likely in the “Makalele role”.
Gabriel Heinze is back! HEINZZZ.....ZAY!!! Even his name sounds something like “Thou shall not pass!”This time he is likely to be played as center-back, with full-backs Sorin and Deportivo’s Coloccini – two dudes never shy of foraying forward.
Team apart, Pekerman is a wily tactician. He can change the shape of the team within minutes, to accommodate the need of the hour. He helmed the team that won the Youth World Cup in Malaysia in 1997, from which a number of talents form this senior team.
A tough group C sees them as top seed with Serbia & Montenegro, Ivory Coast and Holland – another group of death following 2002. I rate the underrated Holland to go through with Argentina, and with both these teams playing each other last, S&M and IC could well be playing their own match to see who comes in 3rd in the group, instead of fighting for a place in the last 16.
The 2nd round, however could be a bit trickier, with either Mexico or Portugal waiting in the wings, as winners / runners-up of group B. Both teams would prove a tough challenge for the Argentineans, and the neutrals would hope for a Portugal vs Argentina fixture, pitting Scolari – another sly dude – against the astute Pekerman.
Should Argentina sail through this, the momentum will be prefect for the juggernaut to plough through the q-finals, probably facing Italy, Germany, or likely even Brazil. I’m strangely encouraged by this scary prospect because:
1. Argentina is often likely to self-destruct against unfancied teams, so I would be wary if they met Croatia, Ghana, Guus Hiddink's Australia, or even the USA (coming off the win against England, even Dennis Bergkemp and Holland was the underdog in their 1998 q-final face off). The bigger teams, however, bring out the best in them ;
2. In the qualifying rounds, Argentina were second to only Brazil, and that too on goal difference. In their game in Buenos Aires, they beat the Brazilians 3-1, and convincingly too;
3. A team that wins the World Cup must beat the big names! ... we can’t all hide like the English, can we?; and
4. No space for sentimentality! Only Roberto Ayala, Sorin, Crespo and Aimar survive from the 2002 squad, while even former captain Javier Zanetti and goalkeeper German Lux were axed from the team headed to Germany. Contrast that with England and... Darius Vassell???
5. They are probably the best “team” among the leading contenders. Devoid of big star names, they are drawing each other closer and closer and are emerging a very strong unit. It’s on the cards, brothers – prepare to watch magic in blue and white again! Pasti jalan, brudder...
P.S. *DISH* *BISH* needs guest bloggers for the World Cup. From any aspect -- World Cup widows, Angola fans, or even why you think Guus Hiddink has got another trick up his sleeve (For South Korea '02, read Australia '06). LET'S DO IT FELLAS!