20 years empty handed
1993 Copa América was Argentina’s last success
It has been 20 years since Argentina has won an international soccer tournament. The last was the Copa América under coach Alfio Basile. Since then there have been five World Cups and seven Copa América tournaments. (Olympic tournaments are not counted as they are not full internationals, but Argentina did win them in 2004 and 2008.)
Coach Alejandro Sabella did say that his team has possibilities, but is not favourite to win the World Cup this time and in a poll taken by the La Nación newspaper, even more usually optimistic Argentines place Brazil as favourites (25 percent) followed by Argentina (17 percent), Germany (10 percent), defending champions (seven percent), Netherlands, England and Italy (two percent) and Uruguay (one percent), but 46 percent think Argentina will reach the semifinals.
In 1994, in the US World Cup, captain Diego Maradona was suspended for doping after two games and a devastated Argentina lost the third group match 3-2 to Romania and did not reach the knock-out stage. In the 1995 Confederation Cup, Argentina reached the final, but lost 2-0 to Denmark. In the 1995 Copa América, Argentina was beaten by Brazil on penalties after a 2-2 draw in the quarterfinals. In the1997 Copa América in Bolivia, Argentina's experiment of sending an alternative team, used more to high altitude than being the best players, failed as Argentina went out 2-1 to Peru and did not qualify for the quarterfinals.
The 1998 World Cup in France saw Argentina beaten 2-1 by the Dutch in the last minute in the quarterfinals and in the 1999 Copa América in Paraguay, it was Brazil which again knocked out Argentina 2-1 in the quarterfinals. The AFA decided not to send the team to the 2001 Copa América in Colombia because the players received death threats. The 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea was worse as Argentina, named as favourites, did not pass the group stage. Argentina reached the final of the 2004 Copa América to draw 2-2 with Brazil, but again lost in the penalty shootout.
The 2005 Confederation Cup in Brazil saw the hosts again beat Argentina in the final, this time 4-1. In the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the hosts only beat Argentina by penalties in the quarterfinals.
It was Lionel Messi’s first World Cup which he spent on the bench. In the 2007 Copa América in Venezuela, Brazil beat Argentina in the final and in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Germany knocked them out 4-0 in the quarterfinals. The 2011 Copa América in Argentina for the first time in 24 years, offered a good chance, but penalties knocked them out again against Uruguay in the quarterfinals.
2014 rivals, tactics
On paper it looks as if Argentina was drawn in one of the weaker groups with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria, but there are no weak rivals in the World Cup final as they all got there through qualifying groups, so there should be not too much confidence. In this group F, Argentina has been in World Cup finals 15 times, which might make them the most experienced team, although less than half the players have been in the WC finals before. Nigeria have been four times, Iran three and Bosnia never. Only Brazil (19) and Germany (17) have been in the finals more often, the latter counting when it was called West Germany.
Coach Sabella says each of these rivals has a different style. With Bosnia-Herzegovina the man to watch is striker Edin Dzeko who has had plenty of experience of top class soccer, scoring goals for Manchester City. They feel inferior to Argentina and they hope to beat Nigeria for second place to qualify for the 16-team knock-out stage. They seem to line up a 4-4-2 formation.
Iran play 4-1-4-2 and is difficult to score against, Sabella says. Iran has come to play against strong rivals and has no pretence of beating them. Its coach, Carlos Queiroz was asked how he was going to play against Messi? “Who is Messi, I don’t know him,” he said. (Perhaps he was joking.)
Argentina has faced Nigeria several times in international competitions and has never been easy to beat, but perhaps by then Argentina has already qualified. Sabella says they play similar to European teams and line up 4-2-3-1, Nigeria does not like intense heat and the match is scheduled for 1pm which their coach feels will favour Argentina. Nigeria’s players have been promised 10,000 dollars for each win in the group stage, 12,000 in the round of 16, 15,000 in the quarterfinals, 20,000 in the semi-finals and 30,000 in the final and 30,000 if they win the World Cup. This is believed to is more than each Argentine player would get in each round.
Further to Monday’s column about last Saturday’s River Plate vs San Lorenzo and Atlético Rafaela vs. Colón playoffs, as anticipated, River Plate mentioned some players had injuries put down to the poor pitch in San Luis. Also, why was the match played at 9pm, making it more difficult for fans of the two Buenos Aires teams to return that day? It was because the government wants big matches to be played at the same time as Lanata’s opposition programme. Yet I would suggest to the government that if they think what Lanata says is not true, they should just ignore him and let him talk as much as he likes.
As for the other match, apart from having one player sent off wrongly for a casual hands, a Rafaela player got a yellow card for pulling off his shirt to celebrate scoring the goal. An Argentine FA (AFA) which has done nothing to help getting rid of hooligans, should not have this rule, which is not used in most other countries. But as mentioned before, the AFA just cannot do anything right these days.