sexta-feira, junho 16, 2006

Valdano (I)

"Argentina may be a one-armed man but we can still pack quite a punch

When it comes to styles, history tells us that South America represents technique and imagination, while Europe is identified with strength and speed. There was a time when European players feared Brazilian and Argentinian teams for their slow, almost intoxicating football. We South American players used to fear English or German teams for their rough, stormy, almost unstoppable play. Even though information has become globalised, styles universalised and the great players are gathered in the rich leagues, the identities persist.
Despite the changes in practices and customs, the classic football countries (those who have won at least one World Cup) continue to preserve their ways. In the 1978 World Cup, only one of the Argentina squad was playing outside the country (Kempes at Valencia); in Germany 2006, Argentina will play with only one man based back home (Rodrigo Palacios at Boca Juniors). We could say something similar about Brazil, who have 21 of their 23 squad members playing in the big European leagues.
Gone are the mysteries and with them the fears. The South Americans no longer hypnotise and the Europeans no longer sweep all before them. But, since Sweden 1958 and until evidence to the contrary, Europe is for the Europeans and America is for the South Americans.
If, despite such a weight of history, Brazil remain favourites for this World Cup, it is because of their outlandish talent: the magic of Ronaldinho, the devastating bursts of Ronaldo, the elegant and simple play of Kaka, the correct proportion of skill and power of Adriano, the 100 metres of football down the left of Roberto Carlos, and down the right of Cafu . . . They've even got a goalkeeper: Dida.
Argentina are another story. The difference from Brazil is perceptible even in the way they get to the ground. The Brazilians go to matches singing samba, because their relationship with football is an extension of a joyful way of life. We Argentinians go in the bus belting out terrace chants as if we were sharpening our weapons for the battle, such is the seriousness with which we approach football.
For the past 30 years, the unit of measurement in Argentinian football has been called Diego Armando Maradona. Nostalgia for him is insurmountable and, in the hope that another redeemer will come to save us, we have to play as a team, we have to recover the amateur spirit, collectively we have to respect the style of Argentinian football that Maradona defended individually until kingdom come. Amen.
In goal will be Abbondanzieri, a veteran keeper who never fails to inspire affection. If the Brazil team is like a body with two arms called Cafu and Roberto Carlos, Argentina is a one-armed man: only Sorín, the great captain, gets forward down the left. The three remaining defenders are central markers and we won't see them crossing the halfway line, except to go up for corners. In the middle Mascherano, a guard dog, will be waiting and Cambiasso, a passionate and intelligent player but with a limited range, will distribute the play.
José Pekerman will play with Riquelme slightly offset towards the left and this is a significant choice. A friend of mine calls him "tollbooth" because when the ball passes through him it has to stop. It's a jibe I don't subscribe to but it helps to define him in football terms. The rhythm and direction of play will depend, to a great degree, on Riquelme's level of inspiration. And Riquelme is not always inspired.
On the right-hand side, Maxi Rodríguez contributes with his work rate and capacity to get in the opposition area: an energetic player more likely to make a diagonal run on goal than to get to the byline and put a cross in. Bearing in mind that Argentina, as we have seen, tend to build play down the left, Maxi Rodríguez's goalscoring threat could be decisive. In attack it is possible that Crespo and Saviola, two forwards who look for space more than the ball and are more goalscorers than ball-players, could start off as first choices. Argentina have bullets in reserve on the bench in Tévez and Aimar but there is a cannonball called Lionel Messi and that's a whole other story. In the first match it may be that he starts as a substitute because he is carrying that injury he picked up against Chelsea, but he will come on in the second half and nothing will stop him. He is too young to build one's hopes up too much but he has too much talent for us not to be reminded of Maradona. Amen."

Guardian, 10 de Junho