Friday was the most spectacular day of this World Cup so far. We had it all in just a couple of matches. Every emotion you could get from watching football was given to us by Brazil, Holland, Uruguay and Ghana.
But the thing that stood out the most for me (apart from the obvious and that incredible final few minutes of Uruguay-Ghana) was something that can be compared to what is going on for Argentina.
What I'm trying to say is that I saw a team (Brazil) completely possessed which looked like the perfect clone of his manager. Every one of the bad features that Dunga had as a player and has as a manager (except perhaps for the dubious taste in clothing), his team showed it on the pitch. But it wasn't just now. It was a constant for quite some time and it peaked right now, during the World Cup.
I have never seen players like KAKA or ROBINHO losing it like that. Complaining to refs after EVERY single call. Asking him to show cards to every rival. Even throwing elbows (see KAKA v. Ivory Coast when he got a red -even though some people still say he didn't do nothing- or see KAKA when Brazil were down 2-1 to Holland violently swinging an arm that went really close to hitting a Dutch defender). They were nervous. They had a terrible attitude and they were nasty too. All of which were trademark DUNGA-the-player characteristics.
On Friday, as never before in my life, I've seen how a team took every attribute from their manager and showed it on the pitch.
I don't mean to write a lot about Brazil, but this goes to perfectly illustrate the point I'd like to make now.
Those who have been reading my website know that I celebrated Diego's appointment as manager of Argentina and that I said that as long as he had somebody of a certain experience behind him to help him out with the tactical decisions and the training, he'd be OK. During the crazy rollercoaster ride that were the World Cup Qualifiers, I got angry at Diego. He got angry at me and at all the other journalists too. He got angry at GRONDONA (head of the AFA), at BILARDO (who was supposed to be that person with the experience to back Diego and help him out), at Juan Roman RIQUELME and a whole bunch of other people.
It was tough to understand some of his decisions and even if I stood 100% behind him after the Bolivia disaster and I insisted in that he needed more time to work with his players, it was impossible for me to sustain my entire support on the basis of what I was witnessing. I kept saying how I loved MARADONA to pieces whilst growing up and how I'll never love another football player as much as I loved him when I was a little boy, but I also repeated that our national team was more important than him. That if I felt Diego was hurting our team, I would oppose to his decisions or his methods.
The minute he gave the list without the names of Javier ZANETTI and Esteban CAMBIASSO, I took it as a punch in my stomach but I didn't cry or complain. I got together, took a deep breath and rallied behind his 23 men.
He kept picking fights with some random people and then he took a flight to South Africa and EVERYTHING changed. Diego, for the first time since he took over, got his wish and got to spend some quality time with his boys. He started building up the team spirit that we lacked so much in previous World Cups. The talent was always there, but the unity among ALL players was more of an utopia in past campaigns than anything else.
So the World Cup started and before it did, Diego listened to his daughters and followed their fashion advice and started wearing that 'sharkskin suit' that became an instant hit (for good or for worse!). But that was not the only visible change. Diego was calm in press conference. He even played some jokes. He sounded wise. He said the right things at the right time. And even when journalists wanted to get something controversial out of his spicy mouth, he dodged those questions like he dodged so many defenders in his playing days and played down every possible chance that he had to engage in a public fight with somebody.
"I don't care about Brazil. I have another business here to take care of and I'm only thinking about our match with Germany" was his reply when they asked him about DUNGA's team getting knocked out of the tournament.
"I don't have time to listen to what SCHWEINSTEIGER has to say. We will do our talking on the pitch", OK, there was something of a subtle hint of controversy in his words, but that was NOTHING compared to what you would have expected coming from MARADONA.
So with all this changes, what you see on the pitch is a team that reflects what his manager is generating in each of our players. A team that shows commitment without losing their 'freshness' to play the kind of football Argentines are famous for playing. A bunch of players that will never give up, no matter what the score is and no matter which team are in front of them. Eleven (or 23) players that simply, want this more than anybody else. I'm not saying they will win it all. Frankly, I'm still far from thinking that. All I'm saying is that we, Argentina fans, have at least one guarantee and that is that our players will never stop trying. Sometimes that's not enough. You need the quality to back up your aspirations of winning big and important things and you need the intelligence to identify what is needed from you in every moment of every game.
He has been criticised for it too, but Diego is showing he loves his players. He is showing affection. He is hugging them, kissing them, hugging them again, lifting them up in the air. And players have been responding to that. They had enough rigidity playing in Europe under European managers. They had enough pressures and enough responsibilities during a long season. They want to enjoy themselves and they want to play football.
Diego has been there and done what his players are now trying to achieve and he's also seen the other side of the coin. In both occasions, Germany was standing on his way. It's Germany again now. Probably the most attractive German side I've ever seen in my life.
And to finish this article (another opportunity that I'm taking to blow off some steam by typing this at crazy hours in the eve of the match), I'd like to take you with me back to 1987.
That year says nothing to most of you. Here's whey I'm taking you there. I was 10. I have never seen Argentina play live at the stadium before in my life, but I was lucky enough to have seen them winning the World Cup the year before. I was also too young when Diego MARADONA left Argentina to sing for Barcelona, so I've never seen him live on site before either.
Off I went to Velez Sarsfield stadium and I was ready to take on the opportunity to fulfil those two dreams. Argentina were playing a friendly to celebrate their World Cup title in front of their own fans and across the midfield line it was Germany again!
We wore the Albiceleste shirt (just like we will on Saturday) and they wore green (like they did in 1986. "A shame they'll dress in black in Cape Town" says the superstitious in me). The place was packed. The vibe was unique. And I was near one of the corner flags, unable to capture everything I wanted to capture with my own eyes. It was just too much. I mean...MARADONA was in the house!
We won that game 1-0 and Jorge BURRUCHAGA was again the 'hero', like when he scored the third goal in the World Cup final in 1986. But what I took from that game is a memory that will stay with me forever. I know it will because I still remember it very vividly.
Someone threw an orange (the favourite fruit in Argentina after Friday's results, by the way) and it landed near the corner flag I was close to.
Our mythological number 10 walked slowly towards the flag to take a corner but since it was a friendly and he was always a crowd-pleaser, he decided to lift up the orange with a playful touch of his left foot and juggled with it for a while as he waited for somebody to give him the proper ball so he could take that uninteresting corner kick. I mean...what did I care about that damned corner kick! My idol was just a few metres away from me and he was making magic with a fruit! Who cares about that corner kick.
But there was more...the ball, the proper ball, came through the floor in his direction and I'm realising this is going to be very difficult for me to explain it in English! But here's my attempt. He gave the ball a sweet first touch with his back towards the corner flag (which was probably 3 yards from where he was standing). As he touched the ball and lift it in the air with a reverse effect, he turned around to start walking towards the corner flag and extended one arm without even looking at that rounded thing which, not-so-shockingly-anymore, landed perfectly in the palm of his opened hand.
I hope you get an idea of what he did. If you don't get it, I'll explain it to you: he secured my eternal love for him! Not an easy trick, eh?
So here I am, as ambitious as never before, asking Diego for one more trick. After all, your number 10 shirt is in good hands now. Vamos Diego, show the world that you, your players and all the Albiceleste fans want this damned trophy more than anybody else in this planet and its surrounding areas. Would you?
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