If you were writing the definition of the phrase “Train Wreck” in a dictionary of modern slang, you could do a lot worse than simply pasting in a picture of Argentina’s Diego Maradona. So, I’ll do it for you:
Maradona: Yes, Those Are Two Pinky Rings.
Train Wreck: n. a disaster or failure, especially one that is unstoppable or unavoidable; a disorganized, problematic, or chaotic person or thing; an incongruous situation.
If that isn't Maradona, I don't know what is. I could write a book about the rise and fall and resurrection of Maradona, once the greatest soccer player in the world, now an absolute enigma of a man whose bouts with excess, be it with his weight, alcohol, cocaine, self-opinion and his public image have, for the vast majority of people living outside of Argentina, called into question the values of the man, if not his greatness as a player. Inside of Argentina, he is revered as one of the greatest Argentinians of all time, the one, the greatest, el jugador, the one who brought Argentinian football to heights it had never experienced before and has not duplicated. Seeming to completely ignore the off-the-field problems that have plagued Maradona, the Argentinian Football Association decided that there was no one in the entire world more deserving or qualified to lead Argentina into the 2010 World Cup. After all, he gave the nation what many consider to be the greatest goal of all time, scored against blood rival England (Falkland Islands anyone?) in the 1986 World Cup:
and he also screwed England, just for good measure, with one of the most outrageous handball goals of all time (take that, Thierry Henry!), known simply as The Hand Of God:
For all of his on the field brilliance, watching Maradona run the Argentinian national team has been a head scratching debacle of the highest order; blessed with some of the most incredible players in the world at almost every position on the pitch, Maradona has made some of the most ridiculous managerial choices possible, with rumors flying that he is purposefully trying to sabotage Argentina's chances in the Cup to preserve his own status as the greatest player in the country's history. Which means, quite seriously, that Maradona is intent on undermining Argentina's new Number 10, Lionel Messi, a player who is, without a doubt, the greatest player in the world and, at the tender age of 23, may go on to be the greatest player of all time. While Messi has been quite literally destroying everything in his path while scoring 47 goals for FC Barcelona in Spain this season...
... he has been less than electric for Argentina. Argentina struggled to qualify for the tournament until Maradona stepped in a squeaked Argentina through, using a wildly varying line-up of players that somehow got the job done. Coming into the World Cup, Maradona has decided to field a line-up that looks more like a video game all-star team than a balanced, positionally disciplined football team; Diego Milito (whose two goal performance in the Champions League Final secured the title for Inter Milan), Real Madrid hit man Gonzalo Higuain (who was one fire this season), an in-form Carlos Tevez who was a wrecking ball for Manchester City this year, Atlético Madrid's superstar Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi are all capable of starting in attack for Argentina. Behind them? Well, the surefire Defensive Midfielder (and this writer's personal favorite player) Javier Mascherano will marshall the midfield, while Inter Milan's excellent Esteban Cambiaso and Javier Zanetti will create a... wait... oh yeah; Maradona decided not to pick Cambiasso and Zanetti for the squad. Two national team mainstays who are fresh off of winning the Italian Serie A, The Coppa Italia, and the Champions League with Inter Milan have been excluded from competing in the World Cup, in favor of Juan Sebastian Veron, a 37 year old has-been (or never was) who will be running the offense in the midfield, and Jonás Gutiérrez, a midfielder who may swing into the right-back position and who is a decent player at the Coca Cola Championship level for Newcastle, but a player who offers little of Javier Zanetti's world-class ability in defense and in the attacking third. Messi will start as a free-roaming No. 10, which is basically Maradona asking him to go out there and prove he is the best player in the world.
Argentina Will Sink Or Swim With Lionel Messi
Argentina, a nation loaded with more talented players than any team in the world, has left behind reason (and two of their best players) in the pursuit of Maradona's personal vision of the game as a proving ground for individual greatness. He is throwing down the gauntlet to his own player, short stacking his own team as a way of testing a brilliant 23 year old's ability. With the proper shape in the team and the proper players in their proper positions, Argentina could be world beaters. With Maradona at the helm, he has taken the seat belts out of the sports car, tied Messi's foot to the gas pedal, disabled the brakes and kept his own hands on the wheel. He is playing chicken with the hopes of his nation and if and when Argentina crash and burn, the nation only has itself to blame for handing the keys to their collective dreams to a man obsessed with his own glory days. This is going to be good.
Who To Watch
Well, I think I mentioned Lionel Messi, but the eyes of the world will be on the Argentine genius to see if he will deliver on the biggest stage of all. After José Mourinho's Inter Milan team held him in check in the Champions League semi-finals, a road map for shutting Messi down was established. Can any of the teams in Group B do the same? Greece have fallen on hard times of late, but if any team can close down Argentina, it is the negative, tactically disciplined Greece side, who will be looking for a counter attacking goal from Georgios Samaras to steal a victory. South Korea are a team that play for a full 90 minutes and are lead by Park Ji-Sung, a very creative attacking midfielder who is a real scoring threat. Nigeria, once the most feared team in Africa, have just appointed a new manager, Lars Lagerbeck, to see them through; when I say new, I mean he just managed his first match for the team on May 26th. That inspiring confidence in you? Still, Nwankwo Kanu is a Nigerian legend; this should be a difficult farewell for one of the nation's brightest stars, while Jon Obi Mikel, an undisciplined, fiery midfielder who can go a long way to keeping Nigeria competitive in the midfield will have the restrictions of Chelsea's diamond-shaped midfield removed from his game, allowing him the freedom to prove that he is more than just potential and a series of card-worthy tackles.
Jon Obi-Mikel Will Have To Hold NIgeria Together
Must See Match
It has to be Argentina vs South Korea on June 17th, which should provide the biggest test of Argentina's attacking philosophy and will certainly be South Korea's biggest match in the Group stage. If South Korea can play a disciplined, tactically sound match, clogging the midfield and playing a possession game against Veron and Angel Di Maria, they might be able to stay in it and give Argentina a real fight.
Manc Bastard South Korea's Park Ji Sung
Who Moves On
Despite all of the problems, Argentina find themselves heavy favorites in a group that doesn't feature much of a threat. I can't see them losing the group (it's the round of sixteen and beyond that worry me) and the team has a lot to prove, which is good news for South Korea, who should have enough in the tank to see off an unknown Nigeria (what will Lagerbeck get from this team?) and an out of form Greece. So, Argentina should win big and South Korea should come in a comfortable second in the group.
Euro 2004 Seems A Long Time Ago: Georgios Samaras Leads Greece
Up Next: Group C