Diego Maradona’s first match in charge of Argentina saw few surprises. Against improving and tenacious opponents, a big win was never on the cards, but those who’ve doubted the wisdom of Maradona’s appointment can take some encouragement from a performance in which the Albiceleste actually played like a team. Atlético de Madrid’s Maxi Rodríguez scored the only goal of the game after seven minutes, and it was a lovely one. Highlights here.
Argentina dominated the opening exchanges of the match, with even Javier Mascherano getting forward early on and forcing a good save from Scotland goalkeeper Allan McGregor with a vicious volley. The side were playing with the kind of confidence and motivation that most expected after Maradona’s appointment, but the surprise was that after only a couple of training sessions, they also looked quite a fluid unit in spite of the lack of the familiar playmaker-based system they’ve been used to lately. In the seventh minute, Manchester United forward Carlos Tevez cut in from the right and passed inside to fellow Premier League star, Newcastle United winger Jonás Gutiérrez, who rolled off a first-time ball into Maxi’s path. The right-winger buried the chance from the edge of the six yard box.
After the goal, the match relaxed a little and the pace – inevitably for a friendly in the middle of the season – dropped off. Scotland probed Argentina’s backline and did enough to highlight one or two weak points, without ever causing any palpitations in the visiting dugout. In midfield, Javier Mascherano and Fernando Gago comfortably had the better of the contest, but up front Ezequiel Lavezzi and Tevez weren’t enjoying their best matches.
In the second half the substitutions – again, it’s a friendly in mid-season – disrupted things and the tempo dropped off considerably, at the same time as which niggly little fouls starting creeping in. Emiliano Papa, the only domestic-based player on the pitch for Argentina, had a decent match going forward from left back on his debut and there were also decent showings from Maxi, Jonás and new captain Mascherano. Ultimately though, what mattered was a demonstration of proper team work in a group performance that was quite some distance above appalling, and that the Diego Maradona era has begun with a victory.
The next match will give us a better idea of how things will be: at home to Venezuela in the new year for the next round of World Cup 2010 qualifiers. Maradona will have a full squad to pick from and a poor recent competitive run to turn around. For now, Argentina will just sit back and enjoy the hope that comes with a new era. Diego Maradona has now won four matches as a football manager.
Scotland 0 – 1 Argentina, 11th November 2008: