In the hands of God…

Diego salutes his people
Diego salutes his people

Diego Armando Maradona made his competitive debut as Argentina manager on Saturday night in a packed Estadio Monumental, with a team shorn of Juan Román Riquelme, who threw a hissy fit retired from the international game the day this squad was announced. Diego’s old shirt – the number 10 – was handed from Román to Lionel Messi, who proved he’s almost as good as Steven Gerrard, as Argentina picked apart a well organised Venezuelan backline in the second half. Messi scored before the break and set up two thereafter as the albiceleste ran out 4-0 victors. Read all about it, then watch the goals right here.

The early exchanges set the pattern for the match. Venezuela had done such a great job of frustrating Argentina in Caracas but for two Riquelme free kicks in Maracaibo at the start of the qualifying campaign, and the gameplan wasn’t drastically different this time. Argentina may have struggled for form under Alfio Basile’s charge last year, but it was clear from the attitude in the Scotland friendly and the performance all round against France that under their idol Maradona, the selección are a different prospect altogether, and the Carribean side weren’t in any mood to try and upset the boat. What they did was set out to hold Argentina off for as long as they could.

It worked rather well. Venezuela were brilliantly well organised and holding out admirably until the 25th minute, when Juan Pablo Carrizo had the ball pinched off his fingertips by Javier Zanetti, and the ex-captain drove up the pitch like a man ten years his junior, crossing the halfway line before feeding Carlos Tevez. The Manchester United forward turned and held the ball just a little while before exchanging passes with Lionel Messi, who cut in from the right to spring the Venezuelan offside trap and cap a glorious move with an effortless finish.

Messi was key to several Argentine attacks in the next twenty minutes but the visitors held firm until the break to leave Maradona’s men with just the one goal to show for their pressure at the interval. That changed very rapidly after the restart, though. In the first minute of the second half, Messi surged down the right and sent in a cross from the byeline for Tevez to volley home and double the lead. Five minutes later, Maxi Rodríguez was the recipient of another cross, this time from his clubmate Sergio Agüero, and the Atlético de Madrid wide man made it 3-0 with a deflected half-volley.

In the 72nd minute the father of Diego’s grandson (who’d been presented to the crowd before the game), Agüero, received the ball from Messi at the end of a nice collective passing move, and burst into the box from the left channel, beating two men before finishing across the goalkeeper to put some deserved gloss on the scoreline. Thereafter Argentina relaxed a little, but the job had been done.

It’s easy to say tonight’s opponents were ‘only’ Venezuela (with no disrespect intended to the visitors), but a performance like this against an organised and determined visiting side, backed up by the showing in Marseilles for the France friendly last month, suggests that Maradona really might have a way of getting the players to pull together.

Diego’s third match in charge (and his first qualifier) brought his third win. If Argentina improve at the same rate in the next 15 months as they have in their last three matches, then the rest of the world had better watch out in South Africa.

World Cup 2010, South American qualifiers, 28th March 2009: Argentina 4 – 0 Venezuela

And that first goal in full…

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12 thoughts on “In the hands of God…

  1. I felt the same about Maradona’s appointmen originally, but there can be no overstating the effect that he has on the players. Every single footballer on that team counts him as an idol and inevitably get a significant amount of confidence from him.

    The question remains how everyone will react after a loss or a tie with a bad performance. The next match in La Paz could very well be one to watch for that reason. It’s an extremely difficult place in which to play due to the ridiculous altitude.

    I do with that Diego was just a bit more mindful of his mouth. So many declarations on the press will only get him into trouble. I think the example with Pele and Robinho this past week is a good one. You never know how people might take an off-the-cuff remark. Best to keep your mouth shut unless you know exactly what you’re going to say and why you’re going to say it.

    Then again, asking Diego to shut up is like asking the sun not to rise tomorrow. Some things are just forces of nature …

  2. That Gerrard reference is a joke, right? No self-respecting United fan could say such a thing and mean it. Tell me it was a joke, Sam. He isn’t fit to lace up Messi’s boots.

  3. Yes David, of course it was a joke. Gerrard scored a hat trick against Aston Villa last weekend and since then callers to radio phone-ins and the actual English footballing press have been telling us he’s got to be surely the best footballer in the world.

    A Liverpool fan calling into Radio 5 just after the match said this, and when the presenter asked what he thought of Messi, this fan replied ‘I’ve heard Messi’s good yeah, of course… I’ve not really seen him play, to be honest… but Gerrard’s just on another level at the moment.’

    A couple of hours later Messi scored against Málaga. It was the kind of goal he seems to score every other week, and the kind of goal I’ve never seen Steven Gerrard score even once in his career.

    For future reference, if you ever read anything in my articles that you suspect might be a joke, then it probably is. Apart from when I reported Maradona had been appointed. That actually happened.

  4. Gerrard isnt fit to lace Messis boots. What are you on about?? Yes Messi is the most exciting player in the world.
    Of course gerrard will never score some goals like Messi can. Now he has to do it when it matters ie champions league and against decent world cup opponents .
    Would Messi ever score a goal like Gerrard with the last kick of the game against West Ham in the FA cup final? Or the one he got against Olympiakas that put us on the way to the champions league? I think not. Without Gerrard we never would have won that final either.
    Messi is the better player but at the moment I would argue that Gerrard has as big as influence on games as Messi. I didnt here anyone complain when that overhyped twat ronaldo was hailed as the greatest player on the planet. There is the prime example of someone who isnt fit to lace either of their boots.

  5. The Gerrard thing is an interesting one. He is one of the best midfielders around, but not the best footballer around.

    Top site you have here by the way. Would you be able to email me when you get the chance? There is something I would like to run by you.

    Thanks

    Thomas

  6. Messi has a special talent, he shows the flashes of genius that only a few players in a given generation are capable of. And he does it consistently. For all his flaws, so does “overhyped twat” Ronaldo.

    Gerrard is a very good player, and you’re right he can be incredibly influential. But he’s more in the mould of Brian Robson – his effectiveness comes from his directness, his stamina, his determination and his leadership. Technically he isn’t anywhere near Messi, for all the head down hit-and-hope screamers he scores from outside the box. He never had the tactical nous or discipline to play central midfield (proven by that Champions League final, when it was the arrival of Didi Hamann which provided Liverpool with an actual shape lacking when Gerrard was charging all over the pitch trying to do everything and leaving a big hole where he should have been), he’s as bad a diver a Ronaldo ever was, he often goes over the ball in tackles, and he goes awol in more or less every game he plays for England. Did I leave anything out?

    But don’t get me wrong, I admire him as a player, hes a great Captain, and he shows signs of developing a nice relationship with Rooney at International level. But for me, he’s not in the same league as Messi. Or Mascherano, Riquelme, Veron, Lucho Gonzalez….

    Or in other words: the easiest way to wind up any Liverpool fan is to criticise Stevie MBE, eh?

  7. Couldn’t agree more David. Gerrard is great at things that are easy to notice, like banging them in from long range and spraying great long-range passes. He’s not so good at other, more subtle things, like staying in position, or putting his foot on the ball when the game needs slowing down. It’s not for nothing that he claims to prefer central midfield, but his own manager doesn’t like playing him there.

  8. i know your trying to wind me up. Not in the same league as Riquelme or veron? yeah veron was amazing for manure. well worth the 28 million. What has riquelme ever done?? has one half decent season for villareal and all he will ever be remebered for is bottling that penalty.Thats it.

    I dont understand your point that Gerrard cant play centre midfield. So what?? his position is as a second striker. ronaldo shows his genius on a consistent level?? He has had a great season. I have never seen a bigger cheat than ronaldo, to his team mates and his fans. watch him when he misplaces a pass. It has to be someone elses fault, throwing his hands up in the air. he is a dispicable character.

    I never said Gerrard was technically as good as Messi. And his “hit and hope” screamers are done on a consistent level in the most important games. Those over the ball tackles are completely gone from Gerrards game now and I couldnt care less how he plays for England.

  9. What has Riquelme ever done? Err – what are you doing even commenting on this blog if you need an answer to that question? so he hasn’t won the Champions League or La Liga, obviously that means he’s inferior to Stevie G, doesn’t it…?

    Veron was amazing for “Manure” (ah- witty and original play on words there)? Well, he won the league, had some great games, scored some great goals. He just couldn’t play alongside Keane. He also won the League in Italy, back when it still meant something. And in Argentina. And was the key player in those winning teams. But then you know that, right?

    Gerrard was always a Central Midfielder. That was his position. He went on in interviews about how that was where he wanted to play etc, he played there for England and Liverpool, he compared himself to Keane and Vieira…Until Benitez saw that he wasn’t up to it and started using him as a second striker instead. Even then, its Torres that makes that possible with his running, movement and awareness. So my point is basically that he is a failure as a Central Midfielder, which says a lot about this “best player in the World”.

    Ronaldo – I abhor his personality too. He, like so many pampered multi-millionaire footballers, is a bit of a dick. A sulking stupid egotist, and yes, a bit of a cheat. But you surely can’t be questioning his talent?

    And the fact of his cheating doesn’t make Stevie G any less of a cheat – he dives to win free kicks and pens once every game or two. Atletico at Anfield this season? He may be good at seeming humble in interviews, but his behaviour on the pitch (and in the odd nightclub) suggests he isn’t all that much of a nice guy either…

    And you don’t care about how he plays for England. Well, me neither, not being English. But you can learn a lot about a player by watching them play in the unfamiliar surrounds of their national team. Gerrard is used to being the Main Man at Liverpool. Not here. Wayne Rooney shows up and tries harder, raises his game, but not Stevie G. He disappears. His lack of tactical discipline is made obvious by his inability to play – and stick to – the left midfield position. Lampard is a better option in central midfield because his passing is more consistent, Rooney a better option in the hole because he is more imaginative and creative. So Gerrard gets shunted around by Capello who wants to use him, but just can’t figure out where. It makes me laugh.

  10. ok this is my last post on this. Of course i shouldnt have said written that about Riquelme. I used to love watching him play and for a while i would have thought him the best midfielder in the world even though Im a river fan. And i know he was the inspiration behind 07 libertadores but I would have serious reservations about his form now and attitude.
    But you as aswell cant question Gerrards talent. I dont know why you keep bring up the central midfield argument. The best player in the world deosnt have to be a central midfielder ie Messi. And by the way Im not saying and never had that Gerrard is the best player in the world. At the moment he surely has to be in the top 5 and I think Zidane has more authority on the subject than either of us.
    Also i know Veron was another great player but he certianly never justified the money Utd and Chelsea spent on him. And his performances at international level are hardly anything to write home about either.

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