Having sat inside all bloody afternoon waiting for an announcement that was supposed to come at 3pm and eventually arrived just after 7, this will only be a brief post, but all the same I thought I’d put up a few initial thoughts on Diego Maradona’s list of thirty players, from whom 23 will be selected to travel to South Africa. My initial thought – and I’m in agreement with Seba over on Mundo Albiceleste here – is that it’s a squad which Maradona seems to have named already knowing who the seven players are who he’ll be cutting from it. All the same, some of the inc- and exclusions are baffling. Typically Diego, then. Here are my thoughts, as well as the probable starting XI against Nigeria in Argentina’s first match.
There were strong rumours on Sunday evening that Javier Zanetti and Gabriel Milito would both be included in the 30, but when Maradona arrived at AFA headquarters a friend of his told the press there’d been ‘some changes made to the list last night,’ so perhaps those were the two who lost out. It’s pointless ranting and raving about Martín Palermo’s inclusion at the expense of Lisandro López and (surely, when the squad is whittled down to 23) Diego Milito, because we’ve all known it’s coming for ages.
Likewise, there’s little surprise, regardless of the injustice, that Lucho González was left out, having not featured against either Uruguay or in the Germany friendly. Slightly more of a eyebrow-raiser is that Fernando Gago, when push came to shove, also remained out in the cold, although the fact that he was replaced not by the excellent Ever Banega but by Fiorentina reserve Mario Bolatti – who of course scored the late winner in the last crucial qualifier against Uruguay – is troubling. As is the inclusion of Fabricio Coloccini, who along with Jonás Gutiérrez (who we all knew would be in no matter what) has been playing in the second division of the country he’s in for the whole of the last season. Is he really a better bet than Gabriel Milito, a defender whose presence would if nothing else mean a friend close at hand for Lionel Messi?
Clearly, Maradona’s done what we all knew he would in picking friends ahead of players a lot of the time – hence the exclusions of Zanetti (who on Monday evening denied he’d had any problems with Juan Sebastián Verón). Clearly, too, he’s following the same thinking as many Argentines in his oft-stated belief that players who are still playing their club football at home are in some way closer to the people and thus better for the country than those in Europe. Nicolás Otamendi deserves his place as a squad player, if only for future experience, but 31-year-old Ariel Garcé? 30-year-old Juan Mercier? Good players, yes, but good enough to be in a shortlist for the World Cup squad ahead of Lucho, Banega, Estebán Cambiasso or Pablo Aimar, say?
Seven of these, clearly, will be cut. My guess would be that Coloccini, Garcé, Insaurralde, Blanco and Maxi Rodríguez would be among those, with the domestic players having been named at this juncture as much as anything as a way of saying ‘well done’ for their performances against Haiti last week. There’s got to be the suspicion as well, unpalatable though it is, that Sergio Agüero’s family connections will see him included in the 23 at the expense of Diego Milito when the final squad is drawn up. The only thing we can hope, as far as the forwards are concerned, is that José Shaffer maybe ‘slips’ when going in to challenge Martín Palermo as Banfield host Boca at the weekend. It’s a horrible thing to say, I know.
Juan Pablo Varsky, a noted and respected Argentine football journalist, has tweeted that he reckons the starting XI for the World Cup debut against Nigeria will look like this:
Otamendi —- Demichelis —- Samuel —- Heinze
Jonás —- Verón —- Di María
Messi —- Higuaín
Which in itself isn’t a bad team, but I’d rather have the option of someone a little faster than Verón in midfield (Lucho, or Aimar perhaps, because although Javier Pastore is a good inclusion in the squad he may not be ready to start just yet), and I don’t like stringing four centre backs across the back. Still, I’m not the manager. Nor are any of Argentina’s other 40 million inhabitants. Diego Maradona is.
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