BfB Goes To The World Cup 2010 (Without leaving the front room)

“Messi, he is my Maradona” said the man himself. I feel my blood boil.

I loathe Diego Maradona to make up for all the adulation he gets which he so ill deserves. As a young man watching the World Cup in 1982 I liked the look of the little guy – back that I was not away of his massive disrespect to the side of 1978 who themselves are a blemish on football – admiring the South American style of the little one and of Brazilians like Zico.

In ’82 Maradona was sent off for stamping on Zico’s testicles in a violent foul. He was a disgrace. We do not even need to talk about ’86 except to ask if a player is as good as the plaudits he was afforded then why did he have to cheat? A cheat can be a good footballer, but never a great player and Maradona is a cheat. The English wax lyrical about Maradona – part of the national condition which was best described by a screaming socialist once encountered in Grimsby Town Centre: “The English are Masochists, who else do you explain Thatcher?”

In 1990 he captained a side that shamed the game in the final trying to strong arm a Referee. In 1994 he is sent home after failing a drug test. A disgrace once again. A disgrace in every World Cup he has been involved in. That he is allowed to return to the World Cup following his failed drug test is a damning for FIFA. A blow for fair play would have been struck had he been given a life ban.

I care not for his abilities to kick a ball, they are secondary to the way of playing the game.

So for Lionel Messi – a talented footballer to say the least – to be picked as Maradona’s Maradona is no honour although the manager has previous suggested that a Referee who sent off Messi for headbutting an opponent was acting through pre-meditated malice.

Messi starts well and it is all too easy for Argentina when Gabriel Heinze heads home from twelve yards out after a half dozen minutes when a corner is ignored by defending Nigeria. Argentina’s play is fast pasted, long ranged and dramatic. Messi – shackled in qualifying – is trusted to run a free role in the midfield and starts to provoke but the early tempo fades and as Chinedu Obasi slides a cross come shot across the face one is reminded of how often football is about capitalising on dominance, about winning games when you are on top of them.

Vincent Enyeama in the Nigerian goal is occupied but not overrun. He turns a well crafted shot from Messi wide but the more the game plays out the less one is convinced by Maradona’s side. We know they are able to attack with style but they are lacking the cutting edge, the effectiveness, but a the back they are a mishmash and suspect.

Jonás Gutiérrez – an exciting wideman for Newcastle United – is deployed at right back and quickly picks up a yellow card pulling down Obasi to keep the South American’s back door closed. Argentina suffer from lofty comparisons – one views them not as a potential winner of games but of tournaments – but with that in mind as the first of the seasoned winners to play in 2010 they seem ill equipped to be champions.

The game is Argentina having the ball but not doing much with it and there is a danger that the breaks from Nigeria will come to something. Sub Peter Odemwingie wastes the best chance over running the ball in the box but credit the Argentine middle two of Javier Mascherano and Juan Sebastián Verón who ensure that the two African strikers are playing in isolation.

A second Argentine goal moves glacially slow with Enyeama doing enough to win plaudits and Kalu Uche missing a gilt edged chance for Nigeria scoring which – the single chances broken away from in a sea of pressure – the game plan would seem to depend on.

It ends with a single goal win and Maradona leads the cheers – he has spent the afternoon annoying the fourth official – but one is taken by the thought that when watching his side that they are not liable to exit the competition in glory or dishonour but more fade away as befits all half teams.

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