Monday, September 07, 2009

Loving the World Cup Qualifiers

Anytime Brazil's national team beats Argentina in soccer, it's a great day. It's an even better day when the Brazilian victory makes Brazil the first team from the Americas to lock a spot for the 2010 World Cup. It's an even better day when Argentina's loss leaves them in fourth place and in danger of not even making the World Cup. And it's about as great a day as it can be when Brazil beats Argentina 3-1, in Argentina. (And the goals were beauties, especially the first one).

Normally, I hesitate to gloat - sports is the one arena in which I'm superstitious. However, I can't help but point out the troubles Argentina is facing, while Brazil is looking very good. When Brazil first hired Dunga in 2006 after the World Cup debacle, Brazilians killed him. They thought he wasn't devoted enough to the well-known stars (Ronaldinho in particular); they thought he was incompetent-looking; they thought he was too relaxed. I thought this was exactly what they needed, given that the previous coach effectively cost Brazil the World Cup by refusing to sit a fat Ronaldo and not knowing how to use his younger stars (bringing Adriano and Robinho in against France only in the 5 minutes was absolutely inexcusable). Dunga made it clear - you had to earn your way onto the team, and those who played well on the national team would get to stay, while those who did not would sit. I thought this was exactly what was needed, and it turns out, I, and more importantly, Dunga, was right. Players like Luis Fabiano, Felipe Melo, and Daniel Alves have come into their own under Dunga, and even the very-young Pato has had some good playing time in international competition. It's enough to make me very hopeful about next year.

But what could make me giddy? Well.....the horrible position of Argentina. They are ridiculously good on paper. But it just hasn't translated, and the blame is increasingly falling on Diego Maradona's coaching. When Argentina hired him last year, I had my doubts about his appointment giving Argentina that extra bump, and it looks like I'm increasingly right. Some criticisms are silly (so what if he took his players to church?), but criticisms about his tactics are both more serious and more long-term. For whatever reason, Argentina clearly has not clicked under his leadership, and now they're only 2 points ahead of Colombia in the qualifiers, facing the very real possibility that they may have to play the 5th place team from Concacaf just to qualify for South Africa next year. I still think they'll pull it off, but it's definitely not worked out the way Argentina had hoped. And I totally agree with pc - Argentina's in big trouble. If they fire him now, they're (probably) going into the World Cup with major trauma - this isn't like baseball, where you fire one guy and plug another one in there. But at the same time, they look completely unprepared for next year, and if they can't handle the physical and inspired play of a team like Brazil, there's no way they get very far next year (and again, that's if they make it, an assumption everybody had coming into the qualifiers based on how they looked on paper).

Erwin hits it on the head: Brazil and Argentina right now are the tale of two coaches. A lot can happen over the next 9 months, but right now, I really like where Brazil is sitting; watching Argentina flounder just makes it that much more pleasurable.