THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

What are the expectations for the team?
Lower than usual, thanks to a woeful qualifying campaign. There are always optimists, but the desperate manner in which a World Cup berth in South Africa was secured ensures they’re thinner on the ground this year than most. Most Argentines would be delighted with a quarter-final spot. It all depends on whether they can get the best out of Lionel Messi.

Is the coach popular?

He’s Diego Maradona. This is Argentina. As a manager, though, the flaws are there for all to see. Managers across Europe would love to have a way of rendering Messi ineffective – Maradona’s found it. 

Who are the best and worst interviewees?
Sebastián Verón is a bristly personality and he’s decided to coin it in with adverts in the twilight of his career, but he can usually be relied upon to cut to the point and say things more junior members of the squad might be afraid to. Sergio Agüero is probably the dullest.

Is the team likely to have any unusual goal celebrations?
Real Madrid fans might find it odd to see Gonzalo Higuaín’s team-mates celebrating with him, but otherwise no.

Are there any personal rivalries in the squad?

Rumours that Gabriel Heinze’s close friendship with Maradona was behind the bafflingly long wait for Higuaín to make his debut haven’t caused tension on the pitch yet. Some of the more deserving strikers who don’t make the cut (ridiculously, it’s unlikely Lisandro López and Diego Milito will both be in the squad, barring injuries to other forwards) could be forgiven for harbouring a grudge towards 36-year-old Martín Palermo of Boca Juniors. Palermo indisputably shouldn’t be going to the World Cup but is guaranteed a place.

Are any players involved in politics?
The Argentine government would love them to be, but no. Since a certain quarter-final against England at Mexico 86, Argentine players prefer to speak up the separation between politics and the game – even as the country’s government is using football-related policies to try to secure more votes.

What will the media coverage be like?
Saturated. Only the Directv cable network has the whole tournament, but all the selección’s matches will be on free-to-air TV and newspapers will cover little else in their sport sections. The ex-players are often the only ones who are prepared to be critical, since they don’t need to concern themselves with losing contacts or interviews. With Maradona as manager, though, all bets are off – he above all others is the interviewee no network wants to lose.

Will there be many fans travelling to South Africa?
There’ll be a sizeable group of hooligans among the peaceful majority, as WSC has already covered this year. One chant to listen out for – also adopted by the team – is an old favourite, El que no salta es un Inglés (He who doesn’t jump is an Englishman), with Inglés sometimes replaced by the nationality of the opposition. Sam Kelly 

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