Much-criticised team have earned their praise
13 July ~ Just how much euphoria can a nation take? Since reaching the World Cup final, their first since 1990, Argentina are making a good stab at testing the limits. This may have been the least productive week in decades - while some decide to drive three days north to Brazil at the last minute, others spent endless hours on the internet discussing the chances of winning. Maxi Rodríguez’s decisive penalty in the semi-final shootout not only took the country to the World Cup final, but also into total pandemonium.
There have been the articles about Rodríguez’s walk up to talking the penalty, links to videos with titles such as "How Buenos Aires shook", and "How people on a plane watched the shootout". On the social networks, so important these days for gauging what people really think, Javier Mascherano memes and vines went viral.
Back in 1990 perhaps the young Lionel Messi, still a few years from making his first-team debut for Barcelona, might have imagined playing in a World Cup final. It was around this time when he met Jorge López, an Argentinian journalist living in Catalonia. Skip to over ten years later and both were in Brazil. Messi is the captain. And Lopez, the journalist closest to Messi by this stage, known as Topo, the Mole, to most, was covering what could be this generation’s crowning football moment.
But the night before Argentina’s semi-final, in São Paulo, the police were chasing a car of runaways which crashed into the taxi Topo had taken back to his hotel. Just 24 hours later, from the anti-doping room, Messi dedicated the win against Holland to his friend who had been killed. The journalist held in the highest of confidence by Messi, who had first interviewed him as a teenager, would not see the game he had dreamt of covering.
Few fans dared to be believe that the team would make it. Only a few weeks ago, we had been informed that that coach Alex Sabella had a revolt on his hands after he left midfielder Éver Banega out of the squad. Keeper Sergio Romero had only played a handful of games for Monaco and was a liability. Marcos Rojo was an accident waiting to happen, we were told.
And after finding a system that worked so well in qualifying, when it was all so simple in the halcyon days of the fit and in-form Messi-Higuaín-Agüero-Di María, aided by a healthy Fernando Gago, in the tournament Sabella has had to mix systems, styles, formations and names in order to reach the final.
But four clean sheets and a penalty shootout later, Romero is the hero. Mascherano has freedom on Buenos Aires, or any other town in the country for that matter. Rojo has had a decent tournament. Messi may be feeling like his legs weigh 100 kilos, as he told his father, but he is still due a performance that matches the brilliance of his career to date. And if Messi and his team deliver, the party will really start. Joel Richards