Argentina’s romantic commitment facing a test
Take a look at the standings in the South American World Cup qualifying group and it seems that Argentina are making steady progress towards South Africa. After seven of the 18 games, Alfio Basile’s team are third with 12 points, two points behind the leaders, and only four goals conceded.
On paper, Argentina and their elegant playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme are a purist’s dream, weaving neat patterns around the field with their passing and refusing to resort to the long ball or the physical approach.
Basile himself, who with his slicked-back hair and gravel voice appears to have shot straight out of a classic tango film, is an old romantic, who believes that winning must be achieved with style. Their forwards Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero need little introduction.
When it all goes right, Argentina can be breathtaking to watch — the 26-pass goal they scored against Serbia at the last World Cup and the three goals in 20 minutes they fired past Mexico in a friendly in June give a good idea of the heights they can reach.
Yet, something is not quite right. Nine of Argentina’s points in the qualifiers came from the first three games. Since then, they have chalked up three draws — including Saturday’s 1-1 stalemate at home to Paraguay — and one defeat. For some reason, the team will not quite click.
Are they too lightweight? Is it all down to the mischannelled aggression of Tevez who on Saturday was sent off in the first half for the second time in three international appearances? Is it overdependence on the notoriously moody Riquelme? Or should they, dare we say it, contemplate returning to the less attractive tactics of the past employed under the likes of Carlos Bilardo.
Hopefully, they can sort themselves out without going down that road. It would be a huge shame if Argentina were to alter style, which is a refreshing contrast to the physical, counter-attack game adopted by their arch-rivals Brazil.
PHOTO: Argentina head coach Alfio Basile gestures as Carlos Tevez walks off following his red card during their World Cup 2010 qualifier against Paraguay in Buenos Aires September 6, 2008. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci