Maradona made mistakes but remains fans’ favourite

July 5, 2010

SOCCER-WORLD/It is 20 years since their last semi-final, 24 since their second and last title and three successive World Cups in which Argentina have been hailed as playing the best football with some of the planet’s most talented players yet fallen short.

Post-mortems abound in the Argentine media and in coffee bar discussions throughout Buenos Aires about the reasons for continued failure.

Diego Maradona and his beaten team were given a rapturous welcome back to Buenos Aires by as crowd of about 20,000 the day after their quarter-final pasting by Germany.

Fans, who liked the team’s style, are largely behind Maradona and his players despite serious errors in their most decisive game at the South Africa finals. They want him to stay on.

The wait is likely to be long for Maradona to make a decision. The Argentine Football Association (AFA) is unlikely to decide for him. No one, least of all AFA president Julio Grondona who appointed him in 2008, wants to go down as the man who sacked Maradona, the country’s greatest footballing icon.

The 2010 finals were seen as Argentina’s chance at last to lift a third title given the harmony in the Maradona camp and an attack that was the envy of the world.

But the frailties of the qualifiers had not been overcome after all, merely disguised. When it came to the crunch Maradona, who appeared to be making a good job of learning his trade as coach as he went along, did not make the right choices.

Supporters of Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso, key elements of European Champions League winners Inter Milan, will feel vindicated in their criticism of Maradona for leaving them out of his 23-man squad.

Maradona ended up playing a back four of ponderous central defenders and a lightweight midfield that was not the solid framework Lionel Messi needed to get the most out of his unique talents.

Javier Mascherano was lost on his own in the middle of the park while Maradona kept Juan Sebastian Veron, the partner the captain needed, on the bench.

Germany, like Dunga’s Brazil in three meetings since 2006 including the 2009 qualifier in Rosario, exposed an Argentina side prone to falling into a counter-attacking trap.

All it took for the castle to tumble was for the team to concede a goal before their opponents did. Maradona may have believed that his forwards could score at any time but his team failed to break the mould.

Maradona’s Argentina won all the competitive matches in which they took the lead – eight, four of them at the World Cup — but lost all those in which they fell behind – five, including Brazil last year and Germany on Saturday.

PHOTO: Germany fans celebrate after the 2010 World Cup quarter-final soccer match between Argentina and Germany at Green Point stadium in Cape Town July 3, 2010. Banner reads “Goodbye Maradona”. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

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