Reuters Soccer Blog
World Soccer views and news
Those waiting for Diego Maradona to resign or be sacked after yet another dismal Argentina performance in the World Cup qualifiers forget that he is untouchable.
Maradona will press on blindly, brushing off criticism with remarks about having always fought adversity and come out on top.
The team he led to victory in the 1986 World Cup forged their solidarity in the them-and-us syndrome: Them being influential people in Buenos Aires, like then government Sports secretary Rodolfo O’Reilly, trying to get coach Carlos Bilardo ousted weeks before the tournament in Mexico when they looked a poor team.
Victory served to increase Maradona’s self-belief and aura of invincibility.
“The game is over for us,” said Justino Compean, president of the Mexican Football Federation (FMF).
It is becoming a familiar trend in Argentine domestic football. The home team is winning by a single goal, the clock is ticking….and suddenly all the balls have disappeared and visiting players have to go searching for them.
The latest incident happened on Sunday during River’s match at home to lowly Gimnasia-Jujuy. One of the ball boys took his time in returning the ball to visiting goalkeeper Gaston Pezzutti, who angrily hurled it at the youth and was sent off.
Mexico’s recent tribulations — four coaches in the last three years, two defeats to Honduras in five months, an even more humiliating loss in Jamaica — have left many supporters with a certain nostalgia for former coach Ricardo La Volpe.
Gruff and outspoken, La Volpe brought almost unprecedented stability between 2002 and 2006 as he actually completed the four-year cycle between World Cups. He made Mexico one of the world’s most tactically versatile teams, boldly drafted in numerous young players and enjoyed competitive wins over both Brazil and Argentina.
Even before this week’s outburst and his decision to quit Argentina for the second time in three years, Juan Roman Riquelme’s future with the national team had looked uncertain.
Riquelme missed their first two matches under Diego Maradona because of club commitments and, without him in midfield, Argentina shook off the apparent lethargy which had marked their last few displays under Alfio Basile.
And so to Ecuador.
With three stages, bonus points and a two-leg final, Ecuador’s championship is a brave attempt to keep as many teams in with a chance of winning the title for as long as possible. In fact, getting knocked out takes some doing.
This is the fourth instalment in our look at the wacky world of Latin American championships having started with an introduction and then analysed Peru’s interesting league system and moved on to Uruguay.
Today, we’ve reached Mexico and it’s a goody.
Mexico has some of the finest stadiums in Latin America and pays some of the highest wages. It is also notable for having a system in which the championship’s best team repeatedly fails to win the title.
The Uruguayan championship is also a strange beast, short on crowds but big on maths. It is divided into two stages, the Apertura and Clausura, but also features another table, called the Anual, which consists of the standings for the two stages combined (in other words, a conventional league table).
Peru’s new system, introduced after the league increased the number of teams from 12 to 16, is particularly curious.
The “Decentralised” championship, as it is known, begins with the 16 teams playing each other twice in the conventional style. For most people, with matches being played from the jungle of Iquitos to the dizzy heights of the central Andes, that would be enough. But the Peruvian league has decided to follow this up with a sort of playoff system.
As usual, it feels like there is a contest going on to devise the oddest format for a football tournament. Over the next few days, the Reuters soccer blog will present the various candidates for this year’s award for the strangest concept.