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Marcelo Bielsa’s feats – leading Chile’s national team to the third spot in the World Cup qualifiers and just one win from a ticket to South Africa 2010 – have turned him into one of Chile’s most beloved figures. Men say he should run for president; women rank the introverted coach a sex symbol.
His popularity is backed by numbers. A poll in El Mercurio newspaper ranks Bielsa the best trainer in Chile’s soccer history, above Nelson Acosta who took the team to the second round of France 1998 and Fernando Riera who led “La Roja” to the third spot in Chile 1962.
But passion for the Argentine transcends the soccer pitch and enters the realm of the altar.
In the most recent act of fervour, a group of fans is asking the Vatican to canonise him. The site asks fans to support the effort by lighting 100,000 virtual candles for “San Marcelino.”
Bielsa, who is pictured with a halo on an altar, wearing the red jumper of the Chilean squad, even has prayers in his honour. “Blessed San Marcelino, lead your serious glare towards our fans and fill our nation with your glory,” reads one of them. It adds: “The nation you’ve chosen to change history and bring only triumphs to La Roja.”
Some of football’s biggest names, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, are in danger of missing out on next year’s World Cup, as countries such as Argentina, Portugal and France struggle in qualification.
Most, if not quite all of them, may make it in the end, of course, but for a bit of pre-weekend qualifier fun, here’s my stab at a world XI wtill fretting over their places at South Africa 2010.
Europe’s 53 national teams have been split into nine groups with the winners of each qualifying directly for South Africa. The best eight runners-up will play off among themselves over two legs next month for the remaining four slots. The runner-up with the worst record will miss out on a playoff berth entirely.
Usually, deciding the worst runners-up would be a simple case of comparing the respective team records. But there is one small snag — namely Group Nine, which has only five teams while all the others have six sides.
Diego Maradona says that on the compact Rosario central pitch Argentina will pin Brazil against their goal. They do up to a point, with masses of possession, but Dunga’s men demolish them in lethal counter-attacks with Maradona watching in glum silence and Argentina return to River Plate for next month’s key World Cup qualifier against Peru.
World Cup organisers had plans to spread the 32 finalists for the 2010 tournament across South Africa, giving every corner of the country a chance to feel a little of the fever close at hand.
While the matches are only being played at 10 venues in nine cities, the team bases would have allowed for a wider spread, with the opportunity to watch a training session becoming almost as valuable a commodity as a match ticket for star-starved supporters away from the World Cup mainstream.
from The Great Debate UK:
-Professor Simon Chadwick, Director, Centre for the International Business of Sport, Coventry, UK. The opinions expressed are his own. -
There is a famous song, composed in the run-up to UEFA Euro 96, in which the Lightening Seeds, Frank Skinner and David Baddiel refer to England’s 30 years of hurt (the period at the time since England won its one and only World Cup).
Join Owen Wyatt for our regular wrap of world sport. This week, it’s a World Cup qualifier special, as we consider the plight of Diego Maradona and the battle for golden tickets for South Africa 2010.
We particularly welcome comments, so if you’d like to critique Owen’s schoolboy fashion errors, please do…
from UK News:
The wives and girlfriends, whose exuberance and excess often made for more interesting viewing three years ago in Germany than the games their HABS were involved in, have been banished to the stands.
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.
Spain’s qualification for next year’s World Cup finals in South Africa has brought a welcome distraction to a nation suffering more than most of its European peers from the economic crisis.
Wednesday’s 3-0 win over Estonia put the European champions through as Group Five winners and Vicente del Bosque’s highly-fancied side will be competing in their ninth straight finals since 1978 and attempting to win the World Cup for the first time.