Saturday, June 17, 2006

Don't Cry for Me, Maradona

Three words can sum up Argentina's performance last night: Oh. My. God!

If you didn't happen to catch it, you missed the biggest blowout of the World Cup thus far, as Argentina fed a steady diet of uppercuts to an increasingly punch-drunk Serbia and Montenegro until the referee stopped the fight. Too bad football does not have TKOs!

To quit the boxing metaphor, what I actually mean is that Argentina won 6-0. And against a Serbian side that looked pretty decent in qualifying, and held their own against the Netherlands in their first match of this World Cup. Argentina deserved to win, given the football seminar that they put on. It was textbook stuff: precision passing, nifty dribbling, great delivery, and best of all, deadly finishing. Against a weaker side, Argentina probably would have been good for another few goals, as well as they were playing.

Maxi Rodriguez picked up a brace to join the 10-way tie for the Golden Shoe, but for me, the most exciting player in the match was easily Lionel Messi, the talented 19 year old who joined the game in the 75th minute. He looked explosive the first time he touched the ball, driving past two Serbian defenders just outside the penalty box, before laying off for a give-and-go that his teammate could unfortunately not connect. Just two minutes later, he beat the defence down at the end line, drove into the goal area, and then put the ball right onto Hernan Crespo's foot for an easy goal. But he was not to be held to just an assist, as he slammed home a goal of his own in the 88th minute.

I cannot wait to see more of this amazing player. Of course, I might have to wait until the next round to do so, depending on how badly Argentina wants to beat the Netherlands--the two meet in Group C's final match on Wednesday. They may not want to risk an injury to Messi, and thus use him sparingly, even if it means a loss to the Dutch. All Argentina needs is a draw, which would leave both teams at seven points, but Argentina waaaay ahead on goal differential. A 6-nil result does wonders for goal differential, no? :) But I were managing Argentina, I would not chase Holland if they go up on a late goal, as a loss would simply mean finishing second in the group. And since there is not much difference between Mexico and Portugal, who are currently leading Group D, I don't think it matters who they face in the first game of the second stage. Also, finishing second in their group would put Argentina in the same bracket as England, a side with whom they have quite the historical grudge. That is, of course, assuming England gets past Ecuador, in clear violation of my predictions.

In any case, I will predict that Argentina has no trouble with whoever they face first in the next round.

Getting back to the game itself, it would have been sheer joy to watch, had it not been for one annoying factor, namely that the referee, a certain Robero Rosetti, apparently had his head lodged in his arse for most of the match. I have not seen so many fouls given in a long time: 14 called against Argentina, and an unbelievable 22 against the hapless Serbians. Oh yeah, and add to that three yellow cards and a red card to Serbia, and a yellow to Argentina just to maintain the illusion of impartiality. He called numerous fouls on Serbian players for challenging the ball, which I thought was kind of their job, when their opponents have possession. I mean, it is one thing to tackle from behind, or come in late, but it is another entirely to slide for the ball while the attacker is trying to run onto it. The latter is just good defending, but apparently not in the mind of Mr. Rosetti.

The sending off of Mateja Kezman in the 65 minute was especially egregious. The challenge that caught the referee's one good eye (OK, so he was not really wearing an eye-patch, but can you imagine a pirate referee?!) appeared to be completely legitimate in the replays. OK, call it a foul if you must, but even a yellow card would have been ridiculous in the situation. A red card was just unbelievable.

I certainly hope that Rosetti does not get another match at this or any World Cup. The game would certainly be better off if he never officiated over another football match in his entire life.

But other than that, very entertaining football indeed. Hope you were watching, Mauro!

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