Costa Rica v Argentina
We’ll never know what it was about the prospect of giving the always mentally stable Diego Maradona responsibility for Argentina’s latest golden generation of players that so concerned the people in charge of the nation’s football team. By guiding his team to a creditable quarter-final and not overdosing on cocaine, Maradona surpassed a lot of people’s expectations at the World Cup, but it wasn’t enough for him to keep the job on a long term basis. Maybe the members of the Argentine Federation Association thought he was too tactically naïve to deliver the success they crave, but El Diego’s habit of metaphorically pissing on their pancakes certainly didn’t help his cause.
In the end, they opted for the safe pair of hands provided by Sergio Batista, team-mate of Maradona on the 1986 World Cup winning side. He guided the strange mix of youngsters and older ringers to success at the Beijing Olympics, which actually means a lot in South America. He’s got a fairly modest record at club level, but the fact he lacks the unwavering support of a nation and the raging ego of his predecessor means he won’t piss off the top brass by rocking the boat and will dutifully do what he’s told. That’s the magic combination likely to get you a ‘You’re Hired’ from most national football associations. If all goes well, he’s likely to lead the likes of Messi, Aguero, Tevez and Higuain to the 2014 World Cup, which – with many of the players entering the theoretical peak years of their careers – will be a great chance for the Albiceleste to claim their first Jules Rimet trophy since the Maradona show of 86. It’s a lot of responsibility and the knowledge that it’s being held in Brazil and therefore will be the closest thing this generation are going to get to a home World Cup only builds up the weight of expectation.
So far his tenure has gone pretty well, but he faces the same issues that Maradona couldn’t solve – namely a breath-taking array of attacking talent and nap-taking array of defensive talent. For all their wonderful movement and combination play, they still can’t rely on their defence. They hammered the USA 1-1 at the weekend with the defensive frailties once again undermining a largely superb attacking display. They’ve got until 2014 to get it right, but with a Copa America coming up in a couple of months time, Batista will need to give the impression things are tightening up at the back. Dubious choice of language aside, they seem to have been developing defensively.
The good news is that historically the worst damage Costa Rica have managed to inflict on Argentina is a sloppy tango. In the seven meetings to date the Central Americans have gone 0-7 conceding 22 goals and scoring just 4. Los Ticos are managed by their own Argentine World Cup winner in the form of Ricardo La Volpe. His ‘colourful’ personality may also explain why he hasn’t got the chance to manage his nation, but he’s forged a good career for himself in Mexico and even led the national side to the 2006 World Cup. Even though it’s only a friendly, he’d love to hand Costa Rica their first win over his compatriots – possibly even more than he loves that sweet taste of nicotine as it glides down his throat on the sideline. Considering how Argentina defend, a shock win isn’t out of the question.
Costa Rica v Argentina is being streamed live on Paddy Power TV this evening. And by ‘this evening’, we’re trying to sugar coat 3am tomorrow morning. Sure it would mean staying up quite late, but with so much latin American flair on show, something remarkable is guaranteed to happen.
[Legal disclaimer: something remarkable is not guaranteed to happen]