Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Hosts have advantage, the wisdom goes. Massive support, familiar stadiums, enthusiasm, and referees 'quietly' helpful. But in the same time playing at home is a curse – too much excitement, too much pressure to win, and heavy criticism from the press. The smallest mistake is blown out of proportion and unforgiving journalists are busy pointing out great players left out, coach's mistakes, and the list goes on and on. Argentina did not have the best of starts and, like West Germany four years ago, was criticized from the beginning almost to the end. The stakes were high – even without the desires of the Junta, Argentina simply had to win – they never did before and if not now, then when? To a point, not having official games since 1975 was a problem – long camps are just training and friendlies – just friendlies. So at the opening match Argentina did not look great at all and won over Hungary with great difficulty. 2-1 was a victory, but nobody was blind. Hungary played surprisingly well, but so what – they were not among the favourites, and if struggling against them, imagine what may come in the very near future.

Luque and Kempes celebrating a goal, but... For one thing Mario Kempes did not appear to be the top striker at first. And Luque, although playing well, exposed a problem: he was not a natural born scorer and missed many an opportunity.

Argentina struggled in their second match as well – France was strong opponent even without the boost of 'win or die' situation they faced after losing to Italy. Argentina prevailed – 2-1 again – but many were outraged. Argentina was helped by the referee.
The controversial moment, deciding the match: Marius Tresor tackled Leopoldo Luque, missed the ball and falling down unintentionally touched the ball. The Swiss referee Dubach whistled – a penalty. That was – and is – the dominant commentary of the situation. A minority argued that Tresor did not go for the ball at all, but only for legs of Luque and the penalty was fair. Sure, he did not want to touch the ball, he just landed on it, but – look at his legs and where is the ball?
Passarella scored the penalty. But soon after this penalty Dubach turned blind, not seeing a penalty against Argentina – and this made the controversial moment above a sure case of injustice. France was robbed, Argentina – helped. Did not look well, but the hosts were happy – they qualified for the next round.
Argentina scores, but the picture tells it all: it was close, just a few inches too close to not winning.

Italy qualified as well, and the last group match was mere protocol. Except for the crowds on the stands, who were unhappy – Argentina did not play well. Unimportant match, but the home team had to prove its worth. Italy, however, won 1-0. Disappointment and criticism followed – Argentina was in big trouble.
Fillol unable to stop the ball, Tarantini on his back and Bettega dominates the picture. The home team advanced, but not convincingly. It was hard to point out real weakness, though – the team played open football, a version of total football which was just a bit conservative. The Argentines were clearly eager and motivated, they were skilful, and in good physical condition. Fillol, Tarantini, Passarella, Ardiles, and Luque to some degree were impressive – clearly new stars were discovered in them. Kempes was a bit bellow expectations yet, but dangerous enough. Argentina was pleasant to watch, yet, not dominating. There was a tiny something missing, difficult to point out. This 'something' was compensated by helpful referees – the two key Hungarian players were expelled in the opening match, then suspect penalty given against France and then the French were not given a clear penalty. It was not exactly Argentina winning, but rather pushed ahead by officials, a point not missed neither abroad, nor at home. When Argentina was left without helping whistle, the gauchos lost. Painful conclusion, asking for the head of coach.