Saturday, July 03, 2010

"And now you're gonna believe us, we've got the Argentinas..."

IF YOU’RE only ever going to play two minutes of World Cup football, then Marcelo Trobbiano’s might be hard to beat.
He may not have scored the winner when appearing – briefly – for Argentina, in their 3-2 victory over West Germany in the 1986 final (the first I remember watching, aptly rapt).
In fact, he was replacing the man who had just scampered on to Diego Maradona’s needle-threaded through-ball to restore, this time decisively, Argentina’s lead.
But with the West Germans finally flagging, with no hope of clawing their way back into the match once more, Trobbiani could come on for the last two minutes of stoppage-time – just, well, to be there.
And while the one touch of the ball he did manage wasn’t the winner, or even a goal, or even an assist, it was simply stylish.
Just for being a backheel, the insouciance of a man who – having failed to feature in any of the preceding six matches – knows by just walking on to the pitch he’s strode into history. However glancingly.
Today’s quarter-final between Argentina and Germany has become the must-see match of the tournament so far, especially with Maradona not at the helm – however quixotically – of an Argentina team who have gone from abysmal in the qualifiers to rampant in the tournament itself.
Germany may have been a refreshing pleasure to watch so far, at least against Australia and England when Mesut Ozil has been dodging the attempts of defence or midfielder markers to tie him down or freeze him out. His passing and shooting have both been deft, but even without touching the ball he’s made opponents look leaden.
Plenty of credit, too, to Low’s mid-Euro 2008 rethink, the 4-2-3-1 revamp that so unsettled Portugal in the quarter-finals - now boosted further by Michael Ballack’s absence and the maturing of Bastian Schweinsteiger in a controlling new role.
Yet if any holding midfield enforcer is to keep Ozul quiet, then it should be Javier Mascherano – another dedicated yellow card-collector, but an expert reader of opposing attacks.
Like Butch Cassidy – he got vision, and the rest of the world (cup)’s wearing bifocals. Especially such squinters as, say, Vince Grella or Gareth Barry. Even Anthony Annan, industrious as ever, let Ozul slip his shackles for one punished moment.
While Ozil might be expected to dovetail with Muller down the wings, Messi this tournament has been more often picking up the ball in central positions – and with plenty of the pitch ahead of him.
Whether Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira can not only keep him tightly enough constrained – and who better to wriggle free, but Messi – could be crucial.
Especially since, behind them, Friedrich and Mertesacker have looked vulnerable when exposed – and will also have the likes of Tevez and Higuain to trouble them anyway, whether the defence is being turned or being dragged wide.
Sitting cross-legged on the floor of my childhood bedroom – how spoilt my brother and I must have been, I realise – watching that 1986 final, even the eight-year-old mini-me could appreciate the villainous Maradona by then.
We’d already seen him close at, er, hand, having such ball-juggling fun in a Spurs shirt for Ossie Ardiles’s White Hart Lane testimonial the previous year.
He remains exhilarating to watch, whether demanding a football dance to his command, or compelling a Press pack to virtually eat out of that famous hand.
Just some of the 1986 final’s compelling competitiveness, lurching momentum, and irresistible flow of a football would be a treat today – hey, just half of last night’s drama should be enough to exhaust.
Let’s just draw a discreet veil over one rematch, that 1990 climax that was anything but. No one, not even Andreas Brehme’s nearest and dearest, could surely bear to see something like that again...

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