What Went Right? Fantastic movement off the ball, and more times than not they employed a surprisingly patient offensive buildup, something you didn’t see in previous incarnations of this side. Took take advantage of space, with combination passing that sustained attacks and ball possession. Made efficient use of east-west, north-south, and diagonal runs and passes. They were very good at beating the offside trap and getting behind the opposition backline, and were even better at finding cracks in the defense to exploit. Spread the opposition by frequently switching play. Got fantastic service into the box, and because they played with three finisher up front running into the box every time they took a shot, they were the best in the tournament at creating multiple shots on goal on the rebound. When not in possession they did a good job of maintaining tactical discipline and rigidity. Midfield was pretty good at interrupting the opposition attack, so Argentina also was pretty adept at sudden counterattacks. Defense on the flanks was pretty decent and got surprising close-down play from the fullbacks. They got very good use out of their bench. Bottom line: They tactically played typical Argentine football.
What Went Wrong? Didn’t make any changes in approach or personnel on the rare occasions when things weren’t working, and in their quarterfinal exit to Germany, things went horribly wrong. Quite frankly, Argentina couldn’t make the necessary changes because this team was a one-trick pony: Get the ball to Lionel Messi and everybody else get the hell out of the way. No side in this tournament leaned so heavily on one player. Trying to get one magical, blessed-by-God player to carry a team to a championship in the era of tactical rigidity and discipline and the total team whole is greater than the sum of its parts concept is just a fool’s errand. It looks good and is pleasing to watch, but like the W-M and 2-3-5 formations it just doesn’t work anymore. Until the quarterfinals teams tried to shut down Messi. It didn’t work because it created space for Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain to do their thing. Plus, Messi just has the unmatched ball skills to break down multiple defenders, so closing him down just wasn’t cutting it. But Germany didn’t waste time trying to close down Messi. Instead Joachim Loew had his two star defensive midfielders Sami Khedira and Bastien Schweinsteiger cut off Messi’s service. That is, Germany interrupted the Argentine attack before it could even get the ball to Messi. When that happened, Argentina was lost. They couldn’t get anybody to be the focal point of the attack because THEY DIDN’T HAVE ANYBODY ELSE! What’s more, when Germany or anybody else was able to interrupt the Argentine attack in the midfield, the quick counterattack was able to reveal just how soft the center of Argentina’s defense really was.
Who Stepped Up To The Plate? Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain were one of the two or three best strike partnerships in the tournament. They were able to get on the end of fantastic service in the box and were Johnny-on-the-spot on put-backs. Lionel Messi didn’t raise his game to legendary status like most of us thought he would and Argentina was counting on, but he was everywhere and did everything. Messi created virtually all of the Albiceleste attack, so if it wasn’t for him Tevez and Higuain don’t score their goals. It fell on Javier Mascherano to provide cover for the backline (God knows they needed it) and Juan Sebastian Veron to capably orchestrate the attack, and they performed capably. Fullbacks Gabriel Heinze and Jonas Gutierrez did a fine job covering the wings in the back. I liked the contributions Nicolas Burdisso, Clemente Rodriguez, Nicolas Otamendi, Diego Milito, Martin Palermo and Sergio Aguero made coming off the bench
Who Didn’t Show Up? If it wasn’t for Mascherano and Veron then we would have found out a lot sooner about how soft and deficient Walter Samuel and Martin DeMichelis really were in front of goal (a shame really; both used to be world-class centers). Sergio Romero is just another in a long line of Argentine goalkeepers going back close to 20 years who are mediocre and best and do nothing to get you wins. Angel di Maria and Maxi Rodriguez could have taken the attacking onus off of Messi some if they had been just a little better at making inroads down the flanks, but they didn’t. Even though Messi sublime ball skills create a lot of space and chances for his forward partners – and he did take a lot of shots himself – he just wasn’t able to put the ball in the net. If he had scored just one or two goals and everything else being equal, that probably would have been enough to put a scare in Argentina’s knockout round opponents, changed the complexion of those games and arguably gotten them to July 11. Just a thought.
How Was The Coaching? To say the least, flamboyant and colorful. By far the most popular coach in this tournament was Diego Maradona – and he lived up to his ostentatious persona. More passionate fan and loveable motivator to his charges than football tactician, Maradona gladly accepted the onus of getting the Albiceleste a World Cup, if not having the technical wherewithal. More mad hatter than cerebral thinker, Maradona’s antics did have a purpose: He took all the attention, and in the process kept his players from having to feel the pressure of expectations. His over-the-top exuberance and constant bear hugs put his players at ease, and created a stable team. But the pure passion, energy and motivation he relied on could only take them so far. As the Germans clinically and mercilessly picked his midfield apart, Maradona had no answers because (1) in making Messi the absolute focal point of the attack he did not have anybody else on his roster to take up the onus if Messi got shut down (“Where Have You Gone, Juan Roman Riquelme?” – sung to the tune of the famous Simon & Garfunkel song), and (2) Maradona himself didn’t have the tactical know-how to figure out what to do. As much as we all loved having El Diego around to make life interesting, I’d have to say at the end of the day his deficient roster choices combined with his lack of X’s and O’s means his coaching performance overall was seriously lacking.
Did They Finish Where They Were Expected? Well, I thought that Messi was going to become this otherworldly legend, put the side on his shoulders, and win the World Cup in spite of Maradona’s lack of tactical know-how. Clearly I was wrong. I think most observers, however, had them finishing about where they did. Of course, the people of Argentina certainly are disappointed with this finish.
Now What? Sorry, Argentina, but as much as you revere Diego Maradona, unless he learns the world-class intricacies of coaching tactical and technical football, then he has to go. Messi can still be the focal point of the attack but you would do well to get him some creative help both in the center and on the flank. Do something to develop a goalkeeper that at least approaches the consistency of the last good one you had at this level, Sergio Goycochia. And for God sakes get some decent central defenders.