Maradona Sceptics Vindicated – As Germany Becomes The Team To Beat

Argentina had become the darlings of the tournament. But their march through the tournament, while done in style, in retrospect failed to provide the sort of defensive and organizational test that Argentina would confront against the Germans. In the end, coaching and tactics matter. Germany had a great coah – one that was able to get his young team to play exciting organized attacking soccer as a unit. Argentina had a poor coach – one that was outdone tactically and that placed the hopes of a country on the brilliance of his individual players, instead of on the team as a unit.

Maradona tactically got it all wrong. He had put out a team built to dominate a lesser side. Playing a 4-3-3, Argentina essentially had one player in the center of the midfield – Liverpool’s Javier Maschereno. Maschereno is one of the best defensive midfielders in the game, but he is not a distributive creative central midfield player. He is the guy who plays alongside that player and wins back the ball so his team continue their attacking work. Yet Maradona had him essentially playing on his own in the central role. He was outmanned 3-1. The Germans played a 4-2-3-1 – with the impressive Schweinsteiger playing alongside another deep lying player and Mehmet Ozil roaming further up field behind Klose. Ozil in the end had a quiet game, not because he played badly, but because he became redundant, as the Germans simply marched through the central midfield in loads of space playing in wider players Podolski and Muller through. Germany’s midfield dominance was so great in the first half that they could have gone in 2 or 3 up.

On the offensive side, with star studded attackers and the best play of the world, Argentina was able to dominate lesser quality teams in South Korea, Nigeria, and Greece. Against Mexico, Argentina got two fortunate goals and were lucky not to have gone down early – when Mexico hit the bar and missed narrowly wide. But the Argentine attack in each game seemed dependent on the quality of their individual brilliance, not their ability as a collective to break down the opponent. One might say fair enough, a team lead by one of the greatest individual players of all time, and which has perhaps one of the greatest players of all time, might as well expect one of their great players to find that moment of brilliance.

Yet the Germans were well organized and their central midfield dominance forced Messi and Tevez to come deep to pick up the ball. When Messi got the ball he was surrounded, with the German defense always shaded to prevent Messi from cutting on to his favorite left foot. Due to their skill, the Argentine strikers indeed created some chances but none really looked all that threatening.

Germany in contrast looked threatening as a unit. Their crisp, quick passing consistently unlocked the slow Argentine backline. When one rarely thinks of the Germans as exciting or entertaining when it comes to soccer, instead organized, methodical and discipline come to mind. But this German team has all those traits. Soccer is a team game, and it is often very hard for national teams – who only play together for a short period together – to really gel as one. The Germans – more so than any other nation in this tournament – have gelled as one. And that has made their play crisp and exciting.

As a manager Maradona deserves a lot of heat. The first mistake was when Maradona announced his squad for the World Cup, a lot of heads were scratched, as Inter Milan’s holding midfielder Estaban Cambiasso and legendary left back Javier Zannetti were left out. After watching today, one has to think that was a catastrophic mistake. Cambiasso could have helped even things out in the midfield and Zannetti would have been a huge upgrade at left back. But in a reflection of Maradona’s tactical naivety, these players were left out in favor of a team full of strikers. And that in the end was Argentina’s ultimate downfall – they had no balance.

While the World Cup squad choices limited Mardona’s options during the game, his failure to make tactical changes within the game when things weren’t going well was malpractice. At half time, Argentina had to get a handle on the midfield, yet nothing was done. No change was made to aid Maschereno. They needed a playmaker, a two-way central midfielder, but Maradona never turned to the aging Juan Sebastian Veron – who was supposed to play that role. Instead, the ineffective Maxi Rodriguez continued on. The changes didn’t come until it was too late.

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