Thursday, June 08, 2006

#2: Albicelestes


Where? Southeast South America. The most southern team in the Cup.

How big? Very big. The 8th largest nation on earth. About a third the size of the USA. Population is about the size of Spain, a little bigger than California.

Something I learned from the CIA factbook? Crazy economic fluctuations in the early 2000s screwed things up a lot, but now the economy is growing at superhot pace. GDP growth is the highest of any country in the Cup. Industrial production growth is second highest of any in the Cup. But it's not all good news. Unemployment remains high, and inflation is among the highest in the world. It's also another country with a lot of airports. What's with all the airports in the western hemisphere?

Geopolitical significance? Argentina's domestic economic crises have drawn a lot of attention, but as for international significance, there's not much since the Falkland War in the 1980s. There are a surpising number of disputes with its neighbors. For whatever that's worth.

Fun? This is so weird. Argentina is apparently known as "the techno and eletronica capital of South America". The world record for the all time largest rave was the festival called Creamfields, held in Buenos Aires in 2005. Didn't know that. Also, the best movie I've seen all year was Argentinian - Nine Queens. It's great.


Argentina is one of the best teams in the world. Their tradition is among the best, with two World Cup titles (1978 and 1986) and two more finals appearances. Argentina has qualified for each of the last 9 World Cups, and only failing to advance once (last time around in 2002). Argentina is even better in the Copa America, where they are 14 time champions.

Argentina was a finalist in the very first World Cup, but arguably their emergence into the elite of world soccer didn't come until the late 1970s. And since then, many believe the talent has only improved. Argentinian players are among the best professionals in the world, and top European clubs fall over themselves trying to sign them. The Argentinian league is pretty good too, with two of the World's great clubs in Buenos Aires - Boca Juniors and River Plate.

Qualifying for 2006 Germany wasn't as easy as it has been in the past, but it was never really in doubt, either. Argentina ended up with the same number of points as Brazil, though they won one more game, but lost one more too. Argentina actually lost 3 of their last 5 matches in qualifying, when passage to Germany was pretty much assured already.

The roster, as usual, is loaded with plenty of talent. The largest number are based in Spain, but several also play in Italy, England, Brazil and home in Argentina. Many of the best players are hitting their prime, or on the way up. It's not an older team, and several of the players will have the opportunity to make names for themselves. The central defense is strong, and experienced with Gabriel Heinze and Roberto Ayala. The midfield is younger, but still talented. Aimar and Mascherano are pretty great. Riquelme is sublime. The real problem for Argentina will be finding room on the field for all the strikers, which I think may be even better than Brazil. Crespo is experienced and stellar, and Saviola is expected to get the initial start. But the two best players on the entire roster may be initially left on the bench, though not for long. The young studs: Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez. Both could become superstars in Germany.

The group draw wasn't especially good for Argentina. I think theirs is the most difficult, since Holland is probably as good as most seeded teams, and Yugoslavia and Cote d'Ivoire both could stun people. The last thing Argentina would want to do is bow out early, considering their exit in 2002.

The opener is Cote d'Ivoire. I think Argentina starts out tepid, and only ventures forward after Drogba nets one. In the second half things get started with a PK. Then late Crespo (not Veron) scores the go-ahead, which is probably an undeserved win. 2-1 Argentina.

Argentina wants to win the second match most of all, probably, so they do not need a good result against the Netherlands. Crespo and Riquelme take advantage of a tired and beaten up Serb team. 2-0 Argentina.

The match against the Netherlands is academic for Argentina, since they've already clinched advancing (and all that's needed is a draw to seal the top spot. Argentina plays Messi and Tevez, and it works out for them, as Messi gets behind the defense and scores in the first half to go up 1-0. Argentina slows it down after that and holds on for the win.

Winning the group brings Argentina Iran in the second round. Iran is simply outclassed by a significant margin. Crespo scores, then Tevez. Then Riquelme, then Tevez again. 4-0.

The quarterfinal against Germany is one of the best games in the entire Cup. Argentina opens the scoring early, but Germany responds with two of their own. Late in the game, substitute Messi takes matters into his own hands and nets the equalizer. Extra time goes scoreless, and penalty kicks are the decider. Argentina's class scorers take care of business, while Germany's first three shooters crumble with the weight of the country on their shoulders. Argentina is in the Semis.

The luck of the draw brings Cup darlings Ukraine. I think a surprise team will make the Semis, but they won't get past here. Voronin scores the opener after Argentina directs their energy on Shevchenko. Tevez scores right back though, and then Argentina goes ahead late in the first half. The second half is a tough, defensive battle. Ukraine can't find the net again. 2-1 Argentina and they're in the Final against England, naturally.

I'll describe the final above.

The result of this Cup is a return to dominance for Argentina, though the final might sting. The young players do arrive on the scene and take over games at times. Argentina will be the prohibitive favorite in South Africa in 2010.

I've tried to write fairly about Argentina so far, but here's where I can go no further. They are my least favorite team in the world. They have all the talent in the world, but all the arrogance to go with it. And they really haven't done much of anything since Maradona was on the roster. They're always listed among the favorites, but their style of play always annoys me. No team, not a single one, relies on feinting fouls as much as Argentina. A ball played into the box will result in a forward on the ground three times as likely as a shot. Just poor. Nobody works the refs like Argentina.

And on that note... if the World Cup were March Madness, Argentina would be... a team that really emerged in the 80's, is one of the best teams year in, year out. But also hasn't won a title in some time. And a team that almost everyone really really really dislikes. They whine, they flop, they bitch and moan. Do I need to spell it out for you? D-U-K-E.

Karma. It is, indeed, a bitch.