"You lot take it up the arse," were Diego Maradona's words to the press immediately after his team secured a place at next year's World Cup finals. It was almost adding injury to the insult when he scanned the room and added, "if the ladies will pardon the expression". Looking increasingly Botox-ridden, the angry yet victorious Argentina coach was somehow able to raise a nervous chuckle from those on the receiving end of the abuse.
He wanted to dedicate the triumph to the fans back home and especially those who bothered to cross into Uruguay, to his girls Dalma and Giannina, and to his squad, who worked like never before for the 1–0 result. "But certain people who have not supported me, and you know who you are, can keep sucking," he added.
Grotesque and undignified, Maradona then grabbed his genitals with both hands, signalling some sort of manly insult to the TV cameras in the tunnel outside the dressing room.
Argentina gutted out a big road win and good for them in doing so because the World Cup is richer with them in it, but this was not the glorious '86 Argentina that stormed to victory on the back of the best player in the world. This was the ugly duckling '90 Argentina that stumbled to the World Cup Final on the strength of solid defending and little else. Argentina created little in the way of chances throughout the match, but they did do a good job of shutting down Uruguay's offense after the first ten minutes or so. I'm at a loss to say whether Argentina won because of good defense or Uruguay's inability to make the killer pass that would unlock the backline. If I had to take a position, I would be inclined to say the latter.
When I forked over $10 to watch the game on pay-per-view, I was most interested in seeing how Maradona is able to reduce Leo Messi to a bystander. As promised, Messi was an isolated figure. Having heard Tim Vickery describe Messi's problem with Argentina several times, it was fascinating to see it play out. With Barcelona, Messi has Dani Alves at right back, flying up the flank to stretch the defense laterally and create space. With Argentina, Messi has Nicolas Otamendi, who does nothing of the sort. With Barcelona, Messi plays with strikers who present themselves for one-two opportunities. With Argentina, Messi plays with Gonzalo Higuain, who does not offer the same chances. With Barcelona, Messi can give the ball to Xavi or Iniesta in the midfield, knowing that he will get it back if he makes a good run. With Argentina, there is no such confidence.
In club play, Messi is a star wide receiver whose coach uses a variety of different methods to put him in spots to succeed. (Think Percy Harvin with Florida.) In international play, Messi is like a star wide receiver who gets bracketed by a corner and a safety on every play and whose quarterback can't get him the ball. (Think Braylon Edwards with the Browns.)
Messi's frustrations bled into his play, as he did find himself in dangerous positions on two occasions in the last half hour as Uruguay pressed for a winner. Leo wasted both opportunities. In his defense, he did play a smart ball to Juan Sebastian Veron in the move that led to the only goal. Still, Argentina need a major rethink in order to use their best asset properly. They now have eight months to find a solution. There are numerous examples of teams that looked like crap in World Cup qualifying before winning the tournament, so it's not out of the realm of possibility that this out-of-sorts Argentina side can win next summer. And if they don't succeed, we'll at least have Diego Maradona's sociological observations to enjoy.