Madness and magic from Maradona’s motherland
It is hard to know exactly what Wednesday night’s friendly between Argentina and Haiti was for.
Most Argentines will tell you that it was so that AFA could drum up the money to pay Maradona’s contract. If we take this logic – that a national team plays friendlies to cover their coach’s wages – then England would have had to play 88 friendlies since Capello took over as coach, because the FA pay Don Fabio eight times as much as Don Diego receives from AFA.
Another reason was solidarity with the people of Haiti. After the devastating earthquake that, killed tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of Haitians, the game organisers promised to send part of the gate to the country.
For Maradona, it was another chance to kick up a storm, this time over a warm-up game ahead of the World Cup that has been cancelled last minute.
For most of the Haiti players, substitutes and coaches, and entourage, it was the opportunity of a lifetime to get a photo with Maradona.
It was also the final adios to Ariel Ortega in the national team.
The main reason was that come Monday, Maradona will have whittled the 108 players he has called up down to a provisional squad of 30. That group will be slimmed down to the official 23-man world cup squad just days later.
The idea of the Haiti friendly was to try out a few players based in Argentina. But if we cut to the chase, while most of us wondered just why on earth these two sides were playing, the real reason was to find another excuse to take Martin Palermo to the World Cup.
Sure enough, that excuse came. The match stats will suggest that the reason came in the 42nd minute, when Palermo scored (yes, it was a header). But the real reason came in the second minute. After the game Maradona called it a bomb. Palermo called it a banger.
Whatever it was, Boca’s barra brava, La Doce, threw an explosive device onto the pitch at the very beginning of the match, which landed a few steps from the striker cut Palermo’s face. Blood poured from his chin. Everyone nodded sagely about how lucky it was not to catch him in the eye. Everyone agreed how disgraceful it was that it happened. The TV commentators commendably criticised the idiots who threw it. But nobody will do anything about it.
The point is the banger/bomb added further drama to the Palermo story. It was another ingredient for the biography that has created an aura around the striker, and convinces vast sectors of the media and supporters that he is a charmed being, and therefore must go to the World Cup to help Argentina conquer the world.
No, nobody talks about those three penalties against Colombia anymore.
For all the goals that Palermo has scored for Boca, and for all the triumphs over adversity, it remains hard to look beyond a basic issue.
Palermo is going as the player to be thrown on with three minutes left when Argentina need a goal. With Milito, Tevez, Messi and Higuain, not to mention Di Maria, Pastore, Veron and so on, shouldn’t they be developing a system to simply score more than everyone at the World Cup?
Barring drastic last-minute changes, Palermo will be on the flight to South Africa. In all probability there will be no Lisandro Lopez. There will also be no Pablo Aimar. For other reasons there will be no Juan Roman Riquleme. But there will also be no Esteban Cambiasso. No Lucho Gonzalez. No Fernando Gago. No Gabi Milito. No Ever Banega. No Javier Zanetti!
Instead, the talk in Argentina is what a shame Rodrigo Brana is injured. Or that Juan Mercier could provide back up for Mascherano. If you haven’t heard of them, which is completely understandable, they are both excellent midfielders plying their trade in Argentina. But playing for Estudiantes or Argentinos Juniors is not the same as playing for Inter, Valencia, or Marseille.
The friendly with Haiti kept a debate going about certain home-based players deserving to go to the World Cup, which was, in normal situations, a non-starter from day one.
From Leo Messi to Cristian Villagra, Maradona has given a fair crack of the whip to Argentine footballers - 108 of them have had their chance to earn a place in the World Cup squad.
The problem is that some have been given a fairer, and longer, crack at it than others.
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