Language isn’t immutable. Phrases take on the very uncanny shape and form that alludes to a regional belief system, superstition, societal behavior and an acute sense of irony that are unique to a community or country. Other countries may share the same language but the context to certain sayings remain closer to home, like hand me downs.
In Argentina, one such phrase is Para qué te traje? (Why did I bring you?). Coined by legendary Argentina football commentator, Juan Manuel Bombino, it is, for all intent and purposes, a genuine football phrase. It is also one that crystallises the exasperation of the underachieving nation. From having a GDP better than the USA in the 1930s to falling through the dog's years of anarchy of multiple military dictatorships, Argentinians have a history of repeatedly being let down by the person next to them. The target of sighs of 4.38 crores of Argentinians and expelled expatriates today, is not their neighbour, or their next of kin or their money-guzzling governor, but Jorge Sampaoli.
Quite a few World Cup tournaments have been decided over the years by the star players left back at home. Most recently, Germany left Leroy Sane, Premier League’s Best Young Player, without explanation. This is done for a number of reasons: one, the player, no matter how good he is, may not necessarily fit the system. Two, there could be fitness concerns. Three, if the player is a rotten orange and does not fit the team ethos.
But what of the players who were consciously and deliberately brought to do a job? Juventus’ keg of gunpowder, Paulo Dybala has racked 68 goals and 32 assists in Serie A. This roughly translates to a goal-scoring contribution (an assist or a goal) of 0.75 per game. It boggles the mind when Cristian Pavon and Maximiliano Meza get preference over him. It’s as dubious a decision as turning up to a birthday party in a suit of pins.
Ahead of their crunch match against Nigeria, there were tell-tale tattles of revolt. A faction lead by Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano reportedly slammed their agenda and team preferences on Sampaoli table. If true, it comes as cause of little surprise. The custom of strutting into the manager’s office and undertaking a version of a coup is so routine that Argentinians even have a phrase for that.
In recent memory, Jose Pekerman, Gerardo Martino, Edgardo Bauza, Alejandro Sabella were all victims of Haciendo la cama (making the bed) when players asserted supremacy. Thus, only natural when lack of proper direction off the pitch was exhibited on it.
Outsmarting the Argentine cunning
Argentina had 69% of possession in the opening 25 minutes — but in all the wrong areas of the pitch. France were content to let players like Nicolas Otamendi and Perez have the ball, but closed in with numbers whenever either of Ever Banega and Lionel Messi was in possession. It paid off as early as the tenth minute — Kylian Mbappe picked the ball on the counter from 20 yards inside his own half and conspired to win a penalty off of an all-panic-and-limbs Marcos Rojo. Griezmann duly converted what should have been his second.
It was not like Argentina weren’t warned. A similar break produced a free-kick for France outside the D, only for Griezmann to hit the corner of the woodwork. France came in with a gameplan to pour a cold bucket of water over Argentina’s fire-and-fury game.
It was not before the 36th minute that Argentina were able to string together a sequence of passes in and around the French penalty area. With Messi and Banega being under the noses of Matuidi and Kante, the aerodynamic Angel Di Maria was able to sniff out sufficient space to let fly a shot into the top corner that should have had an accompanying vapour trail.
As far as gameplay goes, for Argentina it was mostly downhill from there despite adding the gloss of two more goals to the scoreline. In the second-half, Kylian Mbappe did his best impression of Michael Owen circa 1998, and left the Argentine defence stood like derelict pillars from a caved in wonder of the world. He rode through the scything tackles at ankle-length, off-side tripwires, and boulder-like bodychecks from Javier Mascherano, Mercado, Nicolas Otamendi, and Marcos Rojo and co. In midfield, Mascherano won the battles against Paul Pogba, but Blaise Matuidi and N’Golo Kante won the war. The old guard was falling.
The culmination of Argentina’s World Cup campaign came in one crystalline moment on the 84th minute, when in the French penalty box, Lionel Messi played a pass to himself. It was supposed to be the moment when Messi drove the ball into the top corner like a fall of a judge's hammer, but the ball moved away from him like a scorned lover, and the shot was scuffed.
On a night that should have been another waltz for Lionel Messi, ended up being a ceremonial passing of the baton to Kylian Mbappe, the scorer of two of France’s four goals, as the next world star.
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Updated Date: Jul 01, 2018 12:19:21 IST