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Friday, March 31, 2006

"Argentina are the second best team in the world, and there is no higher praise than that."

Well, if it only depended on talent, they might be second best. But these guys aren't exactly stars at playing together. Maybe the problem is that there aren't many outfield players who fit into one obvious category. It makes drawing up a squad list into quite a task, too. Is Aimar a forward or a midfielder? Is Sorin really just a defender? What about Zanetti?

In this spirit, TDH presents 20 outfield players along a spectrum, running from out-and-out striker to last-man defender, plus three keepers. So here's the list, with some reasons why.

Julio Cruz (Inter Milan) - Sometimes La Seleccion, despite its taste for scrappy kids rollicking around up front, will simply need a battering ram. Cruz is it, and he's had good success in Italy this year.

Hernan Crespo (Chelsea) - He can be silent for ages at a time, but he always seems to show up out of nowhere when the Blues need a goal. A supersub early in the season (and perennial top three man in TDH's goals per 90 minutes) he's rested and has recently become used to the starting role.

Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - If he's healthy, he gives you a cutting edge on the right or in the center. He works well with Riquelme in the Ronaldinho role.

Sergio Aguero (Independiente) - A stocky kid like Tevez, he also shares Carlito's combination of striking and playmaking skills. His style, however, is completely different; more slicing, less scrabbling.

Carlos Tevez (Corinthians) - A non-stop worker who can sit behind or to the side of a bigger forward, he's the Young Joe of the squad, probably destined to play on the wing.

Pablo Aimar (Valencia) - An understudy for Riquelme, as far as most people are concerned, and not so well-liked at home. But as you can doubtlessly see, loyal readers, the Argentines can - and may have to - play more than one kind of game: small and quick, or a more conventional 4-4-2 with big forwards. In the latter, you'd want Aimar, rather than Riquelme, as your Fat Frank.

Juan Roman Riquelme (Villareal) - The puppetmaster of the front half, when he's on his game. The key will be to find midfield combination who can protect him and yet still feed him from behind.

Maximiliano Rodriguez (Atletico Madrid) - A young midfielder who can score a goal or two as well as commanding the center pretty competently; he could make a mean combination with Aimar in a second-string or English-style XI.

Luis Gonzalez (Porto) - More midfield backup. But the man has a tattoo of Maradona's signature, which must count for something.

Juan Sebastian Veron (Inter Milan) - Cambiasso desperately needs a solid and trustworthy partner. In the past, Argentines looked to Veron to do everything, driving the entire offense and anchoring the first line of defense as well. Now that Riquelme is doing the first part, he can do the second. And guess what? He just happens to play with Cambiasso week-in, week-out.

Esteban Cambiasso (Inter Milan) - The locals have gone off him a bit; a female friend of TDH recently called him "a bad Redondo, and Redondo was pretty bad." But with Veron as his partner, he's shown an ability for calm distribution.

Javier Zanetti (Inter Milan) - The old leftist still has plenty of fight in him, and he's shown that he can play the holding midfield role as well as most. He makes a great combination in the locker room, too, with his humility and patriotic drive.

Martin Demichelis (Bayern Munich) - La Seleccion need this man, if only because he's one of the few genuinely big bodies at their disposal. He's been playing in midfield lately, but he should probably drop back into defense against teams with big strikers... a category that includes, as TDH has pointed out before, every other team in Argentina's group.

Juan Pablo Sorin (Villareal) - Sweeper, libero, whatever you want to call it, he's it. His runs forward can leave the back exposed, and his shot is so terrible that it's been banned on three continents. But, let's face it, he has a nifty habit of disrupting whatever the opposition is up to.

Daniel Diaz (Boca Juniors) - Diaz isn't known to many outside Argentina, but he's a mature defender and a dangerous attacker, too. He brings experience and a fine work ethic.

Gabriel Heinze (Manchester United) - If he's healthy, he's a lock. His earlier games for Manure were world-class.

Walter Samuel (Inter Milan) - Samuel's best days are over, but it would be hard not to pick him. He'll be calm in a crisis, of that there can be no doubt. If Sorin goes down injured, he'll anchor the defense.

Lionel Scaloni (West Ham) - With Crespo and the ill-starred Julio Arca, he's the third Argentine to hold down a starting role in the Premiership. Think of him as La Seleccion's Luke Young.

Roberto Ayala (Valencia) - When he's healthy, one of the most consistent defenders in the game; benched in the last Cup, but still worth a spot in the squad.

Nicolas Burdisso (Inter Milan) - Yet another Argentine who wears the black and blue stripes these days, he's a creditable backup in central defense.

German Lux (River Plate) - No movie star, but competent; he'll be a solid number two.

Abbondanzieri (Boca Juniors) - The people's favorite, but he looked like a complete muppet in the first half against Croatia. He showed his natural saving ability later, but that's not enough.

Leo Franco (Atletico Madrid) - Franco is hot right now, having saved two penalties against Sevilla, and he seems to 1) care more than Lux and 2) have more professional confidence than Abbondanzieri.

After the sorry display against Croatia, Pekerman will want to shore up the midfield. It wouldn't be such a bad idea to rely on his veteran defenders a bit more, either. Argentine teams often play a 2-2-2-2-2, and that's pretty much how TDH's sees La Seleccion's starting lineup. Let's try a 4-2-2-2, in any case: Crespo and Messi; Riquelme and Tevez; Cambiasso and Veron; Heinze, Sorin, Demichelis and Zanetti; then Franco.

TDH has knowingly left out possibles like Diego Milito and Javier Saviola (two regular scorers), Javier Mascherano (a promising but unproven youngster), Palacio (Boca's rather boring but effective starlet striker), Colocchini (villain of the Croatia game, in TDH's opinion), and recent in-form man Daniel Montenegro. There's still room for Pekerman to wiggle. But TDH believes he'll be best served by picking the players who'll know their roles and work together, rather than the darlings of the hype machine.


Blogger the Maradona of Malawi said...

redondo was awesome. I will brook no argument.

The guy was honest too. He tried to give milan back his wages after his injury troubles.

2:21 PM  
Blogger The American Geordie said...

Ha, just making sure you were paying attention there, Mara. But seriously, that's what my friend said about Redondo. There's a very admirable breed of female football fans here, I have to say.

And now that I think about it, does giving back your wages make you "honest"? I think it makes you "generous" or even "stupid", since the clubs are all insured against their players' injuries, right? At the very least, they know they're taking a risk whenever they sign someone.

7:36 PM  

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