It is with great regret that we report the passing, at the quarter-final stage, of this World Cup's most popular slapstick comedian. Diego Maradona, whose animated bobbing and weaving up and down on the periphery of Argentina's matches has made him look like a Weeble in a designer suit, could only gesticulate despairingly from the sidelines yesterday as his side wobbled and fell down 4-0 against a fearsomely impressive Germany.
Maradona, who was once the best player on the planet, became a star once again this year when he arrived for a summer season in South Africa. His erratic body movements caught the eye (especially of those standing next to him), and by Argentina's second group match he had attracted a devoted following.
Very soon, even in the matches' more frenzied moments, the camera would cut away to the apparently demented little body weebling away. Such was his range of meaningful (and meaningless) gestures as his bouncy little frame hurled itself into everything but the action that, at times, a more entertaining match was going on in the technical area than on the pitch. Maybe someone will produce for Christmas his finest St Vitus moments in a DVD set. We hope so. Otherwise, we shall not see his like again.
Unfortunately for our collective sanity, we are likely to see the England team again. The confirmation that Fabio Capello (or Postman Pat, as his players apparently call him) will retain the manager's job is one factor, and the soundness of the thrashing Argentina received is another.
Even as Maradona disappeared up the tunnel yesterday, his busy little hands sending semaphore messages to an unfair world as he went, revisionist elements were clearing their throats and voicing ominous sentiments.
"See," they said as Germany smacked yet another goal past the hapless Argentine custodian, "England weren't so bad after all." And as the fourth, unreplied score was notched they perked up even further and started to venture the idea that Gerrard & Co were really one of the better sides at the tournament. This is where you need Maradona – he had gestures for opinions like that.