Even though he will not kick a single ball this summer, it's a surefire certainty that Marcelo Bielsa will emerge as one of the compelling characters of the World Cup. Dour and downbeat and immersed in the intensity of perfecting an Argentinian team who will start as tournament favourites, Bielsa shares the same inscrutable air as Sven Goran Eriksson without any of the Swede's easy charm.
The Argentine coach betrays little emotion and as such it was not easy to discern his pleasure or otherwise following a performance in which Argentina succeeded in narrowing a divide of 99 places in Fifa's official rankings to enable Wales to celebrate an unlikely 1-1 draw.
Almost from the start as he prowled pitchside, Bielsa looked a troubled man. Perhaps the thought kept recurring that it had not been the wisest decision to come to Cardiff. A generous offering of the commodity Wales reserves for all visitors – rain – had made it difficult to train. And while there was the advantage of sampling conditions under the Millennium Stadium roof this was not the same experience as that awaiting Argentina when they take on England indoors in June.
Any positives Bielsa could take from facing British opposition in a covered environment as preparation for their Sapporo showdown were negated by the fact that the Argentina who emerged on Wednesday night offered scant similarity to that likely to determine the readiness of Eriksson's team for worldly achievement. Just four players on show look certainties to remain in Bielsa's first choice – the two wide defenders, Nelson Vivas and Juan Pablo Sorin, Kiki Gonzalez, the left-sided midfielder from Valencia, and, of course, Juan Sebastian Veron.
Veron was a delight, dictating with a variety of passing which was invariably penetrative. As his Manchester United team-mate Ryan Giggs acknowledges, none of Veron's decisions recognises the presence of a negative option; he is the ideal fulcrum for Bielsa's team.
Despite his down-cast manner Daniel Passarella's successor encourages his players to express themselves and get at the throat of the opposition. Sorin offers pace down the left while Vivas will be familiar to English observers from his time with Arsenal. He was vulnerable whenever Giggs and the ebullient Craig Bellamy took him on although at the World Cup he can count on improved support when Walter Samuel and Roberto Ayala return.
The task of trying to limit Veron's influence fell to Simon Davies, who looks as comfortable on the international stage as he does in the Premiership. Already booked in for a return to Cardiff for next week's Worthington Cup final, the Tottenham tiro will be hoping to make strides in the FA Cup today when Spurs host Tranmere. Confidence will not be in short supply after his midweek exertions.
"It was a fabulous experience," said Davies, "and it can only help my education as player. When Spurs faced Manchester United earlier in the season I was on the bench and had a good look at Veron so I knew what he can do. Obviously, Argentina have a lot of good players to come in and they would be my number one pick to win the World Cup."
Wales have over-achieved before when faced with the likes of Brazil and Germany in friendlies only to stumble against lesser teams when it really matters and it would be easy to view this performance in the same context. However, that would be to dismiss the progress sustained under Mark Hughes, whose work in implementing a defensive shape and discipline is paying dividends. With Giggs and Bellamy alongside the imposing John Hartson, and Davies just behind, there is real potency and genuine hope for next season's European Championship campaign.Reuse content