Whether by accident or design, Maradona found a winning formula in Uruguay on Wednesday night, and, with the 1-0 victory assuring qualification, the Argentina manager used his post-match comments to let rip on his critics. "For those who didn't believe in this team, for those who treated me like shit, today we are in the World Cup," he said, aggressively releasing frustrations that had been building up over the previous week, not least for having been wrongly quoted as threatening to resign.
El Diego is not going anywhere, except to South Africa next summer, where he'll no doubt bring some colour and controversy to the tournament, not least in his choice of words. "I asked the players to give their all and they gave their all," he said after the match, adding that his detractors can "go and suck themselves and keep on sucking themselves". Later, justifying his use of language, he said, "I am black or white, I'll say what I think. I'll never be grey in my life."
Maradona had been euphoric upon the final whistle, crying tears of joy, and hugging Carlos Bilardo, the 1986 World Cup-winning manager, who is now his technical director, and with whom the press had claimed there was a rift. But in a show of unity in front of the cameras in the centre of the pitch, Maradona, Bilardo, the coaching staff, and all the players jumped up and down in celebration, singing rude songs about journalists.
Unsurprisingly, some of the press took offence. The main sports daily Ole said that the behaviour was "shameful", and described Maradona as "a hooligan, disgracefully using profanities in full view of all the world – hitting out at imaginary enemies, and falling definitively from the pedestal where we had placed him simply because he played football fantastically".
Tactically though, Maradona had a good match. Needing only a point, he set up his team to defend, and they successfully took the sting out of the game in the first half, before hitting Uruguay on the counter-attack in the second half, scoring in the 85th minute through substitute Mario Bolatti. The 4-4-2 formation worked, providing solidity at the back, and, after the first frantic 15 minutes, Javier Mascherano and Juan Sebastian Veron began to impose their quality in the centre of midfield. Argentina broke down the flanks through Jonas Gutierrez on the right, and the impressive Angel Di Maria of Benfica on the left.
Before the game, Mascherano, who had been desperately out of form in recent qualifiers, asked the manager for more support in midfield. With Veron returning from suspension, his call was duly answered. With the ball at his feet, conducting the play, there are few players in the world who can match Veron's passing range. "That's it, we've suffered, but we've made it", said Veron calmly after the match. "From the President of AFA to the last player, we all want to see a better team. Working it out together, there are a lot of things we can improve on"
Messi, the only player to have played in every game under Maradona, was, once again, on the periphery, so the manager has seven months now to find a way of incorporating him into the play more. With expectations low, even in Argentina, that could work to Maradona's advantage. There is a good team in there somewhere, and the truth is Maradona is not quite the buffoon he is sometimes portrayed, or indeed portrays himself as. Some of the criticism has been over the top and unfair, considering he inherited a squad that was in poor shape, and in decline, having won only one of seven qualifiers before he took charge.Reuse content