December 21, 2014
Sabella should be proud
Special to the Herald from Rio de Janeiro
RIO DE JANEIRO — Alejandro Sabella is a Peronist and he likes history books. He admires Manuel Belgrano, José de San Martín and Manuel Dorrego. A few days before the World Cup in Brazil he told the La Garganta Poderosa magazine that he sympathized with the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
He said a lot in that interview, but opposition media were most horrified with that one confession. Despite his ideas having always been well-known, Sabella had never spoken so openly in public about politics. The Argentina that lost the World Cup yesterday to Germany was also an expression of his personality — a bet on teamwork, albeit inevitable, that was also counting on the individual prowess of Lionel Messi on the field. A prowess that was lacking in the last match.
This was a team that climbed the ranks of the World Cup in Brazil, growing stronger and stronger. And the dream ended up tumbling down, perhaps in one of its best matches. In the opening match against Bosnia, when the team came out with a five-man defence that had to be disbanded during half-time, few would have believed the team was going to be back in Rio de Janeiro, a city where the strategy that handed them second place was first constructed.
During the tournament, Sabe-lla constantly spoke about his squad as if it were a house built brick-by-brick.
Even with a lack of play, even without the spark of other teams, the coach must be proud. Argentina injected passion and a few drops of soccer. It was able to overpower — and at times it deserved to — a fantastic team like Germany which had humiliated Brazil days earlier. Those who’ve already started criticizing Messi for playing a poor match are correct, but they must recognize that the team was largely able to advance because of his skills.
Argentina progressed through a fascinating World Cup that had a devastating beginning with goals in every match and the comings and goings, changes in results, surprising and attack-orientated play, and the unpredictability that makes this game great. This bubble popped in the final stage of the tournament, it’s true. That tends to happen. Squads are more intensely watched because with a defeat there’s no tomorrow. But today’s image shouldn’t change the initial image we had, when we were all hoping this World Cup would never end.
Brazil organized a great World Cup. It must be said. And Brazilians even suffered a catastrophic slaughtering of goals from Germany. In a country of soccer-related suicides, disasters were avoided. President Dilma Rousseff’s government banished the criticism it received in the year and months prior to the tournament, including from FIFA. The president herself was subject to insults and heckling in stadiums, from the opening match right through to yesterday’s final in Rio. But those stadiums were the territory of the country’s white elite. It was the World Cup of protests. Those that did take place were small. And they were visible. Four kilometres from Sao Paulo’s Itaquerão stadium, a sit-in took place. Nobody covered it up. On the contrary, in the middle of the World Cup, a law was passed allowing the land to be seized and used for the construction of houses for the 5,000 families. A scandal involving the sale of Match Services — a company linked to FIFA whose CEO, Englishman Raymond Whelan, fled Brazil — was also not covered up. And the excessive spending and allegations of corruption are topics that are currently being debated.
It was going to be South America’s World Cup. Germany won. Argentina was close. It took on the task, at least, of ensuring a regional representative was in the final. Soccer isn’t the property of FIFA, despite its officials — and the businesspeople with whom they operate — acting like its owners.
Brazil must be thanked for the World Cup we enjoyed for one month. Germany, the champions, must be thanked as well, because they gave us six magnificent and unforgettable minutes against Brazil. And Argentina must be thanked, in the midst of the pain of losing, for its sporting pride. The energy it took to the field. And for having taken us this far after 24 years.