Maradona's Mistake

Last Updated Sep 17, 2009 12:44 AM EDT

It was terrific to see Juan Martín del Potro beat Roger Federer in the US Tennis Open and provide some much needed relief to the Argentinean psyche. My wife and I have just spent two weeks in Buenos Aires on holiday and the Argentineans were in a state of despair. Far and away the topic dominating the television was the impending football match against Brazil.

The rivalry between these two giants of South American football is perhaps one of the fiercest in the world. After a particularly rough game in 1946, no match was played between the two countries for ten years. The balance of results is roughly equal (24 draws, Brazil 37 wins, Argentina 34 wins) and while Brazil has won the World Cup five times to Argentina's two, Argentina has won the Copa America 15 times to Brazil's 10. Adding spice to the competition is the constant argument by fans over who has been the best player of all time, Pele of Brazil or Maradona of Argentina.

Diego Maradona has been one of the game's most controversial players. Brilliantly talented and scoring what is known as the Goal of the Century, he is considered one of the sport's most controversial and newsworthy figures. He was suspended from football for 15 months in 1991 after failing a doping test for cocaine in Italy, and he was sent home from the 1994 World Cup in the USA for using ephedrine. Although he had little previous managerial experience, he became head coach of the Argentina national football team in November 2008.

In the lead up to the Brazil match, Maradona predicted Argentina would win because it had the better players. Even if true, for a coach to make such a comment is a terrible blunder. Besides the story being pinned up on the wall of the Brazilian team, it breaks one of the fundamental rules of team building.

A champion team will always beat a team of champions. By promoting the individual talents of the players rather than focusing on developing a cohesive team Maradona committed a major coaching mistake. Brazil ended up winning 3-1 away. While there were some brilliant individual touches by the Argentineans including a dazzling 40 metre goal by Datalo it was the teamwork of the Brazilians which was impressive. They made their few chances pay with brilliant passes while Argentina squandered the majority of possession. That night was probably the quietest in Buenos Aires for years.

Argentina was now in desperate straits with the possibility it may not qualify for the World Cup. The following week, the team had to travel to Paraguay and had to win. Unfortunately the score was 1-0 in favour of Paraguay.

As we left Buenos Aires, people were marching down the 9 July Boulevard (a daily occurrence). This time the banners they were carrying were pictures of a coffin inscribed with Maradona's name.