Saturday, 12 June 2010

Argentina v Nigeria

Argentina 1 - 0 Nigeria
Heinze 6

He didn't score, but this game was all about Messi and his phenomenally intimate relationship with the ball. My notes say one thing all the way through. Messi runs again. A rather scatological image, perhaps, but it captures the flavour. Actually I shouldn't be making you think about the flavour of Messi runs, so let's just say they're a sight to savour.

I was a bit torn before the game. On the one hand, Maradonna hardly cuts an engaging figure even once we set aside nationalist petulance (and if we don't who will?), and we all want the African teams to do well. On the other hand, I've got Argentina in the sweepstake at work.

Which apparently continues as normal. I'm on holiday for a few weeks, obviously, but I understand that people are still going in and doing their jobs, in some cases even when games are actually on. Noble, stirring stuff, and I'm sat in this chair, drinking beer and thinking of you guys. No slacking now.

So I really wasn't sure who I wanted to win. In the end I just settled for supporting Barcelona, while keeping half an eye on the supporting cast. For although it was mainly about the maestro, all artists need a form to express themselves, and paradoxically it's the constraints of that form that make creative freedom possible. Just as Shakespeare used the structure of the five act play to give us Romeo and Juliet, and Sondheim needed the conventions of the musical theatre to turn it into West Side Story, all Messi's brilliance happens within the context of a game of football.

Argentina got the early goal they needed, with a Heinze header from a corner. It was well taken from some way out, but why no Nigerian went with him remains a mystery.

No more goals were scored, but there were some good performances from the chorus line. Yobo defended very well for Nigeria, and Enyeama in goal kept the score respectable. Odiah did brilliantly considering his name is actually pronounced Oh dear, which made it sound like the commentator was disappointed every time he got the ball. A lifetime of that must surely get you down, but he didn't let it ruin his big day.

For Argentina, Gutierrez did as well as could have been expected with Maradonna's bizarre decision to play him at right back, a position he'd never be seen in for Newcastle, and Tevez was always there or thereabouts. Higuain was busy, although his finishing was poor.

And you can always rely on Mick McCarthy to cast en entertainingly amoral light on proceedings. When Messi and Enyeama collided, he charmingly described Enyeama's decision not to plant both knees in Messi's chest as charitable. Personally I manage not to double-knee people in the chest most days without thinking it makes me more like Oxfam, but you have to admire the kind of footballing mind that can look at the most enchantingly skilful footballer in the world and think I could really stick a knee or two into him.

You never quite felt Argentina were safe, and Uche had a great chance to equalise for Nigeria at the end, but the ball just bounced up on him. It's been doing that a lot. Wild and free, it resists corralling by lesser spirits. Only Messi the Ball Whisperer can tame it.

A good start for Argentina, then. Later, England.


  1. I don't think the Argentinians were as good as everyone else seems to. Suspect in defence and a bunch of talented individuals in midfield and attack but not a team. A better team and a tactically clever coach will be the undoing of them. Given the draw they've got though they could easily still make it to the semis.

  2. After two minutes, the commentator said Argentina were going to have real problems with their organisation, with Gutierrez trying to be a defender.

    Two minutes later, he basically said "what the hell, they've got Messi, they'll be fine". That's until they play someone top class, anyway.

  3. Incidentally, Dave, are you Dave H, Dave S, or another Dave?

  4. Dave S - as you will see from my soon to be added comment on the Slovenia game