Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Maradona Hoping for Divine Intervention

This can't be good: Your coach is asking for the intervention of the Almighty to get his team to South Africa 2010. It's come to that?

Yes, we have more on Diego Maradona, who seems to fascinate the soccer world. Maybe because he has stood at such heights but also plumbed such depths?

That's the big picture. The smaller one, and more relevant to this discussion, is his role as coach of Argentina's struggling national team.

Maradona is now asking for God to take sides, at least when it comes to his team.

Argentina, one of the dozen most significant soccer-playing countries on the planet, has two South America qualifying matches left, and it could see its 2010 World Cup situation go one of three ways -- one good, one less good, one quite bad.

To wit:

1. Argentina wins one of South America's four guaranteed berths in South Africa by gaining at least one draw from its next two matches -- and getting help (from Uruguay or Chile) against Ecuador, currently sitting fourth. How much help depends on whether Argentina accrues six points, four points, three points, two points or one point from its games -- at home Oct. 10 vs. Peru, on the road Oct. 14 vs. Uruguay. For example: One point requires that Ecuador lose twice (for starters, because Uruguay, Venezuela and Colombia remain in contention). Six points means Argentina is in the top four unless Ecuador also wins twice (or Chile loses twice).

2. Argentina finishes fifth and moves into a home-and-home playoff with the No. 4 team out of Concacaf, which could be the United States, Mexico, Honduras -- but most likely Costa Rica. Argentina will be favored to advance, in this scenario, but given what it has done of late ...

3. Argentina finishes sixth, and is done until the 2014 World Cup.

The story here is that Argentina is in trouble, at all. Here are the standings in the continental qualifying.

Finishing behind Brazil; no shame there.

It's the idea of finishing sixth, behind some good-but-not-great soccer powers (Paraguay, Chile, Ecuador and, say, Uruguay) that has the soccer world puzzled.

In terms of the standings, it's simple: Argentina has lost four of its last five qualifiers, under Maradona (four of six since he was named coach, in November of last year), including a 6-1 drubbing at Bolivia and a 3-1 home spanking at the hands of Brazil. Which is why Argentina is 6-4-6 (victories, draws, defeats) and has slipped to fifth place.

Maradona has been down the road with God before. At least in his own mind. He prefers the description "hand of God" when referring to his handball that was erroneously counted as a goal against England in the 1986 World Cup semifinals. Maradona may see God's handiwork there, but we are fairly certain Providence would not show his favor by allowing you to cheat successfully.

Our sense always has been that supernatural beings are hands-off, when it comes to sports results. They leave it to simple humans to figure it out. To suggest God or Allah or Yahweh (et al) wanted you to win and saw to it that you did ... is more than a little insulting to the other sides. (God hates loves Diego and Argentina but hates Ecuador?)

Argentina will rise of fall on the merits of its players, which are obvious and well-known, or the merits of the team's coach -- which are questionable and, apparently, require divine intervention as part of the program.

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