At kick-off they pass the ball sweetly to the defence. They pass it around for sometime, as if to let the opposition elicit their last wishes. For what follows is poetry. With a bit of tango thrown in. That’s the way it has always been and today’s Copa America semi-final against Mexico was no different. Vive Argentina: football in free verse!
The first half was decidedly insipid by the Argentine standards. They passed the ball around, mostly in the midfield marshalled by a certain Juan Sebastian Veron. The defence was up to the task whenever called for action, with captain Ayala being in the very thick of it. Nevertheless it was unceremonious. Until that moment of magic from none other than Juan Román Riquelme: a free-kick that seemed awfully out of target, dipping precariously, drawing the goalkeeper out of position and landing on the right foot of Gabriel Heinze who drove it home without fuss. That was how the first half ended.
The next forty-five saw what could succinctly be described in one word: chutzpah! What vision in passing; what skill, with a single Tevez out-running every defender in the Mexican ranks; what disdain in the ball control of Riquelme, what exuberance in the skill of the indomitable Lionel Messi. And a million short passes to rejoice the simple pleasures of life.
The second goal of the match was more than just a goal; it was audacity in fluid motion. It seemed for Messi, with a couple of defenders by his side, and the goalkeeper rushing towards him as he approached the box, scoring was just incidental. What mattered more was how; and how? A prodigious chip that saw the three Mexicans stranded agape and awestruck.
The final goal from the penalty spot was no less spunky. Riquelme who could have tore the net apart, chose again the immaculate chip. The ball sailing to the back of the net, almost with a song on its lips, leaving the keeper prostrate at the posts with nowhere to hide.
The thing about Argentine football is that it forces you into believing that it’s all too easy, like the free verse. Yet you can hardly ignore the brilliance. The indolence of their passes, the parsimony at sharing the ball, the egotism at control and tackle – everything so distinctly middle-class, if I may use the word. The genius, I feel, lies in celebrating their suchness and with what aplomb!