By Kevin Koczwara
Argentina has won the World Cup two times (1978 and 1986) and has been to the finals four times. The only year that the Argentinians didn’t qualified was 1970 (they have withdrawn their spot three other times). But they are on thin ice this year in the qualification stages, even though they have the world’s best player in Lionel Messi. If coach Maradona doesn’t bring his team back from the dead in the final stages of qualifying then this could be a historic year for the World Cup, it would be only the second time Argentina didn’t qualify.
Maradona scored wonder goals while playing for Argentina and lead the national team to the 1986 World Cup title, but maybe he is not suited to coach his peers. His team has great depth and some of the world’s best players, but they aren’t getting the results they need. The 3-1 defeat to Brazil over the weekend has hurt the team’s chances of making it to the World Cup.
Currently Argentina is fourth in the CONMEBOL table. Brazil has already secured their place in South Africa and Paraguay and Chile are looking to book their flights and accommodations as well (each just need one win). If Argentina doesn’t seal up the fourth spot then they will have to play for the fifth spot and that doesn’t mean an automatic bid.
The team slotted fifth in the CONMEBOL table must have a one game playoff with the fourth team in the CONCACAF (North America) table, which right now could be a strong Mexico squad or an unpredictable USA (I’ll get to them in a bit). So, Argentina need to win at least two of their next three games against a talented Paraguay team, a struggling Peru squad, and a Uruguay team that is snipping at Argentina’s heals. If Argentina doesn’t get two of those wins, then they could be watching the World Cup from their couches come 2010, something no one predicted a year ago.
And as for Maradona, he will surely be out a job.
The USA Needs To Stay Strong
The US needs to play out their game tonight against Trinidad and Tobago like they are playing Mexico or Honduras because they need this win. The US has 13 points and is tied for first in the CONCACAF table (behind Honduras in Goal Differential). They are only one point ahead of Mexico and Costa Rica. It is a right race in the CONCACAF and playing against the lowly Trinidad and Tobago squad is perfect for the US right now, they need all three points from a victory to help secure their plane tickets to South Africa in 2010.
The US is destined to qualify in the top four and have a chance to get to South Africa, that much is known. But what happens if they don’t finish in the top three? They have to play the fifth place team from the CONMEBOL and that could be Argentina, Columbia, Uruguay or Ecuador –all teams that will make the fourth place CONCACAF finisher shiver. So they need to secure up the max points they can get from each match, starting with Trinidad and Tobago.
Trinidad and Tobago are the bottom feeders of the final round of the CONCACAF qualifying process. They have 5 points with a -7 goal differential. This is a must win game for the US, it is the easiest obstacle down the final stretch.
What if they don’t beat Trinidad and Tobago? Then they will drop in the standings and have to win at Honduras, and at home against Costa Rica. The second is more plausible, seeing as the top teams in this round have not lost at home yet. But Winning in Honduras will be a task. It would be a major step for the US squad to win in Honduras, but that can’t be counted on yet from the squad.
So, the squad needs to buckle down tonight and but a few in the back of the net and walk away with a victory. This could also be the squad’s chance to show they are maturing. Keeping a clean sheet will be a big lift for the US squad, it will show that they are learning to defend and mark their men. A clean sheet will also show that the squad can dominate a game from start to finish, something they have yet to do.
Kevin Koczwara is the creator of The Soccer Guys, and a contributing editor and writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.