Early Doors

How will we take this man seriously?

Early Doors

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After a two-day hiatus that felt not so much like World Cup withdrawal as full-on cold turkey, we are finally ready to commence the business end of this jamboree with some Proper Matches.

Of course, with England not invited to the last-eight party, a new route in via the back door is required. Germany v Argentina certainly fits the bill, allowing us to look on enviously at two of our supposed bitter rivals for the price of one on Saturday.

So, off to Pretoria to see Argentina then, arriving ridiculously early for what turned out to be an evening training session. Honestly, these latin types.

It was worth the wait though. Not for the press conference featuring Martin Demichelis's response to his Bayern Munich team-mates' fighting talk, or for whatever reserve left-back Clemente Rodriguez (who he?) occasionally said when asked a question out of sympathy, but just to see Diego Maradona in action on the training field.

Even if the best player in the world had been on display instead of sitting out with a virus, the excitement was all about seeing a stumpy, paunchy bearded chap who these days takes on the appearance of a vagrant garden gnome pestering you for the money for a cup of tea.

He's still got the magic touch though, as displayed in abundance by repeatedly teeing up balls for his strikers to volley with the sort of deft flicks that helped make him such a footballing anti-hero.

Constantly chatting away and encouraging his players, dishing out hugs seemingly at random, he certainly looks as if he has a squad that enjoys playing for him. It's hard to imagine the same scenes during a staid training session at the England training camp.

After crossing himself as he left the field (surely unnecessary for a man who has a church founded in his name?), he found a stray rugby ball and celebrated a successful conversion over the crossbar as though it was the greatest achievement of his life.

Whereas most men of his age who have gone through as many ups and downs and lived to tell the tale have done so by adopting a cod-philosophical approach to life, Maradona has retained what can be called at best his rampant enthusiasm and at worst his utter lunacy.

The Albiceleste certainly looked like a rudderless ship under Maradona's stewardship en route to South Africa - scraping through qualification in the final match of CONMEBOL group, using over 100 different players as he did so, and then leaving out the likes of Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso once he got there.   

Everyone had been waiting to see this car crash of a team in action, eager for the rest of the world to prove to Argentina that their god was nothing of the sort, just a fallible, fat addict with no idea how to manage a football team.

Even Pele has had his two cents' worth by opening up another round of the long-standing slanging match between the pair, saying: "He is not a good coach, because he had a bizarre lifestyle which cannot go down well with his team."

Drawing criticism from the Brazil great can only be a good thing for Maradona. Pele is like the Oasis of football. Just as anyone he champions (Colombia, Nigeria, Nicky Butt) turns out to actually be rubbish, a slagging off from him can be seen as a step towards bigger and brighter things.

Argentina have played some of the best football of this tournament so far, and will certainly be a sterner test for Germany than England were (Demichelis said at the presser in Pretoria: "Seeing the way Terry played against Germany, if I was Terry I wouldn't be able to go back to my country.").

A win in Cape Town will land Argentina their first place in the last four for 20 years. Should that happen, it begs the question: when do we stop treating this man as a lovable loose cannon and start taking him seriously as a manager?

He certainly doesn't help himself with his wild antics - such as belly-flopping on to the turf in the pouring rain or promising to streak through the streets of Buenos Aires if they win the World Cup - but if anyone can get away with it, he can.

Besides, how much crazier are those acts compared to Jose Mourinho's own famous sprint down the sideline at Old Trafford while Porto boss, or being smuggled into the Chelsea dressing room in a cart full of dirty laundry?

Clearly Germany are more than capable of knocking Argentina out on Saturday, but if they don't then Maradona will be more of a hero than ever. 

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Let's get this right - Fabio is a tremendously able manager. He's one of the world's best managers and a month ago I don't think you'd have heard many people disagreeing with that. He doesn't become a bad manager overnight and I think everybody should be very measured in their considerations. Knee-jerk reactions never work best. Everybody wants someone to blame, but there are some very, very able and wise people around the FA board table and I have absolute confidence they will come up with the right decision." - FA bigwig David Sheepshanks backs Fabio Capello on Thursday afternoon.

BACK-TRACK OF THE DAY: "I think everybody is at a loss [to explain it]. It was pretty woeful in the end and nobody can deny that. I'm not going to make any excuses, there will be a proper debrief with the FA over the coming days and weeks." - FA bigwig David Sheepshanks retreats back into parapet on Thursday evening.

FOREIGN VIEW: "I know the Brazilian team played beautiful football...so did the Dutch but there is no more space for 'total' or 'samba' football these days. The sport has changed and everything goes faster. Players are fitter and teams better organised so you can't display that sort of football any longer at a World Cup." - Don't listen to Dutch boss Bert van Marwijk, not when Netherlands v Brazil is just a few hours away.

BOERMY ARMY TWEET OF THE DAY: "@EarlyBoers Perpetual Beef? Wasn't that the follow up ELP's Brain Salad Surgery?" - AndyLycett makes possibly the first ever Emerson, Lake & Palmer-based joke on Twitter in response to EB's description of Pele and Maradona's ongoing feud.

COMING UP: After a two-day break, World Cup football is back! Follow live text commentary of Netherlands v Brazil (15:00) and Uruguay v Ghana (19:30).

It's also a big day at Wimbledon as the men's semi-finals get underway. Make sure you don't miss out while the football's on by following Tomas Berdych v Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray v Rafael Nadal right here.

Plus, there's the Armchair Pundit with his daily cheat sheet, plenty of analysis from our select squad of experts, and the World Cup news ticker will be ticking away with, er, World Cup news.

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