I was only a toddler on June 21st, 1994, but the events of the day are burned into my memory. On that summer afternoon in Foxboro, Massachusetts, Argentina thrashed Greece 4-0 in the first round of the 1994 World Cup Finals thanks to a Gabriel Batistuta hat-trick and the long-awaited return of one Diego Maradona.
Being only a small child at the time, I was unaware of the significance that this match would play in my life. All I knew was that I was surrounded by drunken men singing in Spanish, and I liked it. I learned my first football lesson that day: witnessing a good World Cup game live is the greatest feeling in the world. Maradona became my hero; and football, my passion.
Unfortunately Maradona was promptly suspended from the World Cup for failing a routine doping test. And here I learned my second football lesson: athletes are entertainers, nothing more. You can’t expect them to be good, intelligent, and moral people. It’s not in their contracts.
This cycle of Maradona-induced extreme joy and bitter disappointment replayed itself with Argentina’s shocking 6-1 defeat to Bolivia. I had high hopes for Maradona as a manager; we all did. For some absurd reason everyone assumes that former playing legends will be excellent managers. And at first it looked as if Maradona wasn’t going to let us down.
His Argentina side beat Scotland with some style (not that it’s difficult or anything, though) and notched a victory against traditional powerhouse France before hammering Venezuela, 4-0. Spirits were almost as high off the ground as La Paz in the Argentina camp when the team prepared for its Bolivian clash. Altitude was never much of a worry; Maradona had defended games played at altitude so staunchly it was simply assumed he knew how to prep his team.
And here’s where the disappointment began. Maradona did not, in fact, prep his players for the altitude, surely something any other fool would have taken into consideration. He didn’t study the Bolivian style of play. He didn’t create a tactical plan for his players to understand and carry out. To be honest, I’m not convinced Maradona did much of anything. And it’s a real shame, because his national pride is not to be doubted. He’s just in way over his head.
But it’s important to recognize that Argentina are by no means out of World Cup Qualifying. Sure, their goal difference has taken a hit, but as long as they stay on track, they’ll be fine. This game should not be taken as Argentina falling apart, it should be taken as a warning to remember that second rule: just because they’ve got the feet of a god doesn’t mean they’ve got the brain and judgment to match.