Diego Maradona says it is not impossible for Argentina to beat Germany in Sunday’s World Cup final, while suggesting he is happy his country will not face hosts Brazil.
Germany hammered Brazil 7-1 in Tuesday’s first semifinal, putting in a thrilling attacking performance that makes them many people’s favourites to lift the trophy in the tournament decider in Rio de Janeiro.
Argentina’s semifinal progress past the Netherlands was less impressive, with a penalty shootout needed after 120 minutes on Wednesday night.
However, Maradona, who led Argentina to a 3-2 victory over West Germany in the 1986 decider, said on Venezuelan TV show “De Zurda” that he was confident the current side could repeat that achievement.
“Germany is not impossible,” Maradona said. “Argentina can do it. Against Algeria, we saw one Germany, and against Brazil [we saw] another. But we all expected it to be Brazil. Argentina are going in strengthened. Once again Argentine football is back at the top. The jersey had lost prestige. Today it got it back.“
Maradona admitted the game had not been an attacking spectacle but said Alejandro Sabella’s side had been excellent in terms of the way they defended.
“Argentina did not play well, but they did not let Netherlands play well,” he said.
“That was so important. Argentina pressed them on the pitch. [Wesley] Sneijder was not allowed to have one shot at goal. [Arjen] Robben was always pushed inside. He had [Javier] Mascherano who was on top of him with [Marcos] Rojo. [Ezequiel] Garay was superb. ‘Chiquito’ [goalkeeper Sergio Romero] you cannot even talk about. I think Leo [Messi] felt tired and they marked him very well, but he played well. I want to highlight how well the defence worked, the collective work, keeping it tight.”
Javier Mascherano’s contribution was singled out for special praise by Diego Maradona.
Argentina’s 2010 World Cup coach had special praise for the current team’s leader in midfielder Mascherano, especially for his last-gasp block on Netherlands dangerman Robben late in normal time.
“‘Masche’ was exceptional,” he said. “When I said it was ‘Masche’ and 10 more, they laughed. Today they could not laugh. The example on the pitch is Mascherano. Everyone follows his rhythm. So they cannot score against us. With that one chance for Robben, ‘Masche’ is behind but he reads the danger and comes in running and throws all he has to block it for a corner.”
Mascherano himself, who was named man of the match after an immense performance despite taking a blow to his head in the first half, said in Marca that he was proud of his team but wanted to go on now and win the trophy on Sunday.
“If this group deserved anything it was this,” Mascherano said. “We played a brilliant game, we were not afraid of anything, and we know that on Sunday we will play the game of our lives. We hope to crown this with the trophy, but either way I feel so proud of this squad. It is a dream for all of us, to return Argentina to this possibility. I am happy for my teammates — they are all phenomenons.”
After an underwhelming 120 minutes, Messi converted his side’s first penalty in the shootout. The Barcelona star later wrote a Facebook message while he waited for a drug test after the game, in which he remembered Argentine journalist Jorge ‘Topo’ Lopez, who was killed in a tragic traffic accident on Tuesday night after the first semifinal.
“I was called for the drug test, and I cannot be in the dressing room at this moment,” Messi wrote. “I feel proud to be part of this squad. What phenomenons they all are, what a game they played, what madness. We are in the final. We will enjoy it … we have just one little step more to take. All the best to everyone in Argentina and a very special memory for Jorge ‘Topo’ Lopez, this win is especially for you, friend. A huge hug for the family.”