World Cup 2022: before the semi-final against Croatia, are the Argentines the kings of provocation?

It was in 1998, during the round of 16 of the World Cup between Argentina and England. After a prolific first period (2-2), Diego Simeone decided to try to make a difference at the center line. El Cholo signed a rough intervention, from behind, on David Beckham, followed by a gesture to pretend to apologize, which itself preceded a discreet trampling of the Englishman’s back. With the VAR, Simeone would probably have been sent off. But at the time El Cholo could afford to play on the nerves of Beckham who reacted by hooking him under the eyes of the referee.

Red card for the Englishman, who will be considered the main culprit of the defeat of the Three Lions on penalties. Simeone, he will be rather celebrated in his country, where he embodied the prototype of the rough player but also canchero, to use a South American term. In VF: who knows how to play with the rules, take advantage of the slightest situation or maintain a small advantage by any means necessary.

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« No justifications » for the actions against the Netherlands

Last Friday, Leandro Paredes may have thought, like Simeone in his day, that his 89th-minute tackle, followed by a strike to the Dutch bench and a scuffle, was what his country needed as the Netherlands had just reduced the score. Rot the game to cut the Dutch in their tracks and run the clock. The very vindictive Emiliano « Dibu » Martinez will also try his hand at it by challenging Luuk de Jong, when he had just seized the ball in front of the Batavian giant. Result: the referee will decree ten minutes of additional time, the Dutch will come back to score, and Argentina, however master of their subject for 80 minutes, will come close to disaster.

Even the placid Messi will take a card. Just before this World Cup, when counting all stoppages was a very rare exception and not the rule, Paredes’ madness might have served his people. But times have changed and Argentina have come close to soul-searching what they demand of their players.

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Despite the victory, La Nación, under the pen of Cristian Grosso, also condemned the Albiceleste excesses, an exception in an ocean of jubilation. « We have players with this character, writes the journalist, a character that has allowed them to be where they are (…), which is very positive, but be careful, really be careful, there is a limit (…)« , before considering: « there is no justification for the outbursts yesterday (Friday)« .

Collective hysteria and necessary pride

But what character are we talking about? Undoubtedly the one shaped by a country where football is experienced with unparalleled dramatic intensity, where losing is synonymous with humiliation and where all means must be used to avoid this shipwreck. In selection, it is all the more advisable to show your teeth as the Argentinian internationals carry the burden of a very heavy responsibility. « We do it for 45 million Argentinians, we have balls, passion and heart“, synthesized Dibu Martinez, at the end of the meeting, while Lisandro Martinez was in tears in the mixed zone.

As Argentina have an obligation to win, the victory mostly felt like a relief. It is also the enjoyment of the adversary’s defeat. Friday, in Doha, even if the behavior of the Batavian players had been appalling during the penalty shootout, seeing the Argentines going to exult in the face of the Dutch provoked many outraged reactions around the world. A few yellow cards earlier, Messi had celebrated his goal by performing a Riquelme-style celebration in front of Louis van Gaal, an idol mistreated by the coach during his time at FC Barcelona (2002-2003).

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In 2014, during the World Cup in Brazil, the Argentinian writer Eduardo Sacheri had developed a theory on the relationship of his compatriots to football and adversity, by dissecting the words of « Brasil, decime que se siente » ( « Brazil, tell me how it feels », a song alluding to the band’s victory over Maradona in the round of 16 of the 1990 World Cup), an Argentine anthem whose first word was « Brazil » and the last  » Pelé ». « Brazil is the only recipient of what Argentina does at the World Cup, we don’t even do it for us. But for Brazil“lamented the writer, in the columns of La Nación.

Argentinian football lives in a « hysterical » environment, as ex-coach Gerardo Martino considered it a few years ago, where tolerance for defeat does not exist, nor for the opponent – because violence, visiting supporters have not been allowed in the stands since 2013 in the local championship. But how to explain the weight of football in Argentina and the excessive behavior it can cause on the pitch and in the stands? « It seems to me that we are a country that thought we were destined for great success, and something went wrongfurther analyzes Eduardo Sacheri, in Messi, the biography (Hugo Sports), but we weren’t so good; conversely we played football well, and even, remarkably well« Football then becomes a source of national pride, which it is better not to hurt.

« The Argentinian player’s personality is linked to a high self-esteem that helps him stand out in the most difficult times »

Long before Doha, long before « the hand of God », the Europeans had already been shocked by the means employed by certain Argentine teams. In 1968, after a first leg of the Intercontinental Cup where even bad boy Nobby Stiles had been mistreated – like Beckham, he had cracked down and been expelled – Estudiantes de la Plata were received with cries of « animals » when they entered the lawn of Old Trafford for the second leg against Manchester United. Hermetic to the pressure, the team led by Carlos Bilardo, the coach of the 86 world champions, had obtained a draw (1-1) which allowed them to maintain the small advantage (1-0) acquired in the first leg.

Raised in a demanding, ultra-competitive and high-pressure environment, the Argentine player is a born competitor, a general rule which obviously has its exceptions. « The Argentinian player’s personality is linked to a high self-esteem that helps him stand out in the most difficult timesconsiders the former coach, Angel Cappa. What is harmful for life turns out to be positive on the ground. I refer to the fact that any Argentine player always thinks he is much better than he is« . A confidence that can border on arrogance, or which is interpreted as such, especially in Latin America, where the Argentinian does not have good press, but where he is also this element that Mexican and Colombian clubs are tearing up. or brazilian.

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Of course – is it worth specifying? – the player born in Rosario, Buenos Aires or Cordoba does not have the monopoly on provocation or over-commitment, and Argentina is not only the country of Dibu Martinez, Leandro Paredes or Gaby Heinze. It is also that of Messi, Pastore or Redondo. His football is done »of individual lights and collective riotsas Eduardo Sacheri had declared to So Foot. This is how we Argentines play football. This is how we live. Greedy, insolent, insolvent, reckless. Passionate, innocent, chaotic. Pretentious, insecure, vivacious, arrogant. Individualistic, capable, distrustful, factious« .

And in the end, this « character » mentioned by Cristian Grosso turns out to be a double-edged sword which can also be the strength of Argentina. « Our competitive spirit, our fervor, are also the fuel that avoid misfortune« , noted the journalist to explain the ability of the Albiceleste to pull themselves together on the edge of the abyss, until winning a penalty shootout in which the provocateur Dibu Martinez would be the hero. In front of his position as television, Diego Simeone must have appreciated.

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