World Cup rosters were announced during the past week to provide an indication of strategic insight, with a few teams effectively revealing their direction in South Africa. The most glaring provisional roster omissions came courtesy of France’s Raymond Domenech and Argentina’s Diego Maradona, two managers who were heavily contested during their respective qualification campaigns. Domenech inexplicably left out of France’s provisional roster both Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri, while Maradona left out Cambiasso and especially Javier Zanetti, a decision that defies any kind of logic. Dunga announced Brazil’s final roster, a group that does not stir up the impression of a World Cup champion.
As it stands, if Argentina gets to the last 8 in South Africa it will be a big accomplishment for a team that struggled immensely in the qualifiers and has shown no signs of getting past its poor form. In the aftermath of Argentina’s clinching win over Uruguay in Montevideo, a somber and reflective Veron declared wisely that the accomplishment was minimal: “We have achieved nothing, we barely qualified. Everything needs to be fixed, everything is off.” These words coming from a towering personality on and off the field registered with the Argentine public, but Maradona expressed surprise at Veron’s words. To date, there has been no sign of improvement, no cohesive movement forward. Argentina’s display against Johan Cruyff’s Catalonya in February revealed many of the same problems exposed last year during the qualifiers: players can’t be thrown on the field aimlessly, no matter who they are.
Cambiasso’s omission might be less painful, simply because Argentina already has Mascherano and Veron operating in the same space. But there will be a time when one or both will be unavailable due to cards accumulation or injury. Cambiasso, having enjoyed possibly his finest season as Inter’s midfield general, could provide cover everywhere. Diego loves Jonas Guttierez, but to evaluate Bolatti – a Fiorentina substitute, Sebastian Blanco and especially Maxi Rodriguez, who had a terrible season and barely played, ahead of Cambiasso is irrational. Undoubtedly there will be a moment when this realization will be made.
But the greatest error is leaving out Javier Zanetti, who is in incredible form and a key to Inter’s success not only this year but also in the past four or so. Zanetti is the most versatile Argentine player, he can play both fullback positions as well as in the midfield and he can run all day long. No way are Insaurralde, Clemente Rodrigues or Ariel Garce rated above Zanetti. Maradona said he picked the team with his heart, as he always does everything, but it is regrettable that Zanetti and Cambiasso are not in his heart. The most stunning decision is possibly yet to come. Maradona might keep Palermo in the squad over Diego Milito – that would be a gaffe of monumental proportions, considering the level at which Milito has been performing this year. But hey, these are matters of the heart.
France’s situation is fairly straightforward and fairly bleak. Though rich in talent, loaded at every position with tremendous players, the ineptitude of manager Raymond Domenech diminishes both the creative energy and the mental fortitude of the team. Despite its excellent players, France barely and controversially squeezed into the World Cup with an illegal goal against Ireland and seems poised for a group stage exit. The team remains very talented, but the energy under Domenech has not changed – it is an uncomfortable one, without cohesion, without unity. How could Benzema be omitted? Even on his off day he can single handedly win a game. As for Samir Nasri, the player who completed a really good season for Arsenal and is in excellent form, his omission has drawn even Arsene Wenger’s interjection. Nasri stated that he respects the decision, but would simply like to know why? Wenger called Nasri to restore Nasri’s confidence, as Domenech’s decision was not reflective of Nasri’s performance. As long as Domenech is in charge, the French have little to hope for. He will apparently depart after the World Cup and will be replaced by former national team captain Laurent Blanc, who just quit Bordeaux.
Brazil comes to the World Cup with virtually the same team it fielded last summer in the Confederation Cup. The glaring weakness of this team is its midfield: Gilberto Silva (aging, limited), Felipe Melo (off year, over-hyped), Kaka (off year, injured), Julio Baptista (aging, limited), Josue (unremarkable), Kleberson, Elano (Dunga favorite, over-estimated), and Ramires? Santos’ 18-year old sensation Neymar, a player who would have electrified the tournament, was sadly left out. Luis Fabiano, yet to rediscover his incredible form from a year ago, will spearhead the attack along with Nilmar and Grafite, two good but unspectacular players, and a roving Robinho. Another big challenge for Dunga is finding a way to play both Maicon and Dani Alves, who play the same position and are in tremendous form. In the final analysis, this Brazil team is solid, but definitely not invincible.