Argentina hope to renew faith in team in Germany
LONDON, May 5: Germany could once again go down as a watershed in Argentine football.
Argentina have something to prove at this year's World Cup after their flop in Asia in 2002, just as they needed to impress when they went to West Germany in 1974.
They did not win the 1974 tournament and the only team they beat was Haiti but at least Argentina were back in the World Cup after the ignominy of failing to qualify for Mexico 1970 and the controversy of their 1966 performance in England.
This, in Argentina's eyes and those of the world, was important because they were going to be the next hosts in 1978.
As a statement of intent that they would win on home soil four years later, Argentina in 1974 reverted to their attacking roots to erase memories of the tough defensive tactics of the 1960s and their reward was a place in the second group stage.
Mario Kempes, who went on to become the top scorer of the 1978 tournament, was a promising 19-year-old in West Germany, where Argentina started off with a 3-2 defeat by Poland in a thriller that opened their group.
They then drew 1-1 with Italy and were unlucky not to win, an own goal by captain Roberto Perfumo cancelling out Rene Houseman's brilliant strike from Carlos Babington's fine pass.
A 4-1 win against Haiti and Italy's 2-1 loss to Poland put Argentina through at the expense of an Italian team full of big names who had played in the 1970 final.
While Poland went on to finish third in the tournament, Argentina then lost 2-1 to arch-rivals Brazil, were thumped 4-0 by Johan Cruyff's superb Dutch side and held East Germany 1-1.
The team's performance may have met with approval in Europe but it was criticised back home and several players in the squad called it a disaster, highlighting the lack of organisation or tactics.
Captain Perfumo said: ''We had good defenders, good midfielders and good forwards but each pulled their own way.'' More
However, it was a creditable showing in light of the problems that beset Argentina in the build-up to the tournament, the kind that had regularly undermined the national team previously. Omar Sivori, the late Juventus great, had steered Argentina through the qualifiers after his talented, young side had beaten West Germany 3-2 in a friendly in Munich in February 1973.
But he walked out over differences with the Argentine Football Association (AFA) and was replaced by Vladislao Cap, who took charge of his first match less than two months before the World Cup -- shades of 1966 when Juan Carlos Lorenzo was handed the job just before the tournament in England.
JOB SECURITY The appointment of Cesar Luis Menotti in late 1974 marked the beginning of the modern era for Argentina when coaches were given greater job security, saw their tenures through and won two World Cups.
Carlos Bilardo, however, came close to a premature chop in 1986 when he and his team, captained by Diego Maradona, were already on their way from Buenos Aires to Mexico City and playing badly in warm-up games.
Argentine government officials called for Bilardo's head but AFA president Julio Grondona stood by his man and Maradona led the team to glory.
Being favourites does not seem to sit well with Argentina.
Marcelo Bielsa took his team to Japan four years ago as outright favourites after the country's best qualifying campaign only for Argentina to suffer their worst tournament in 40 years, going out at the group stage as they had in Chile in 1962.
This year, near identical 3-2 defeats by England and Croatia after they led until the final minutes in warm-up games have cast doubts over Argentina's chances in Germany.
Questions are being asked at home and abroad about coach Jose Pekerman's ability to end the hurt of 2002 but he feels safe in his job and is an inherent believer in the quality of Argentina's players.
Kempes, who emerged in Germany in 1974, delivered in 1978, Maradona inspired Argentina to victory in 1986 and Pekerman is now putting his faith in Juan Roman Riquelme and Lionel Messi.