Tag Archives: argentina

When a Win Feels Like a Draw, and a Draw Feels Like a Loss

The first game in this group was set to feature a set of superstars versus a young upstart squad.  The second game was supposed to have a continental champion overwhelm an also-ran; fail on this one as well.

What a disappointing performance from Argentina.  Expecting a fearsome foursome at the top, Alejandro Sabella decided to drop Gonzalo Higuaín and Ángel Di María, plus he fielded essentially six defenders.  So it’s no shocker that they only led at the half because of an early own-goal from Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Higuain's introduction was critical

Higuain’s introduction was critical

Sabella changed it up at the half and brought on Higuaín and Fernando Gago.  More option meant more men for the Bosnians to defend against and that allowed Lionel Messi to score.  Check out the goal here… Messi makes his run, passes it to Higuaín, who gives it right back to Messi, who hadn’t stopped running until he’s ready to take his shot, and then it’s in.  Bosnia would get one back late but that was it.  Argentina 2-1 Bosnia & Hezegovina

As for today’s match, let’s just say Nigeria blew their best chance at three points in this group.  Iran was content to batter down the hatches, but as the game went on, so did the Persians’ sense of adventure.   Stephen Keshi’s frustration showed early when he subbed on Shola Ameobi for Victor Moses in the 52nd minute… and then Peter Odemwingie for Ramon Azeez in the 69th.  Neither Ameobi nor Odemwingie exactly lit up the Premier League this season… and their work rate was no better today.  Nigeria dominated possession… but as we so often see, possession means nothing.  This  World Cup gets its first draw after five days of play.  Iran 0-0 Nigeria

Brent P. Lanthier

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World Cup 2014 Preview: Groups E & F

Argentina v Mexico: 2010 FIFA World Cup - Round of SixteenThese two groups offer one sure thing — Argentina will go through on top — and then a bunch of questions.  Are Switzerland really sixth in the world? Have France overcome their attitude problems*?  Can Ecuador/Honduras/Iran/Nigeria push away the perception biases against their continents and actually challenge the European/South American powers?

Albanian blood, Swiss heats

Albanian blood, Swiss hearts

GROUP E
Switzerland’s football team is a reflection of the country itself: a multicultural nation whose style is cold and boring. That is, of course, unkind (the bit about being cold and boring) but you can’t argue that Switzerland is a very defensive team. That’s because the Swiss play to their strengths.  Goalkeeper Diego Benaglio and LB Ricardo Rodríguez both had decent seasons with Wolfsburg, likewise RB Stephan Lichtsteiner with Juventus.   Napoli midfielders Gökhan Inler, Velon Behrami and Blerim Džemaili join Bundesliga wunderkinds Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri.  This is a team marshaled by the great Ottmar Hitzfeld, a man whose club pedigree is as great as any manager in the tournament.   This team made it into the World Cup because they won a weak group.  That doesn’t mean they’ll be pushovers.  ROUND OF 16

Deschamps seems to have cleared out the rot in the French team

Deschamps seems to have cleared out the rot

Over the last six years, France‘s national side has been the very opposite of disciplined.  The side revolted against its manager, Raymond Domenech in South Africa, and the team failed to get out of the group stage.  Then in Euro 2012, a dressing room bust-up after losing 2-0 to Sweden in the final group game resulted in the firing of French legend Laurent Blanc.  That era appears to be over.  Didier Deschamps has put together a very competent team that is short on star power, but no less flashy.  The biggest name here is Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema, after Franck Ribery was ruled out through injury.   From that infamous Sweden match, only four players remain: captain Hugo Lloris, Mathieu Debuchy, Benzema, and Olivier Giroud.   This year’s World Cup Squad only features five other players who even travelled to Ukraine.   The problems are gone, the pedigree remains.  QUARTER-FINALISTS

Ecuador has Valencia... and not much else

Ecuador has Valencia… and not much else

When Ecuador played England, many outlets wrote about how the South Americans gave England a good run, and how the heat makes a difference, and blah blah blah blah.  Here are the facts: 1) Ecuador won seven of their eight home qualifying matches (plus they drew Argentina) because they play in Quito, a city sitting at almost 2900m.  But away from home, they managed only an 0-3-5 record.  That’s basically saying they advanced because their opponents couldn’t breathe.  2) They perpetuate old stereotypes about South American teams that don’t score, but kick the hell out of their opponents.  3) They only have one player who regularly started in a major European league, Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia. This side snuck in because they had a better defensive record than Uruguay. That won’t help them here. THREE AND OUT

This is his face when it's just a friendly...

This is his face when it’s just a friendly…

More of the same from Honduras.  Only Maynor Figueroa and Wilson Palacios have any big league experience (and let’s please not muddy the waters by countering that MLS or the Scottish Premier is big league).  They will be strong on the ball (why physicality is so prized in the Western Hemisphere, I’ll never know) but their fate will be the same as fellow CONCACAF qualifiers, Costa Rica.  THREE AND OUT

GROUP F

Could this be King Leo's year?

Could this be King Leo’s year?

Argentina will perform well at this World Cup for many of the same reasons as the hosts: a well-rounded squad (though not as good as Brazil), a tournament based in South America, and a fairly easy progression into the knockout stage.  One thing that Alejandro Sabella’s men won’t have to contend with is pressure… not on the scale of Brazil’s pressure anyway.  But Argentina haven’t won a trophy in almost 30 years, and they must think they can pull an Uruguay, circa 1950 against their old foes.  La Albiceleste boasts the scariest offence in this tournament: Gonzalo Higuaín, Sergio Agüero… and of course, Lionel Messi.  The three share an understanding… and just behind them is Ángel Di María looping in and out from the right wing.   A dream final between Brazil and Argentina is possible in a tournament promising several tasty end-scenarios.  SEMI-FINALISTS

"Uh, question? Why am I the only striker?"

“Uh, question? Why am I the only striker?”

The  build-up to Bosnia-Herzegovina‘s maiden World Cup appearance was fun to watch, as Safet Sušić built a team to attack.  The Bosnians tore through a relatively weak group, scoring at least three goals in six of their 10 qualifiers.  But this is not qualifying and now it appears the coach has had a rethink in World Cup warm-ups, adding an extra defensive midfielder and playing with a solitary striker.  In fact, he’s only bringing two out-and-out strikers: Eden Džeko and Stuttgart’s leading scorer, Vedad Ibišević.   Roma’s Miralem Pjanic will likely play just behind Džeko, but what about the rest of the side? This is a team that should be proud of its accomplishments, 20 years after a devastating war.   But the party is over.  THREE AND OUT

Hey it's... that guy... and... yeah...

Hey it’s… that guy… and… yeah…

It’s not a good sign when the biggest name on the team is the manager.  Former Portugal and Real Madrid manager, Carlos Queiroz has taken Iran to Brazil.   This is a side that is reportedly ill-prepared for the tournament (the government is a police state and the team doesn’t have a lot of resources).  The assumption is that Queiroz will make them very defensive… and no one wants to see that.  They won’t make it to the 60-minute mark, let alone the knockout round.  THREE AND OUT

Moses, Emenike, Mikel... get used to hearing that combination.

Moses, Emenike, Mikel: get used to hearing that combination.

Pride has been restored to the one of Africa’s biggest footballing nations.  Nigeria took the 2013 African Cup of Nations, winning it for the first time since 1994.  That was the same year the Super Eagles won the group at USA ’94, where they took Italy to extra-time in the Round of 16.  In France ’98, the same thing: winning the group by beating Raúl’s Spain and Stoichkov’s Bulgaria.  Since then, they have qualified for two more World Cups and finished dead last in their groups.  This tournament’s squad features a quality mix of young forwards: Victor Moses and Ahmed Musa are both only 21, while Emmanuel Eminike is the veteran at the ripe old age of 27.   Stephen Keshi is bringing six strikers to Brazil.  What does that tell you? They came to play.  ROUND OF 16

 Brent P. Lanthier

*The team, not the nation;  changes, not miracles.

Up Next: Groups G & H

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Between Messi and immortality, a world of pain

As the undisputed king of football, Leo Messi has already secured his place in the game’s history. La Liga champion? Check. Copa del Rey winner? Check. Champions League winner? Check. European Footballer of the Year? Been there. FIFA World Player of the Year? Done that.

But all the accolades don’t seem to be enough for some pundits to consider Messi to be the greatest of all time. The critics argue Messi isn’t Messi without his Barcelona buddies by his side. Put on the Albicelestes colours and his magic disappears. To be the best, they argue, requires winning the one trophy that has been held above all others – the FIFA World Cup. Win that, Leo, and the debate will be over.

His quest begins again this Saturday, when South America kicks off qualifiers for Brazil 2014. And make no mistake: if Messi is to be a World Cup winner, getting there won’t be easy. The CONMEBOL qualification tournament is regarded as the toughest in the world, agrueling three-year cycle in which every South American team competes in home and home round robin tournament. The top four automatically qualify, with the fifth place team going to a playoff round against an Asian team. There are no easy matches in South American qualifying anymore, no Faroe Islands, Maldives, or St. Lucia’s to beat up on. Every match is war.

Don’t believe me? Check out the semi-finalists from this year’s Copa America: Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela. No Argentina, nNo Brazil… and no gimmes. Every game will be tight, physical and challenging. At the end of a South American qualifier, the players look as if they were in a rugby match, not a football match.

For any player, the World Cup is the ultimate prize. To win it as an Argentine in Brazil would be even sweeter. For Lionel Messi to lift the trophy, he will have to go through football hell. That is the high price of immortality.

Hadi Zogheib

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Batista stakes his claim in Argentina

When Sergio Batista was given the reins of Argentina’s national team on an interim basis, reactions in his home nation were mixed.  Some were still mourning the resignation of national icon Diego Maradona, while others were hoping for a different gaffer, one with some managerial experience in Europe or  Argentina’s domestic league.  After all, Batista was coming off a horrendous experience with the youth squad, having failed to guide Argentina to the World Youth Cup for the first time in recent memory.

Some, however, remember Batista as the brilliant tactical manager who ledArgentina to Olympic gold at Beijing in 2008.  In the process, he found a way to get the most out of his best players, namely Leo Messi, Angel Di Maria and Javier Mascherano. So how would he perform at the senior level?  The answer, thus far, is magnificently.

Unlike Maradona, Batista has stacked his midfield and defence with more  possession based players, and the results have been astonishing.  Nicolas Ottamendi, Di Maria, and Maxi Rodriguez were replaced by Ever Banega, Esteban Cambiasso, and Javier Zanetti and Argentina has looked unstoppable since.  In fact, following Tuesday’s 4-1 demolition of world champions Spain, supporters of the Albicelestes are no doubt be wondering what could have been had Batista been in charge in South Africa instead of Maradona.

Batista still has a number of upcoming friendlies to justify his appointment as permanent manager, including a match against hated-rivals Brazil. But if the big win over Spain is any indication,  he looks certain to be around for some time.

Hadi Zogheib

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No more donkeys, please

Down the Lane these days, our ’Arry has apparently used up all his goodwill saving Russian donkeys (not named Pavlyuchenko) from parasailing pratfalls, and is lambasting the powers the be for scheduling an England friendly against Hungary too close to the start of the Premiership season for his liking.

With some glaring holes at the back and his club’s inaugural Champions League qualification looming large, the Tottenham boss would rather have his team on the training ground than traipsing around the world for preseason friendlies, or losing players for a few days of international duty. If he wants something else to worry about, Redknapp can wonder whether Spurs will have their plans for a new stadium approved when Haringey Council says yea or nay on Sept. 13.

Tottenham aren’t counting on having Jonathan Woodgate on their 25-man roster when new squad rules take effect this season and, with Ledley King as gimpy as ever, ’Arry is reportedly after Villa’s Curtis Davies, Everton’s Phil Jagielka or Man. Citeh’s Micah Richards to slot into the centre of his back line. As long as they’re not donkeys, ’Arry, you can bring in whoever you like.

City may not be quite ready to let Richards walk, but it seems the new roster rules could force a shocking 30 players out the door at Eastlands, with some paid off by the deep pocketed owners to get the hell out. So much for Welcome to Manchester.

Switching to the Red Mancs, United went south of the border to Mexico but came out a 3-2 loser to CD Chivas in the final game of its North American tour in what must have been a bit of a confusing night for newly-signed Javier Hernandez, who said goodbye to the Goats by scoring a goal for Chivas in the first half, then switching shirts and suiting up for his new team after the break.

Finally, while the departing Diego Maradona makes claims of betrayal against his former employers in Argentina, the AFA has reportedly sets its sights on former Sheffield United midfielder and current Estudiantes manager Alejandro Sabella to take over the pressure-packed post of national team boss.

Ian Harrison

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In South America, fresh faces will feel heat fast

New Brazil boss Mano Menezes will hope things are thumbs up from the get-go in his new gig.

With the 2011 Copa America now less than a year away and the 2014 World Cup set to be played on their home continent, the powerhouse nations of South America have decided now is the time for managerial change. And the new men won’t get much time to settle in.

Brazil was first to make a switch, predictably firing the dour Dunga following a disappointing loss to the Netherlands in the quarterfinals of World Cup 2010. Of course, the reason for Dunga’s dismissal was not so much the loss to the Dutch as it was his preferred style of play. Brazilians demand flash and flamboyance, elegance and elan. Watching Dunga’s combative midfield and stonewall defence grind out ugly victories was not enough for Brazil’s critical public. After all, they have the reputation of Joga Bonito to uphold. Enter new manager Mano Menezes. The former Corinthians gaffer has promised to restore samba football. And just in the nick of time too, for it seems as if the whole world is beginning to forget about the famous yellow and green jersey and salivate over the yellow and red strip of Spain instead.  With the next mundial in front of their home fans, anything less than a win that comes with style and flair will be seen as an embarrassment for Brazil.

Then there’s Argentina. After the news of Diego Maradona’s dismissal Tuesday amid a disagreement with Argentine football director Julio Grondona over support staff, the Albicelestes will be keen to make a statement in the coming three years.  They won’t have to wait long for their first measuring stick, having confirmed a Sept. 7 friendly in Buenos Aires against the brand-new World Cup champion Spaniards. The match could also be an interesting gauge for how European teams will fare across the pond in 2014.

Don't let her down - she's too excited.

Like Brazil, Argentina will face the burden of expectation that comes with hosting when they welcome the rest of the continent at next summer’s Copa America. Rumour has it that whoever takes the reins (and the names of potential successors include Alejandro Sabella of Estudiantes, under 20 coach Sergio Batista, and Diego “Don’t kick me, David Beckham” Simeone) will also be expected to at least reach the semi-finals next door in Brazil at World Cup 2014.

So there you have it. The new manager of Brazil is expected to not only win the next World Cup, but to do it with uncompromising style, while Argentina’s next boss will be expected to defeat world champion Spain at home, win the 2011 Copa America, and follow that up with no worse than a final four showing in 2014. No pressure boys…

Hadi Zogheib

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One more with Maradona

The man with two watches sends one below the belt.

Apparently one World Cup with Diego Maradona as manager was not enough for the Argentinian Football Association. The AFA is set to reward the eccentric coach with a new four-year deal that will keep the chubby one at the helm through the 2014 World Cup in neighbouring Brazil.

Diego has yet to officially sign the contract, but the announcement went public Wednesday. He will be under pressure to perform right away, as the 2011 Copa America will be held in Argentina and, unlike his quarter-final defeat in South Africa, no less than winning will be accepted.

And what better way to warm up for the big tourney than to play the new world champions? That’s right, rumour has it Argentina will play a friendly against Spain somewhere in the U.S. (most likely New York) on September 7. Will Maradona actually try to win the midfield battle? Or will he concede the centre of the pitch and play with three defenders and seven strikers? You know he’ll pull something funny out.

Hadi Zogheib

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Maradona’s men meet their match

There were long faces and dark mutterings around the family home of my Futbol Guapa after her Albicelestes met another early exit from the World Cup Saturday, thrashed 4-0 by Germany’s young stars in the day’s first quarterfinal match, a victory that moves Die Mannschaft one step Klose (get it?) to the finals. Even the choripan didn’t taste quite as good afterward, tinged with the disappointment of a title drought that will now last another four years.

Much of the blame will be laid at the feet of the last man to lift a World Cup trophy in Argentinian colours. Diego Maradona, a firebrand striker in 1986 and now a portly coach, at least saved us all the decidedly unwelcome prospect of watching him run (waddle?) naked through the streets of Buenos Aires, which he’d promised to do if his team had won in South Africa. He may have inspired a similar pledge from Larissa Riquelme, which I salute, but Diego’s team selection and tactics were highly suspect. How handy would it have been for Argentina to have Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso to call into Maradona’s attack-minded lineup against Germany, helping to prop up a lonely Javier Mascherano in front of the back four, or replacing the highly suspect Nicolas Otamendi, whose foul led to Thomas Muller’s opening goal after just three minutes. So much for God’s will.

Having said that, these Germans are clearly a force to be reckoned with. The highest-scoring team at the tournament so far, they’ve recorded a trio of four-goal games. Muller, who’ll miss the semifinal through suspension, and fellow midfielders Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira have turned the loss of Michael Ballack into more blessing than curse, while Miroslav Klose’s two goals against Argentina give him 14 in his World Cup career, one more than Pele, tied with German legend Gerd Muller and just one behind Ronaldo for the most ever. Clearly, coach Joachim Loew knows Germany is the pick of the crop.

Of course, to reach the final, the Germans still have to get past Spain, who withstood a strong and resolute Paraguay, with David Villa’s late goal proving decisive in a 1-0 final that denied us all to see a little bit more of the aforementioned Ms. Riquelme.

It wasn’t easy for Spain, up against a team who, as our Dr. Z has pointed out, knocked off Argentina, Brazil and Chile during CONMEBOL qualifying and were clearly not overawed by the prospect of facing the reigning European champions. Paraguay will probably feel a bit hard done by that they were denied the opening goal after Nelson Valdez scored shortly before half, only to have the strike disallowed because teammate Oscar Cardozo had been offside, and leapt for the ball as it came into the area.

The second half saw a bizarre sequence of penalties, with Gerard Pique using both hands to haul Cardozo to the ground, but Casillas saving and holding the shot. Seconds later, Villa was bundled over at the other end, but Xabi Alonso’s strike was ruled out because Spanish players had encroached into the penalty area. Replays later showed the same was true of Cardozo’s missed penalty, something that apparently eluded referee Carlos Batres of Guatemala. Alsono tried again, but Justo Villar made the stop, then escaped further discipline for crashing into Cesc Fabregas as he went after the rebound.

All that wackiness set the stage for an 83rd minute goal as wild as any at this tournament. Andres Iniesta left two Paraguayans in his wake with a driving run up the middle, laying the ball off for Pedro, whose shot rebounded off the post to Villa. The Golden Boot candidate also hit the post but got a more fortunate bounce, and the South Americans were sunk. Sure, Casillas was called on again to deny Roque Santa Cruz in the final minute, but Spain were otherwise comfortable in possession with the lead.

So, at a World Cup where we were once marveling at South American success and scratching our heads over European ineptitude, Uruguay is the last South American team standing as we head to the semis, with three European sides, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain, still going strong. You’d have to favour the Dutch against Uruguay in Tuesday’s first semifinal, while the Spain-Germany clash on Wednesday looks like a can’t-miss classic.

Ian Harrison

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Oranje bowl over Brazilians, while Black Star misses mos’ def(initely)

Wesley Sneijder - Holland v Brazil: Wesley Sneijder the hero in 'fantastic' performance

What a cracking day to sit on the couch and do nothing except watch footie.

World Cup favourites Brazil lost to the Netherlands… and I’ve desperately tried to write in a Dutch oven joke.  No luck, feel free to write in your answer below.

This game was the Felipe Melo show. First he set up Robinho’s goal to send the Samba Kings flying. But in the second half, he collided with his own goalkeeper and headed in a Wesley Sneijder cross. The goal tied the game and rattled Brazil. Then, Melo’s frustration with uber-pest Arjen Robben boils over. He kicks Robben to the ground and then inexplicably stomps on the Dutchman’s thigh.  Red card and it was “Boa noite” for the Brazilians.

Here are some interesting facts from the game:

  • For the first time in its World Cup history, Brazil loses after leading at halftime (now 35-1-2) and loses for only the third time after scoring first (now 53-3-4). The other two losses were the 1998 group stage versus Norway and the 1950 final versus Uruguay,
  • Melo’s own goal was Brazil’s first in its 97-match World Cup history. It’s just the second own goal in a knockout-stage match in the last 40 years,
  • Sneijder, who is 5-foot-7, became the shortest player to head a goal in at this year’s World Cup,
  • Brazil loses under Dunga for the first time when both Kaka and Robinho play (now 30-1-4),
  • Melo’s red card was 11th ever for Brazil, putting them one ahead of Argentina for most in WC history.

I think’s it’s off the mark to call this result an upset. Netherlands have not lost a competitive match since the Russians beat them in extra time in a Euro 2008 quarterfinal. That’s a streak of 13 matches.  And they are on a run of 24 games without a defeat, since a friendly loss to Australia two years ago.

Image: Uruguay v Ghana: 2010 FIFA World Cup - Quarter Finals

Meanwhile, Africa’s dream of a home-grown World Cup winner died after Ghana lost to Uruguay with a bizarre finish. Just before the end of extra-time, Uruguay’s goalkeeper was caught out of position during a goal-mouth scramble. Luis Suarez kicks the ball away, only for Dominic Adiyiah to head the ball back towards the net… where Suarez raises his arms to deflect the shot.  Red card for Suarez and a penalty for Ghana.

But then Asamoah Gyan sends the jabulani sailing into the crossbar… and sends the Ghanians home in tears, after Uruguay win a penalty shoot-out.

Now the Uruguayans have to manage the high-flying Dutchmen (ho ho!) without the rambunctious Suarez, who is definitely suspended for the semi-final. They’ll also have to do without Paris Hilton, who was arrested for allegedly passing the Dutchie on the left-hand side.

The build-up to tomorrow’s game between the Argies and Ze Germans has been downright nasty. Somewhere, there are a bunch of old RAF commanders giggling into their Pimm’s…

Late game: Spain plays Paraguay.

Brent Lanthier

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Make or Break for Maradona

Diego Maradona ... refused to speak at the press conference until Thomas Mueller had left the stage.

Diego Maradona hasn’t been able to stop smiling since arriving in
South Africa. After all, vindication feels pretty damn good. Wasn’t
he supposed to lead his beloved Argentina to certain doom? That’s
what most pundits believed before this tournament began. Instead his
albiceleste have been tearing opponents to shreds with wonderful
positioning, passing, and finishing that’s been a joy to watch.

That being said, Maradona’s ultimate test will be on Saturday versus the
equally impressive Germans. It’s one thing to bully Mexico or South
Korea, but the big bad Germans are a totally different animal (ask Mr.
Capello). And to move on, Diego will have to choose between two
different Argentina teams.

The first option is the Argentina we’ve been accustomed to watching these past two weeks: let’s call them Argentina 1. It features a rampaging Angel Di Maria up the left hand side, Maxi Rodriguez or Juan Veron on the right to distribute, and the three-pronged attack of Messi, Tevez, and Higuain.

This is the fun Argentina, always looking to attack and pelting opponents with shots from every angle. The problem with this team is that Javier
Mascherano is left to defend a heck of a lot of field all by his lonesome in the middle of the park. This may play into the hands of the Germans on the counter attack. Don’t think they can counter with speed? Check out their last two goals versus England.

Instead, Diego may — for the first time this tournament — consider fielding Argentina 2. This is the team that defeated this same German team 1-0 in a friendly in Berlin earlier this year. This squad is much less attacking and
consists of having an extra midfielder in place of one of the three
strikers (probably Tevez). The extra midfielder will provide help for
Mascherano in front of the back four.

So, Mr. Maradona, will it be Argentina 1 which has been successful against lesser opponents so far? Or will it be Argentina 2, which has already beaten the Germans once this year?

Your managerial reputation is on the line….

Hadi Zogheib

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