Vamos Argentina!

A Kiwieye view of Argentinas 2002 World Cup Campaign.

The Aftermath

Sadness and Pride – Reaction to Argentina’s Elimination



Behind the tinted glass at Buenos Aires’ Ministro Pistarini airport sits Marcelo Bielsa, the Argentine soccer team’s coach. Someone hands him an envelope, he opens it slowly and deliberately, starts to read and moments later he is crying.

Bielsa and a handful of Argentine players have just touched down in Buenos Aires, and waiting for them on this cold clear winter day are more than a thousand fans waving flags and banners and offering messages of support as well as more than 50 journalists looking for explanations for Argentina’s early World Cup exit.

A group of fans from Bielsa’s hometown Rosario have written the letter and managed to slip it to him as he waits to pass through customs. They write:

“How can a coach be considered a failure when in the 3 games Argentina played it was only a penalty and free kick against them that stopped progress to the next round”,

“A coach can not be considered a failure if during 4 years of hard work, he respected all players that wore the sky blue and white, never succumbed to pressures from politicians, journalists, or players representatives, didn’t use his position for personal gain, and always respected opposing teams and players”

“For all this, you (Bielsa) are a role model, the Argentine team under your control was a model of hard work, of honesty, and of solidarity”

This letter reflects the wave of support that has grouped around Bielsa and his team since the draw against Sweden stopped Argentina’s campaign in the first round and Beilsa’s reaction shows his honesty and his conviction that he and his team gave everything they could.

In a country that is struggling in many ways it has been wonderful to see how quickly the sadness about being eliminated has turned into a positive energy looking for reasons to celebrate and be proud of the team. The “La Nación” newspaper talked about the “National frustration”, and “The dream that lasted such a short time” but also about the dignity of the team, about the values of hard work and honesty that the team represented. These values have been sadly lacking in some Argentine teams of the not too distant past.

“In a World Cup, you can win or lose in a number of ways, you can win or lose in the traditional way by accumulating the positive results that allow a team to reach the final and win the cup. But you can also win or lose according to the teams loyalty to certain ethical and sporting principles”

“Its true that Argentina lost, but can you really lose when you act with respect and circumspection?”

The most common reaction in Buenos Aires since the elimination has been one of disbelief, it seems impossible to comprehend how after nearly 2 years unbeaten and easily winning the South American classifying tournament that Argentina has not got past the first round at the finals. How can it be that one of Argentina’s best ever teams has turned in the worst finals performance in more than 40 years?

After the disbelief clears a little the analysis begins as 36 million soccer coaches try to work out what went wrong. They all agree that the team lacked luck and that losing captain Roberto Ayala before the first game was a big blow. After that reasons include the rigid game plan implemented by Bielsa and his unwillingness to play Argentina’s two strikers Gabriel Batistuta and Hernan Crespo together in the second halves against England and Sweden.

Of course not all reaction has been constructive or positive, in letters to newspaper editors, and on radio talk back shows disgruntled fans have called the campaign an embarrassing effort, a failure of all involved, and that this was not a team but just a group of individuals who cared more about themselves than they did the team.

The players themselves have admitted to feeling a terrible disappointment, they feel that they have let down the whole country. Hernan Crespo summed it up pretty well by saying “I want to disappear” The players know that it will take a long time to get over this and also that for many of the them this was their last and best chance to win the World Cup.

As Marcelo Bielsa calmly answers the reporters questions at the airport it seems a good time to remember his words to a group of 13 to 17 year olds in 1999 when he first took on the job of coaching Argentina.

“Most important is the journey and the dignity with which one travels”

In this respect Argentina’s 3 year journey has been a resounding success.

Vamos Argentina!





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