x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Bring Maradona to the party

If revenge is a dish best served cold, then you could forgive fans of English football for salivating at the prospect of a deliciously chilled supper tomorrow night.

Diego Maradona punches the ball past Peter Shilton, the England goalkeeper, to score the opening goal of the 1986  World Cup quarter-final in Mexico City. Argentina won 2-1.
Diego Maradona punches the ball past Peter Shilton, the England goalkeeper, to score the opening goal of the 1986 World Cup quarter-final in Mexico City. Argentina won 2-1.

If revenge is a dish best served cold, then you could forgive fans of English football for salivating at the prospect of a deliciously chilled supper tomorrow night. It has been 23 years, three months and 21 days since Diego Maradona single-handedly (pun very much intended) knocked England out of the World Cup - which seems like plenty of time to cool down any dish. Maradona may have been blessed with feet of lightning and the balance of a ballerina, but sadly - for him - he was also burdened with a coaching brain the size of a peanut.

In less than a year as the Argentina coach, he has seen his team thumped 6-1 by the mighty Bolivia and has lost three other World Cup qualifiers. He has called up 78 players for 11 qualifying matches, and only a late goal against footballing minnows Peru spared his blushes on Saturday. Now his men must beat Uruguay tomorrow night to automatically qualify for the 2010 World Cup. If they fail, they will face the indignity of scrapping for a place with lowly Costa Rica.

Under such circumstances, it is extremely tempting for England fans to declare ourselves honorary Uruguayans for the night. To drape ourselves in the flag (blue and white horizontal stripes with a lovely smiley sun in the top left corner, in case you were wondering), raise a glass of their national drink, and wipe away tears of pride as they play "our" national anthem, "Orientales, la patria o la tumba!" (is there nothing Wikipedia doesn't know?).

I would urge Englishmen, however, to resist this temptation and instead hope that Argentina win. Why? Well, firstly, because siding with "my enemy's enemy" is unsporting, unseemly and, quite frankly, uncivilised. Such behaviour is best left to the Scots. Secondly, the World Cup would simply not be the same without Argentina. Yes, partly for the sheer wealth of talent they have to offer - can you honestly say you would rather watch Diego Forlan than Lionel Messi? - but also because the World Cup is supposed to be a party, and every party needs some unruly gatecrashers who will stir things up a bit.

At their beautiful best, Argentina will provide poetic football to take your breath away, as they did with Esteban Cambiasso's goal against Serbia and Montenegro in 2006, which was the culmination of 24 glorious consecutive passes. At their villainous worst, they will disgrace themselves by descending to new depths of cheating, violence, histrionics and general calumny, as they have done at ... well, pretty much every World Cup in recent memory.

Under Maradona's demented leadership, they will almost certainly do both. If they make it to South Africa next June, I predict flashes of maddening brilliance before some kind of disgraceful exit in which Maradona plays a key role. All of which will be beamed into our homes in glorious technicolour. Which brings me to my third and final reason why the English should back Argentina tomorrow night. When Diego Maradona does finally get his comeuppance - and he will - then I want his humiliation to be on the greatest world stage in sport, not a wet Wednesday night in Montevideo. English fans have already waited 23 years, three months and 21 days. So what difference does another nine months make?

Come on Argentina! sports@thenational.ae