Argentina setting soccer trend

STEVEN SANDOR, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:59 PM ET

Each victory earned by Argentina at this World Cup sends a message to every other coach, manager and administrator at national programs throughout the world.

That friendlies, for the most part, are wastes of time.

Most major European leagues had their schedules stretch into May. But, instead of giving their players needed rest, national-team coaches threw them into a series of friendlies. The logic? To prepare their teams for the World Cup.

As if these top-flight players needed the extra preparations. Instead, fatigued players broke down. Stars such as Italian Andrea Pirlo, Portugal's Nani and the Netherlands' Arjen Robben went down with injuries.

But Diego Maradona and the Argentine brass didn't do things that way. The team played one friendly in the run-up to the World Cup, a May 24 date against Canada. It was a 5-0 rout in Buenos Aires, designed to boost the team's confidence, to be a grand sendoff.

After that, no more. The team didn't play any friendlies in South Africa in order to acclimatize to the conditions.

Maradona got his players out of the limelight and let weary superstars such as Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Carlos Tevez have what they needed most -- a chance to recharge their batteries.

Friendlies not only increase the risk of getting some of a team's top names injured, but also they put the team into the media firing line.

England had a series of indifferent results in the lead-up to the World Cup. They led their own media to put the crosshairs on the team even before it had arrived in South Africa. The pressure was ramped up, and we all saw how poorly the players dealt with it.

Italy lost to Mexico in a pre-tourney friendly. It did the team's confidence no good whatsoever, and it was obvious that the psychogical damage carried over to the World Cup.

You can say that soccer superstars who deal with the everyday pressures of playing for the likes of Manchester United or Inter Milan should have no issues when playing for their countries. But playing for the national team carries a totally different level of stress. Ask Cristiano Ronaldo or Wayne Rooney, club-level football stars who transform into flops when they wear their national-team shirts.

Argentina, which qualified in fourth spot in South America and had critics home and abroad, got out of the spotlight after the Canada rout. And Messi didn't even play in that game. He needed rest and it was the right decision to keep him from playing in front of the home fans. Remember that Argentines are at best lukewarm to their superstar; the fact that he moved to Spain as a young boy has made him a longtime villain in the Argentine media.

Maradona helped deflect the pressure by being boastful and a camera hog -- and making sure his star players stayed out of the limelight as much a as possible.

It's clear that the rest did Argentina a world of good. Hopefully, by 2014, the rest of the world will have learned the lesson.


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