SIVAN JOHN looks back on a superb team goal, as the much-fancied Argentines smashed through Serbia & Montenegro’s stubborn defence at the 2006 World Cup.
The greatest goals in football are often judged on the artistry of a single player. Whether it was dribble from the halfway line, curling free kick, bullet header or a thunderous shot, it always glorifies the individual. But sometimes football needs a reminder of its humble origin: teamwork.
One afternoon in Gelsenkirchen during the 2006 World Cup, Argentina were set to play Serbia & Montenegro. Little was expected against a team that arrived at the tournament having conceded just one goal in 10 qualifying matches. However, within the space of 90 minutes that seemingly impenetrable wall was shredded to smithereens.
Argentina, managed by José Pékerman, produced one of the most unblemished performances seen on a football pitch. To make this whole situation even more paradoxical, the match kicked off with both Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez on the bench. I remember the commentator saying “how scary is that?”.
They needed to be more convincing in this game after only managing to scrape through against the Ivory Coast. Already 1-0 up thanks to Maxi Rodriguez, Argentina are on the verge of creating a breathtaking show consisting of 24 passes.
Again, it started from Rodriguez. He dispossessed Metaja Kezman and relieved Serbia & Montenegro of possession. From then on, the entire game was only filled with moments of grace and deftness that requires one’s patience to truly embrace it.
With Juan Román Riquelme conducting the orchestra, you could actually feel your entire body going through a sense eroticism with every pass made. It will be a shame if all this ended without its moment of concupiscent.
In comes Esteban Cambiasso, who initially replaced the injured Lucho Gonzalez in the 17th minute. It’s worth noting that Cambiasso was actually dropped from the starting line up as Pékerman felt with him around, the team was too defensive.
After receiving the ball from Saviola, he provides a subtle pass to Hernan Crespo. On any given time, Crespo being the predator he is would have attempted for the kill. But on this day, he felt that this show deserves to have its encore.
He decides to back-heel the ball to Cambiasso who then provided the most spellbinding finale by the sending the ball straight to the roof of the net. What followed suit was a series of jollification, not only seen by those inside the stadium but also millions of people from around the world who were glued to their television set.
Football is very much like music. It arises out of the intellect and creativity of an individual or group but equally important, a dedicated producer to harness that talent. Thus in a context of popular culture, Diego Maradona’s goal of the century against England would be very much on par with Michael Jackson’s greatest selling album, Thriller.
So where would Cambiasso’s goal stand then in the world of pop? I can’t think of better record than Hysteria from Def Leppard. After all, the album’s success was down to the elements brought by each member of the band and also the guidance of producer Mutt Lange. This was only possible thanks to the years of hard work between the band and Lange.
In this case, Pékerman is the one who plays the Lange role. Before he took over the senior team, he was the director of youth football. Under his orchestration, the Under-20 side went on to win three world titles between 1995 to 2001. The likes of Riquelme, Cambiasso, Rodriguez, Saviola and captain Juan Pablo Sorin were all part of those winning sides.
The move, from Rodriguez’s pilfer to Cambiasso’s shot, only lasted for 54 seconds. But the reality is that this goal was the accumulation of work that goes back for almost a decade. It is a direct result of the chemistry and relationship that Pékerman had built with his players since their teenage years.
Equally important is the knock-on effect this goal had on football in the years to come. The moments in those 54 seconds were also the precursor of a revolution known as tiki-taka that would take the world by storm. It has also been customary for every team wanting to score what is described as the perfect goal.
Argentina went to score four more goals in this game, securing the biggest win of this tournament. The sixth goal coming from Messi, his first ever at the World Cup. It immediately cemented their status as the hot favourites to lift the trophy. Unfortunately, they were undone by Germany on penalties in the quarter-final.
Pékerman may be to blame for his dubious substitution which practically cost their chance against the host nation. But this goal will forever secure the legacy of the amazing job he has done for Argentine football.