Argentina, the first to qualify for the World Cup when they beat Ecuador 6-3 and 5-0 in December, 1960, have had ample time to prepare for the trip to Chile yet they appear to have made little progress.
The final blow to their hopes for a grand revival might well have been Russia’s 2-1 victory at Buenos Aires last December which forced the national team manager, Vittorio Spinetto, to hand in his resignation.
Spinetto had been in charge since the flop in Sweden during the 1958 series, for which Guillermo Stabile was blamed and dismissed, but in fact Spinetto received no more support from the top clubs – Boca Juniors, River Plate and Racing – than did his predecessor, and with only token backing from the Argentinian FA he gave up the unequal struggle.
Fame in Europe
In Argentina football is still regarded as an “art” and skill with the ball comes before all else. Just what could be achieved in Argentina has been demonstrated many times by the players who have left Buenos Aires to earn distinction in Europe.
Alfredo Di Stefano, Omar Sivori, Pedro Manfredini, Francisco Lojacono, Miguel Montuori, Ernesto Grillo and Antonio Valentin Angelillo, to mention just a few from several dozen, have all benefited from the better training and personal discipline demanded in Europe!
In spite of all their failures it would be foolish to write off the Argentinians, even at this late stage. Their newly-appointed team manager, Juan Carlos Lorenzo has been given “carte blanche” by the FA. And the tumult of criticism from the press and public after the Russia match has forced the clubs to pledge their support.
Lorenzo is a shrewd and capable man, appointed partly for his knowledge of European football and partly for his tremendous success with San Lorenzo de Almegro last season. As a player, Lorenzo served in France for several years and later moved to Spain, where he had a spell as coach with Mallorca, who he guided to the First Division before returning to Buenos Aires.
There in mid-season he took charge of San Lorenzo, the 1959 champions, who were playing without method and threatened by relegation.
The transformation was remarkable and immediate. More energetic training and a tighter defensive system took the club steadily up the league table and they ended the campaign as runners-up!
With the right approach it seems clear that a great deal of improvement could be effected in the national team, too – even in the few weeks available. It has been done before, for in December, 1956, Buenos Aires experts were bemoaning the fact that they had no team. All the stars were “too old.”
Hailed as genius
Three months later at Lima (Peru), Argentina walked off with the South American championship during which they beat Uruguay 3-0 and Brazil 4-0.
The key men in that team were the three inside forwards – Umberto Maschio, Angelillo and Enrico Sivori – all three 21-years-olds with no previous international experience.
Trainer Stabile was hailed as a genius and Argentina were placed among the favourites for the 1958 World Cup. In the event, they failed but who can say what might have happened had Maschio, Angelillo and Sivori remained in Buenos Aires instead of being transferred to Italian clubs.
Since February 5, 44 players selected by Lorenzo have been attending regular training sessions in Buenos Aires, and a tour of South America is being hastily arranged for the weeks immediately before the World Cup.
Defence comes first
Lorenzo has made it clear that his main effort will be concentrated on the defence which has agreed to have been greatly at fault against Russia.
The most reliable defender is centre half Jose Ramos-Delgardo (26), of River Plate F.C. He is steady, polished player and the most likely choice for the captaincy.
Left half Frederico Sacchi (Racing) also showed exceptional ability in Europe last year and although only 25 and relatively inexperienced he could be a great asset if the defence were stabilised, for this would allow him to devote his energies to attack.
The biggest problem is likely to be the goalkeeper, for the country’s outstanding “Guardameta” Amadeo Carrizo refuses to play in the national team.
The regular choice of all last season was 30-year-old Antonio Roma (Boca Juniors) and the final choice will probably be between him and the former Real Madrid star Rogelio Dominguez, who rejoined his old club last month after four years in Spain.