In the world of football there are countless examples of superstition by its practitioners and followers. Indeed, there can scarcely be another discipline in which oddities and coincidences are so often seen as portents of professional success or failure. A case in point is the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ which, if superstitious Argentinian fans are to be believed, is predestined to be claimed by their country. Sceptical? Well, take a look at the omens before you decide, from a 24-year hex and an Academy Award coincidence to a sign from the world of tennis.
Agony and ecstasy
First consider a number of startling similarities between 1986, when La Albicelete won their second world title, and 2010. In the qualifying tournament ahead of the finals in Mexico, the South Americans only secured their passage in the very last game against Peru, when a late winner finally ended the agony. The scorer of that priceless goal at the Estadio Monumental was Ricardo Gareca, a tall, blonde-haired local striker. Of course any parallels between that and what Martin Palermo did in torrential rain against the same opponents last year is pure chance, or is it?
While doubters can argue that coincidences like that are not usual, especially over a period of 24 years, even that number would appear to be loaded with significance. Twenty-four years was precisely the length of Brazil’s famous world-title drought (1970-94), when they came up short time and time again despite having some of the most gifted squads ever assembled. Italy, another giant of the world game, had to endure a similar wait after their triumph at Spain 1982. In the ensuing 24 years, the Azzurri went out on penalties in the last-four on home soil in 1990, before suffering the same fate four years later in the decider against Brazil. This June it will be 24 years since Argentina’s last coronation. What price it happening a third time?
It is also worth noting that the last time La Albiceleste lifted the world crown, Italy were the reigning champions. And who will be hoping to defend their title in South Africa? None other than the Azzurri. And if that were not enough, Argentina were chosen to host the Copa America the year after their 1986 triumph. No prizes for guessing where the continental championship is being held in 2011.
A prize-winning year
“In 86 we had [Diego] Maradona, and now we have [Lionel] Messi,” Argentina’s General Manager Carlos Bilardo told FIFA.com after the Final Draw in Cape Town last December. Nor did it go unnoticed by Argentinian fans that one of countries grouped with them for the South Africa showpiece was Korea Republic, a team they also shared a group with in 1986.
Though Bilardo, a superstitious type if ever there was one, noted his side again possessed the game’s leading player heading into the tournament, he modestly failed to mention another common denominator, namely himself. As head coach in 1986, he steered Maradona and Co to glory in Mexico and will doubtless be drawing on that experience come June.
Of course, the final decisions in South Africa will rest with El Diez, who almost everyone agrees has a talented enough squad to trouble any team at the finals. That said, anyone seeking to take comfort from non-footballing omens does not have far to look. In 1986, for example, La Historia Oficial became the first Argentinian film to win the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. The documentary, directed by Luis Puenzo, included a supporting role for a young boy named Pablo Rago. Coincidentally, Rago also starred in El Secreto de Sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes), the Argentinian film that scooped the very same Oscar at this year’s Awards!
Nor do the coincidences end there. At the time of their last world title, Modesto Vazquez was captain of the country’s Davis Cup tennis team, a distinction he holds again this year. And historians among you will need no reminding that every time FIFA’s flagship tournament has been held outside Europe, the winners have been South American.
Of course, we all know that the destination of 2010 crown will be decided by purely footballing matters, don’t we?