Argentina coach Sabella adds steel to attack-heavy team’s stardust

Tactical rigour and work ethic helps address 'imbalance' between defence and attack

Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella speaks during a news conference at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on July 8, 2014. Marius Becker / EPA
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Diego Maradona’s news conferences at the World Cup four years ago generated such global media interest in the then-Argentina manager’s controversial views that tickets had to be issued.

But Alejandro Sabella, who will step down as Argentina coach after Sunday's final against Germany, is not a box-office draw.

Instead, the quiet 59 year old is letting his team’s performances speak for him.

His agent, Eugenio Lopez, confirmed on Saturday that Sabella was still leaving the role after Sunday’s game, even if they are successful and win the tournament for the first time in 28 years.

“To go at the top is always positive. I believe he gave everything to the national team and that now is the time to give way to another person,” Lopez said. “He’s going. He’s leaving whatever happens. Whether they are champions or not, a cycle is ending.”

Sabella, who took over the role in 2011, has brought the tactical discipline and work ethic that helped Argentina come out of the group stage with maximum points and then deal with tricky European opponents Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands in the knockout rounds.

Asked to sum up his team’s qualities after the semi-final win over the Netherlands, Sabella simply said: “Humility, work and giving 100 per cent.”

Those are words that could describe Sabella himself, a man who has had to wait until late in his career to get a chance to be in charge of a team at the highest level.

It has not been a spectacular Argentina in Brazil – all those wins were tight affairs, and none closer then the victory on penalties against the Dutch after a defensive masterclass from both sides in a goalless 120 minutes.

But Sabella has focused on making sure a team with an abundance of attacking talent, including four-times World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, was not undone by their lack of recognised quality in defence.

“My job is to disguise that imbalance in the best way possible,” Sabella said before the World Cup.

The model for a balanced team, he said, was Germany and, after reaching the final, Sabella was quick to express his admiration for Sunday’s opponents.

“Germany has shown throughout its history great physical and mental power, and players with a hint of South America. Germany knows what team work, organisation and long-term work is,” he said.

Sergio Aguero says he believes Argentina will have no fear of Germany in Sunday's World Cup final, despite the goal glut from their opponents in the semi-finals.

Argentina played out a goalless 120 minutes with the Netherlands on Wednesday in their last-four match before prevailing 4-2 on penalties.

This came 24 hours after German had routed hosts Brazil 7-1, their tally of goals in the 90 minutes only one less than the Argentines have scored in the entire tournament.

Aguero, the Manchester City forward, said that while Germany had been impressive against the Brazilians, he believed that Argentina’s forward line, which included himself, Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain were equally dangerous.

“Germany is a great team. What happened to Brazil could happen to any team,” Aguero said. “[But] we have players who can create danger up front. We’re in the final for a reason.”

The last time the two sides met in a competitive game, at the World Cup finals in 2010, Argentina, who were coached at the time by Diego Maradona, were humiliated 4-0 by the Germans in an one-sided quarter-final encounter.

The 1986 World Cup final in Mexico, which the Argentines won 3-2, was the last time they triumphed in a competitive match, though they did prevail 3-1 in a friendly in August 2012, with Messi, Angel Di Maria and an own goal helping them to victory.

Maxi Rodriguez, who scored the winning penalty in the shoot-out against the Netherlands, said he does not believe past games or Germany’s form in the semi-finals will count for anything when the sides take the field on Sunday.

“At this point, who is favourite, who is not, it doesn’t make a difference,” the midfielder said. “Both teams feel a responsibility to go all the way.”

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