These are the two coaches that are supposed to provide the entertainment this tournament – wild maniacs who are liable to emotional breakdowns and erratic decisions – and admittedly Diego certainly caught the eye on the touchline. However, 180 minutes in and their sides have conceded only a handful of chances let alone a goal. Proof perhaps that their team selections are not the work of a pair of unhinged individuals?
Well of course they’re not. Raymond Domenech took France all the way to the World Cup Final last time around and after spending much of the warm-up games flirting with an ambitious 4-3-3 with Malouda and Gourcuff in midfield he reverted to a more conservative 4-2-3-1 for the game against Uruguay. This was most likely the formation he had in his mind for much of the build-up – Diarra would have played in Diaby’s place but for injury – and it certainly made sense to go with it up against Uruguay. 3-5-2 vs 4-2-3-1. Not that you would have known it by the reaction of the BBC pundits and, if the rumours of dissention in the ranks are true, his own players. In truth, getting Govou and Ribery at the wing-backs meant Uruguay were forced into virtually playing with five at the back, restricted to relying on Forland and Suarez to conjure something from nothing. The back four looked comfortable and Toulalan & Diaby gave the front four a decent platform to play from. Sadly for Domenech, Gourcuff, Govou, Anelka and even Ribery were just very poor on the night.
Maradona’s sprang a slight surprise with his team selection opting for Jonas Gutierrez at right-back and asking Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain to share duties covering back on the right-wing. It was an attacking line-up and was only a qualified success – Gutierrez was caught out a couple of times early on – but Argentina eventually came through by an unflattering 1-0 margin. Messi and Veron controlling the game with ease for long spells.
Perhaps the key difference between the two at this early stage appears to be the way they have or, in Domenech’s case at least, have not been able to foster a team spirit. For all the talk of Maradona’s crazy behaviour he appears to have the full support of his squad, who seem to adore him. He is quoted as saying he would die for the players and has fostered strong bonds with them. Perhaps it was this that the experienced Zanetti and Cambiasso were unable to buy into? Domenech on the other hand appears more than ever to be at the mercy of his players with disharmony reigning supreme. In summary, there is a case for saying Domenech got his formation tactically right and Maradona’s selection left his side vulnerable… but spirit is every bit as important as tactics and it is this that means the French are the ones to worry about at this stage.