It was a somewhat painful year for the Argentine national team, yet it all ended well: the Albiceleste are going to Russia next summer and that’s all that matters. After all, when one considers Italy’s failure to qualify for football’s greatest tournament, perhaps we should count ourselves lucky..
Much of the sporting year was dominated by musical chairs competition held by the Argentine Football Association (AFA) to find a national coach, Lionel Messi and the stuttering national team’s desperately dreadful performances as the World Cup qualification campaign entered its home straight. As the final game against Ecuador approached, at altitude in Quito, fear gripped the nation. Yet there was the little genius when it mattered most – Messi slammed in a hat-trick and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. Perhaps from now on the Barcelona superstar will only feel the support of the nation behind him.
On the first day of December, we then learnt Argentina’s opponents for the group stage of next year’s World Cup: Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria.
As Argentina was struggling to qualify, AFA found itself gripped in its usual state of chaos for much of the year. It’s not a big jump to assume the two crises were linked perhaps. In March, AFA’s members appointed Claudio Tapia as president back in March. He begun his reign by removing Edgardo Bauza and appointing (eventually, after some months) Jorge Sampaoli as national team coach.
Unfortunately for AFA, the FIFAgate graft allegations were swirling around a New York court all the while, incriminating the organisation’s late former chief Julio Grondona and sports sports marketing and broadcasting firms Torneos y Competencias and Full Play Group. Speaking of broadcasting, pay TV for matches arrived as Fútbol para todos came to an end.
On the pitch, things went great for Boca Juniors as the Superliga finally got under way. Despite beginning the year without China- bound striker Carlos Tevez, the Xeneize began with a bang. They remain in first place but their lead, however, has been cut to just three points by San Lorenzo in recent weeks.
River Plate’s less than stellar year did end with a trophy. They retained the Copa Argentina after defeating suprise finallists Atlético Tucumán.
Regionally, Argentina put in a number of notable performances, none more so than Independiente who won the Copa Sudamericana in the Maracaná, defeating Flamengo. Lanús, meanwhile, did the nation proud, reaching the Copa Libertadores final before falling at the last hurdle to Gremio.
Finally for football, almost everyone seemed to sack their coaches. At least 24 top-tier trainers have left their posts either by sacking, resignation or mutual consent since the year began.
In tennis, the year was always likely to be a bit of a comedown after last November’s Davis Cup success. However, no-one expected Argentina to go crashing out of the tournament against Kazakhstan. September’s embarrassing defeat knocked Argentina out of the top-tier World Group for the first time since 2001. However, Juan Martín del Potro – who missed the clash with Kazakhstan – returned to good form, ending the year on the cusp of the top 10.
In basketball, Argentine legend Manu Ginóbili, now 40 years young, continues to pull the strings for the San Antonio Spurs, turning back the years with influential cameos.
For the nation’s hockey teams, it was a mixed year. The women failed to hit the heights of the past but the men’s team’s have closed the year at number one in the world rankings, following on from their Olympic gold medal last year. The men’s team also qualified for the Hockey World League Final, although they lost to Australia 2-1.
In rugby, the Pumas lost practically every game they played (16 defeats in 17 matches against high-level opposition), although they did manage to beat Italy, Georgia and Japan. Let’s hope for a better win-ratio next year.
Finally, it would seem incomplete to close the year without mention of the sad passing of golfing legend Roberto De Vicenzo at 94. De Vicenzo was known for his British Open victory, the trophy that made him the first Argentine to win a major.