Argentina's World Cup a repeat of 1990, with star player missing top form


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RIO DE JANEIRO — On the eve of the World Cup final, Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella said he saw some "parallels" between his team and the Argentina that became world champion in 1986.

Instead, Sabella's squad looked more like the Argentina of 1990, which also lost the World Cup final 1-0 to a German team.

That outfit was a defense-oriented team built around Diego Maradona, who never found the blistering form he had four years earlier when Argentina became world champion.

This year's Argentina relied heavily on four-time world player of the year Lionel Messi, and when he stopped scoring it scraped by with a robust defense making up for a lack of goals — just like Maradona's team in 1990.

"It is impossible to find anything positive about second place," defender Martin Demichelis said. "Really, it's so sad returning to Argentina having been so close to winning the World Cup."

The fact that Argentina got as far as the final was surprising to many after the team's hard-fought wins in what looked like one of the easiest groups of the World Cup, and lifted the spirits of a country with deep financial problems. Tens of thousands of ever-chanting Argentines followed the team around Brazil, adding color and atmosphere to the tournament.

They taunted the World Cup hosts with a song recalling Argentine victories in its rivalry with Brazil, including a goal by Claudio Caniggia that eliminated Brazil in the second round of the 1990 World Cup.

But just like it did in that tournament, Argentina stumbled on the final hurdle, against a German squad that was too strong.

Germany had 60 percent of the possession in the final and seven shots on goal. Relying almost exclusively on counterattacks, Argentina didn't muster a single shot on target, though Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Rodrigo Palacio came close.

"I think we did everything we could to win," defensive midfielder Javier Mascherano said. "Personally, I'm proud of how we played. Obviously, the pain is tremendous, we wanted the Cup for Argentina. I think we have represented our country the best we could."

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