A long march follows the long wait. Accentuating the effect of soldiers on a drill is the rhythmic tap-tap of boots on the paved walkway. Fans and the media jostle for space before a giant of a bouncer sorts them out, telling those without proper accreditation to “get out, NOW”. Rows of cables that seemingly stretch into eternity line the undulating walk to the football park.
Welcome to an Argentina training session.
Long before the media were allowed their brief tryst with all of Maradona's men, there was a buzz around the High Performance Centre at Hatfield, a quiet, leafy suburb here. And Richard Street looked like a slice of Buenos Aires or Rosario or Santa Fe complete with flags, buntings, songs and a lot of Spanish being spoken loudly.
Hugo Lisovei, 60, dressed as a gaucho cornered more attention than the rest. “This has been his attire at all World Cups since 1978,” said a radio journalist in halting English. With Hugo nodding sagely, the journalist referred to him as “icono”, (icon). “There are some 5000 Argentine supporters here and more are expected,” said Chapu from Buenos Aires, who quit his hotel job to be here “for a month and go home with the Cup.” Sipping mate, Mingo, who is now retired, nodded as did Jorge (“like Burruchaga.”) An Argentine volunteer who, for four hours on Tuesday evening was just a fan, upped the number to 10,000. “Five thousand Argentines from Europe too will be here,” he said.
“The whole deal costs between $6,000 to $8000,” said Juliano here with father Agnelo and a friend. Home for Juliano is near Rosario, a place made famous by Lionel Messi. Playing on the right, Messi looked comfortable teaming with Gonzalo Higuain with Carlos Tevez, looking to make the most of his acceleration, on the left. That possibly is how it will be when Argentina open against Nigeria.
The field was made shorter by advancing the goals and Martin Palermo's sweet volley had the blue bibs in front. Messi equalised with a left-footer before Tevez's blast had the orange bibs post a come-from-behind win. The losers then were made to stand on the goalline with the winners raining full-blooded shots on them from the edge of the 18-yard box.
That was the only time Maradona moved out of the centre circle. For all the time the media were allowed at the session, he supervised training, whistle in mouth, from inside the centre-circle. In a team that has the world’s best player, Champions League winning members and Carlos Bilardo in the support staff, the shortest man was the cynosure.