At a competition as tight as the World Cup, with no real minnows or whipping boys, coaches spend a lot of time devising tactics and finalising their playing elevens.
Two days before Argentina’s opening match, Maradona, when asked how he was sleeping, had said, “You must ask this question of my girlfriend. Because she would tell you that she wakes up every night to find me writing down players’ names.” And a crucial element in team selection is finding ‘impact substitutes’ — players who are brought on at crucial stages, and have the ability to turn a game on its head.
South Africa 2010 has proved to be a happy hunting ground for many of these men. Fifteen substitutes have come off the bench and registered their names on the score-sheet. As the competition draws to a climax, we take a look at some of the best performances by ‘supersubs’ in South Africa.
Much was expected of Chile winger Mark Gonzalez, and the CSKA winger didn’t disappoint in the crucial match against Switzerland, heading home from the far post to give his team the win, and take them through to the Round of 16.
With 10 minutes remaining in a tight game against Greece, Maradona introduced 37-year-old veteran striker Martin Palermo, and as the clock wound down, Palermo finished off the Greeks with what he said afterwards was, “the most beautiful moment of my career. It’s priceless”.
There were some games that even turned out to be completely dominated by the substitutes. Two of them were in fact the most dramatic of the tournament. Australia and Serbia played each other in what would prove to be a decisive match for both. Brett Holman came off the bench and scored for the Socceroos, while Marko Pantelic did the same for Serbia. Pantelic looked to be the sharpest player on the field as he tried desperately to lift his side through.
Against a French side favoured to top their group, Mexican coach Javier Aguirre brought on Javier Hernandez and 37-year-old icon, Cuauhtemoc Blanco. Blanco became the third oldest scorer in World Cup history when he slotted home a near perfect penalty, and also set up fellow sub, Hernandez, to give his side a 2-0 win.
Unanimously though, the most dramatic substitutes were Slovakia’s Kamil Kopunek and Fabio Quagliarella of Italy. Kopunek came off the bench and scored what would prove to be the goal that ended Italy’s Cup defence, with his first touch of the match. Quagliarella was the only Italian to shine at the tournament.
Coach Lippi brought him on in the Slovakia game, and he scored a beautiful chip that had all the magic otherwise missing from the Italian team. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to keep the defending companions alive.