Four ways Pakistani cricket is like Argentinian football

Published: July 4, 2014
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I would go as far as to say that had Pakistani sportsmen chosen football instead of cricket, our team would have over the years performed quite similar to Argentina.

I was barely six-years-old when Diego Maradona’s individual brilliance almost singlehandedly won the World Cup for Argentina in Mexico. For a boy watching the event with his sports crazy family, the event was electric, with the iconic images of Maradona dancing through the opposition, and eventually lifting the trophy, forever imprinted in my brain.

Equally iconic were the images of Maradona crying four years later, after his side was cruelly penalised by the referee in the final against West Germany. Even later, when Maradona shed tears after struggling with substance abuse, I shared his pain, and supported my hero, ignoring the fact that he had begun to look less like a footballer, and more like Pablo Escobar.

Soon, Boca Juniors became my favourite football club in South America. Meanwhile, any European side which featured Argentine talent was instantly my team. Naturally, Inter Milan, with legendary players such as Hernan Crespo, Walter Samuel, Javier Zanetti, and the likes, became the club I favoured the most.

In a recent conversation I had with some Pakistani supporters of Argentina, I realised that although their passion too began with Maradona, their empathy with Argentinian football grew since then, because, they, as Pakistanis, identified with the mercurial nature of Argentinian footballers.

I would go as far as to say that had Pakistani sportsmen chosen football instead of cricket, our team would have over the years performed quite similar to Argentina. Here are four ways where supporting the Argentinian football team is similar to supporting Pakistan’s cricket side:

1Argentina will win the football World Cup in 2014 much like Pakistan won the cricket World Cup in 1992:

Yes, I know, it is a giant Pakistani cliché to liken any sporting struggle with the ’92 World Cup. Back then, Imran Khan and Javed Miandad led Pakistan to glory in Australia after a disastrous start where the team was almost eliminated from the competition on numerous occasions. But where Pakistan began the tournament as a group of individuals, eventually, thanks to the charismatic brilliance of Imran Khan, as well as a boatload of luck, they gelled at the right time and lifted the trophy.

Here, much like Pakistan in 1992, Argentina features a side that could have easily been outclassed by its previous World Cup squads. Missing footballers of the stature of Ayala, Zanetti, Batistuta, Crespo, and Riquelme, this Argentinian squad isn’t as impressive as it was in previous iterations of the tournament.

What’s more, they’ve certainly had some luck so far in the group games, both in terms of the matches and the World Cup draw. But while their opposition, thus far, has been relatively weak, Argentina even struggled to beat Switzerland in their first knock out match, which had recently been annihilated by France.

This somewhat easier road to the semi-finals continues for Argentina. They must now face Belgium in the quarterfinals, a team that is ranked by FIFA at 11 in the world ratings.

Of course, like Pakistan in 1992, Argentina needs to start peaking soon. The in-form Belgium won’t be an easy opposition, while their expected semi-final opponents, Netherlands, are playing excellent football. And to peak, of course, Argentina must start functioning as a team, show more creativity in front of goals, nullify counter-attacks and improve defence overall.

2. Argentina panics like the boys in green:

If there is one lesson Pakistanis learnt from the Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz’s strange overreaction to Tahirul Qadri’s arrival at the Lahore airport, it is that Pakistanis are the masters of hitting the panic button.

Watching the traditionally solid Argentine defence run away from the ball as if it were a hot rolling piece of molten lava, reminded me of the numerous occasions where the Pakistani cricket team went into self-destruction mode in a cricket match.

3. Messi and Misbah:

Lionel Messi and Misbahul Haq contrast tremendously in terms of natural talent, but the two certainly have one thing in common: they have been treated rather poorly by their respective nations.

Although Messi has finally been accepted by Argentinian fans as one of their own, would you believe that as of a few years ago, he had little support in his own country? Amongst other issues, many Argentinians found his lack of flamboyance to no be Argentinian enough, preferring a more expressive player like Carlos Tevez to replace him.

Personally, I love Tevez, but considering that others can’t function with him in the side, his removal from the squad was a necessary decision.

Similarly, it seems that Pakistanis are always on the lookout to replace our smart, steady, and responsible captain, Misbah, with the unpredictable Shahid Afridi.

Now, as with Tevez, I enjoy Afridi’s brand of explosive play, but forcing him into Misbah’s leadership position simply because he is more ‘fun’ would make less sense than asking the PML-N leadership to make important decisions five minutes before iftar time.

Though I suppose we have to be thankful that Shahid Afridi isn’t a footballer, he would have made Suarez seem like a teething toddler by comparison,

“Yaar, yeh football cricket ball say zada naram aur mazay dar hay.”

4.  If Argentina is Pakistan, then Brazil is India:

The success rates are remarkably similar; while Argentina has recently struggled at World Cup tournaments, Brazil, much like India in cricket, has won more trophies thanks to its mental strength and discipline. Over the years, I have stayed up late to sadly watch Argentina fail at a World Cup knock out match as many times as I have seen Pakistan choke during a pressure match.

But more importantly, the cricketing rivalry between India and Pakistan is as fierce as the footballing rivalry between these two South American nations.

In a recent interview, Crespo joked,

“If Argentina win the World Cup in Brazil, I advise them to have a helicopter nearby because they’re going to get killed!”

Likewise, had Pakistan won the 2011 cricket World Cup in India, our boys would have had to fly immediately back to a Pakistani airport, where it is safe.

Noman Ansari

Noman Ansari

The author is the editor-in-chief of IGN Pakistan, and has been reviewing films and writing opinion pieces for The Express Tribune as well as Dawn for five years. He tweets as @Pugnate (twitter.com/Pugnate)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.