Argentina coach to step down

 Alejandro Sabella (Supplied)
Alejandro Sabella (Supplied)

Rio de Janeiro - Diego Maradona's news conferences at the Soccer World Cup four years ago generated such global media interest in the then Argentina manager's controversial views that tickets had to be issued.

But Alejandro Sabella, who will step down as Argentina coach after Sunday's final against Germany, is not a box office draw.

Instead, the quiet 59-year-old is letting his team's performances speak for him.

This weekend in the showpiece match at the Maracana Stadium, Sabella will be able to test his approach against a Germany team that, in some ways, he has sought to emulate.

Sabella has brought the tactical discipline and work ethic that helped Argentina come out of the group stage with maximum points and then deal with tricky European opponents Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands in the knockout rounds.

Asked to sum up his team's qualities after the semi-final win over the Netherlands, Sabella said simply: "Humility, work and giving 100 percent".

Those are words that could also describe Sabella himself, a man who has had to wait until late in his career to get a chance to be in charge of a team at the highest level.

It has not been a spectacular Argentina in Brazil - all those wins were tight affairs and none closer then the victory on penalties against the Dutch after a defensive masterclass from both sides in a goalless 120 minutes.

But Sabella has focused on making sure a team with an abundance of attacking talent, including four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, was not undone by their lack of recognised quality in defence.

"My job is to disguise that imbalance in the best way possible," Sabella said before the World Cup.

The model, he added, for a balanced team was Germany and, after reaching the final, Sabella was quick to express his admiration for Sunday's opponents.

"Germany has shown throughout its history great physical and mental power, and players with a hint of South America. Germany knows what team work, organisation and long-term work is," he said.

Sabella's modest style and approach is part of his character but it also reflects a career in which he has often worked in the shadows of bigger names and stronger personalities.

Capped eight times by Argentina, he left River Plate in 1978 to play in England with Yorkshire clubs Sheffield United and Leeds United before later playing in Brazil and Mexico.

After retiring from playing in 1989, he spent years as assistant to ex-Argentina defender Daniel Passarella, including with the Uruguay national team and at Parma in Italy, and he was also part of the Argentina set-up at the 1998 World Cup.

It was only in 2009 that Sabella got a job as a head coach, taking over Estudiantes and leading them to a fourth South American Copa Libertadores title.

Two years later he was put in charge of Argentina, who had not won a Copa America since 1993 and had not reached the World Cup final since 1990.

World champions in 1978 and 1986, Argentina expected more and with the skills of Messi on board the anticipation grew.

But Sabella smartly kept a lid on expectations, avoiding the kind of hype that Maradona generated and allowing his team to evolve through this tournament into a unit that is now one win away from giving him a glorious send-off.

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