True, there were times when it wasn't possible to observe the Argentine coach without humming the theme song to Benny Hill. Picture, for example, the Argentine training session where Maradona pretended to beat up a member of his staff and theatrically acted as a target for his players to shoot a hail of balls at. He came out of it furiously rubbing the back of his head. Ho-ho, what a jester!
But as Argentina's victories piled up, there seemed to be method in Maradona's madness. No other team had Argentina's swashbuckling flair. With Gonzalo Higuain and Carlos Tevez slotting in goals and world player of the year Lionel Messi supplying inspiration, passes and even leadership on the field, it was possible to ignore the holes in Maradona's defense and midfield. And not second-guess his decision to leave defender Javier Zanetti and midfielder Esteban Cambiasso at home.
Maradona's strategy, if it can be called that, was to outscore, not shut out opponents. "Permanently on the attack" is how he lovingly described Argentina's style of play.
Because of Argentina's defensive frailties and Maradona's lack of alternate plans, there was always the suspicion Argentina's exciting adventure could derail if its forwards couldn't score. Yet few suspected that Argentina and Maradona would be undressed quite so starkly as they were by Germany in the quarterfinals.
German manager Joachim Loew thoroughly outthought Maradona, executing his game plan brilliantly -- just as he did against the England side of Fabio Capello, a coach more experienced than Maradona. Messi's attacking runs broke against the rocks of dogged, organized German defending, while the Argentine defense and Javier Mascherano in midfield were overwhelmed by the speed of the Germans.
As the German goals mounted up, 1-0, 2-0, 3-0 and finally 4-0, it grew increasingly clear that Maradona had no answer. He looked so sad on the touchline.
This World Cup would not have been as much fun without Maradona, but it was always too much to expect that he would be the same genius as a coach as he was as Argentina's greatest player.