Tevez living up to famed No. 10
PIRAEUS, Greece -- Maybe it is the clothes that make the man, or at least the jersey and its number.
The honor of the vaunted No. 10 for any of the Argentine National Teams usually goes to that special player, which traditionally has brought out his sheer brilliance or even sometimes the madness of the man.
Of course, the most famous owner of the jersey, the fabulous Diego Maradona was the best player of his generation. He is the only player to dominate a World Cup from start to finish. He also boosted Napoli to dizzying heights in Italy's Serie A that it hasn't experienced since.
His successor, Ariel Ortega, was a good, but not great player. At first and second glance at the 1996 Olympics, Ortega, with his bushy black hair, looked like Maradona's clone but never quite exactly lived up to the hype.
Now the number has been entrusted to Carlos Tevez, at least at the Under-23 and Olympic levels.
He is only 20-years-old, but Tevez undoubtedly has proven he is a man playing with mere boys as the best player of the 16-team men's tournament.
After Argentina's 3-0 shellacking of Italy in the semifinals, Tevez has only one game remaining to continue to show the world why he should be playing in Italy, Spain or England.
On Saturday, he and his teammates will take on Paraguay -- 3-1 winners over Cinderella team Iraq for the right to become the first South American side to capture an Olympic gold medal since Uruguay accomplished that feat in 1928.
Tevez, known as "Carlitos" to friends, grew up in poverty in the tough Buenos Aires suburb of Fuerte Apache. He was so talented then that he signed a contract at the age of eight with Second Division All Boys.
He hardly looks like a classic goalscorer. But then again, neither did Maradona or Pele. Perhaps we have to redefine the term.
He is compact -- 5-6 and 148 lbs -- and his center of gravity is close to the ground, so he doesn't get upended very often. He has everything you need in an attacker. He's fast, skilled, tricky and shifty in tight quarters. If you're a defender and he gets the ball around you, pray that your goalkeeper doesn't scream at you after he retrieves the ball from the back of the net.
On Tuesday night, Tevez played a game within a game: Where's "Carlitos?"
Trying to shake whoever was on him, the elusive Tevez wound up all over the place. He started in the middle, ventured to his left, went back to the middle, somehow wound up on the right.
Anywhere for space.
He found some in the 16th minute. A high corner kick was sent into the box. Midfielder Andres D'Alessandro missed it. Italian defender Matteo Ferrari tried to clear it, but instead popped it up into the air. Tevez, standing at the penalty spot, knew where the ball was and powered a well-timed volley into the lower left corner past goalkeeper Ivan Pelizzoli.
It was his seventh goal of the competition, with one more game remaining.
Tevez's presence made the defense nervous and sometimes a bit neglectful; He found himself with the ball in the midfield with the Italians' Ferrari and Cesare Bovo closing in on him. They were so focused on "Carlitos" that no one bothered to notice or pick up an onrushing Luis Gonzalez on the right side. Tevez sent him a short pass and Gonzalez raced into the area to fire a 16-yard shot to the near post for his first goal of the competition in the 69th minute.
In between the goals, Tevez even went back to help out on defense.
He further demonstrated how unselfish he was in the 84th minute, when he bolted down the right wing and sent the ball through Ferrari's legs to Mariano Gonzalez, who deposited an easy six-yard shot into the net.
You wanted more. You wanted his teammates to find him open more just to see what type of magic he could perform with the ball.
Most of it is a disappearing act - as in the ball disappearing behind the goalkeeper.
Oh yeah, about that those bouts of madness from which emanates from that blue and white striped No. 10 jersey.
Maradona, if you recall, was reduced to claiming that the Mafia had something to do with Germany winning the 1990 World Cup after Argentina fell in the final. That was before his well-known drug abuses (cocaine in 1991 and that drug cocktail at the 1994 World Cup) became public and effectively ended his career.
Ortega was red-carded from a World Cup quarterfinal loss to the Netherlands in 1998 and really never lived up to his hype. He recently returned to Newell's Old Boys after a year's suspension from soccer for refusing to play for his Turkish club, Fenerbahce.
Even the young Tevez hasn't escaped the dark side of the shirt's mystical power.
He wound up in the middle of big controversy last fall when he refused to play for Argentina in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup. Instead, he wanted to remain with Boca Juniors and play against A.C. Milan in the Toyota Cup, which Boca won.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter stepped in the fray, saying that he was "extremely disappointed" by the case. Added Blatter: "I feel that his withdrawal from the Argentinian squad is the result of pressure exerted on a young player by his club. If such practice becomes commonplace, where we will end up?"
Earlier this year, Tevez was suspended for one game for imitating a chicken during during a goal celebration against archrival River Plate in a Libertadores Cup match in June. River also is known as "The Chickens" (Las Gallinas) named by its detractors after the club gave away the 1966 final against Penarol of Uruguay.
After connecting on Argentina's first goal on Monday, he performed a weird dance, stomping his feet on the ground with a couple of teammates.
No ban on that, at least not yet.
For the 2004 Athens Summer Games, Tevez's first five matches of this competition have been one of the great Olympic soccer performances in modern history, letting the great teams of the world know that his asking price certainly won't come cheap.
His transfer feee is $20 million (and rising), but Italian clubs, some in severe financial difficulty, cannot afford him. Bayern Munich has been interested -- the German club is willing to spend $15 million -- but the ante has been upped considerably.
Quite frankly, Tevez is so head and shoulders above the competition that he should have been banned before the tournament began.
But instead, Italy was stuck with him on Tuesday night.
On Saturday, he will be Paraguay's headache.
If they can stop this talented manchild from finding the back of the net, perhaps Olympic officials should award a gold medal just for stopping Tevez.
But don't count on it.
This is Tevez's tournament.
Michael Lewis, soccer columnist for the New York Daily News, will provide commentary about the U.S. Women's Olympic team and other soccer matches at the Summer Games in Athens for ESPN.com. He is the only journalist to have covered 21 of 22 U.S. Women's National Team games in the last two Olympics (1996 and 2000) and Women's World Cup (1999 and 2003). He can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com