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Oh, for paradise without god!

Argentina seek to rebuild their lost reputation in post-Maradona era.

india Updated: May 28, 2006 01:30 IST

The Argentina National team will arrive at the World Cup with new faces and its prestige intact — but not without the problems that have prevented it repeating its past successes in the post-Maradona era. One of the difficulties that manager Jose Pekerman faces is the abundance of top-class players to choose from. That's something that, until now, has greatly complicated the task of deciding on a squad.

One certainty is that Argentina will arrive in Germany with a bunch of players who combine experience and youth. They will reintroduce some of those who played in 2002 but will also bank on rising stars, including Barcelona youngster Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez, who shone first for Boca Juniors and then for Brazil's Corinthians.

Roberto Abbondanzieri, Juan Pablo Sorin, Roberto Ayala, Esteban Cambiasso and Hernan Crespo will bring in the experience and provide the backbone for Argentina, who hope to rebuild their reputation after their failure in 2002, when they were knocked out in the first round. But it is Juan Roman Riquelme who has been chosen by Pekerman to be Argentina's heart and soul, to create with his feet and his brain chances for the team. His obvious substitute is Pablo Aimar, although they might well end up playing together.

The gold medal at the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004 and the team's second place in the Copa America in Peru have not satisfied the demands of the 35 million fans in this football-crazy country.

The path to Germany was quite promising. Argentina was the first South American team to guarantee itself a place in the finals — won back in June — although the team eventually ended second in the group, behind Brazil. Their performances sowed some doubts, especially away from home where Argentina lost four of their nine encounters. At home, however, they were unbeaten, winning seven and drawing two. Two friendly matches again created problems for Pekerman as the team lost 3-2 to both England and Croatia on late goals, leading to sharp criticism at home.

Pekerman, a quiet man with a low profile, has not entirely convinced the public about his methods. One cause for concern was the public offer that Argentine Football Association chief Julio Grondona made last November to Maradona, proposing that he join the coaching staff. Many took this as a sign that all was not well behind the scenes. In the end, Maradona rejected the offer and things returned to normal.

In Germany, Argentina are again looking to leave their footprint on the World Cup history. (DPA)