History collides for Argentina
Argentina's camp for the 2010 World Cup will bring together two of the biggest figures in their footballing psyche: coach Diego Maradona and Barcelona gem Lionel Messi, giving the Argentine fans all the reasons to be sanguine.sports Updated: May 27, 2010 16:57 IST
Argentina's camp for the 2010 World Cup will bring together two of the biggest figures in their footballing psyche: coach Diego Maradona and Barcelona gem Lionel Messi.
Maradona, who led the team to the World Cup trophy in an awe-inspiring manner in 1986, is hoping that the 22-year-old forward can repeat history and assume the mantle as the greatest player in the world in style.
However, its not all sunshine for Argentina, as the side suffered mightily to qualify for the finals in South Africa. The 'Albiceleste' are world powers, to be sure, but the most recent of their world crowns came when Maradona famously lifted the trophy in Mexico City.
The man himself came under the fire after Argentina's preliminary campaign, which was an unqualified disaster. Picking up only 28 points and eight wins from their 18 games, they scraped into the finals as the last automatic qualifier from the region, behind moderate powers like Paraguay and Chile.
It took Martin Palermo's goal in stoppage time of the second-to-last game against Peru to book their passage directly and avoid the ignominy of a play-off with Costa Rica.
From the bench, Maradona looked a pale shadow of his dazzling on-field majesty, using more than 80 players over the course of the qualifying campaign and suffering the indignity of a 6-1 loss to minnows Bolivia in La Paz.
Only his beloved status in his native country kept him from the sack. Having used so many players, Maradona, and his co-coach Carlos Bilardo, never cemented a cohesive unit, or a reliable formation.
Troubles aside, Maradona has at his disposal several of the hottest attacking properties in world football right now.
It was not just the number but the quality of many of Messi's goals for Barcelona this season that set chins wagging.
With an embarrassment of riches, Maradona can call on Real Madrid's Gonzalo Higuain, Manchester City ace Carlos Tevez or Inter Milan target man Diego Milito to bolster Messi.
Despite a few glaring holes throughout the team, notably prematurely retired playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme, Maradona is flush with talent.
Bayern's Martin Demichelis and Gabriel Milito marshal the defence. Liverpool man and Argentine captain Javier Mascherano, as well as Fernando Gago and veterans Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso are options for the middle of the park.
Argentina, despite their well-documented problems during the qualifying phase, must still be considered favourites in a competitive Group B, where they line up against Nigeria, South Korea and shock Euro 2004 champions Greece.
In the long run what really matters is not what the pundits say but how well you do during that month," says Mascherano, who is likely to add the steel in midfield.
Spain and Brazil look a cut above the rest because they've both won trophies in the last couple of years, but experience tells me that the World Cup is won by the team that improves through the tournament, not necessarily the one who plays the best," he added.
THE COACH - DIEGO MARADONA
Diego Maradona hardly needs introduction. As a player, he rivals Pele as the greatest of all time, guiding Argentina to a world crown in 1986 and another final four years later, while winning countless accolades with long-time club side Napoli.
An idol in Argentine culture, his appointment as national team coach in late 2008 was a surprise as he had never coached a major team before, and his much-publicised problems with drugs and alcohol seemed to make him an unlikely candidate for the country's top footballing job.
However, he led the side with some difficulty to South Africa, where he hopes to add to his trophy cabinet, from the bench this time.
THE STAR - LIONEL MESSI
At just 22, Lionel Messi has achieved nearly all there is to achieve in world football, apart from winning the World Cup. In the 2008/2009 season, his Barcelona won all six trophies on offer, including the Champions League, La Liga and the Club World Cup, before challenging on all fronts again this past term and winning another La Liga title.
He also won a World Cup at the U-20 in 2005 and an Olympic gold medal at Beijing in 2008. Currently wearing the crown of FIFA World Player of the Year, little Lionel will be eager to cement his status as successor to Pele and Maradona, come June on African soil.
First Published: May 27, 2010 16:48 IST