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Maradona picks Lionel Messi to lead Argentina's attack

Argentina's coach, Diego Maradona, has declared himself 'extremely pleased' with Lionel Messi ahead of their Group B match with Greece.

sports Updated: Jun 22, 2010 11:23 IST

Argentina's coach, Diego Maradona, has declared himself 'extremely pleased' with his Lionel Messi ahead of their Group B match with Greece.

Several major names will be absent from Argentina's line-up against Greece in Polokwane tonight, but the most famous of all will start.

In the phoney war before this World Cup began, it was suggested that Lionel Messi was "irreversibly damaged" but Diego Maradona, the Argentina coach, insists his star player is in rude health ahead of his side's final GroupB match.

"He always wants to play and I thought I should give him a break, but if you have a player as good as Leo who is the best player in the world I think it would be a sin to leave him out," said Maradona.

Asked about claims by the fitness coach, Fernando Signorini, concerning Messi's "low energy levels", Maradona replied: "If Messi is having a bad run then let him continue with that bad run, because I'm extremely pleased with his performances."

Argentina will again start with a front three, with Sergio Agero and Diego Milito brought in alongside Messi. However Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuan, Gabriel Heinze and Javier Mascherano will be rested. Jons Gutirrez is suspended.

Victories over South Korea and Nigeria seem to have calmed Maradona a little and he is keen to play down his side's chances. "Brazil haven't played well, but they've finished off matches when they have had to," he said. "That's why they're still the great favourites. We are not candidates or favourites. We are here to give joy to the Argentines, to play as we like, in the way which makes us happy. I like my team because it is solid in the back and it is permanently on the attack."

Greece, meanwhile, need to beat Argentina and rely on a favourable result in the South Korea v Nigeria game to make the knockout stages but Thanassis Prittas believes the unlikely is possible. "In every match all teams make mistakes. It's the same with Argentina," the midfielder said. "The quality of their defence does not match their attack."

That much is true. But given Greece's form in this tournament, you would not bet on their chances of exploiting it.

First Published: Jun 22, 2010 11:16 IST