Argentina pour scorn on Maradona and Messi

2009-09-12 00:00

BUENOS AIRES — Argentina are living through their worst football nightmare under the leadership of their greatest football hero, Diego Maradona. There is a very real chance that coach Maradona and his men could fail to qualify for the 2010 Soccer World Cup in South Africa.

A play-off against a team from north or central America or the Caribbean now offers salvation for a star-studded side in the light of some very poor performances, and even Maradona cannot find the way to make his players rise to the challenge.

Still, the manager — himself a former teen and adult superstar, as well as a recovered drug addict — brushed aside criticism and rumours about a dismissal at the worst point in his 10 months as Argentina coach.

“I’m going to keep going,” he said. “[Critics] won’t break me.”

Argentina played very badly against Paraguay on Wednesday, experts and fans agree, and Maradona is the target of a lot of their disappointment.

Some 87% of more than 11 000 people taking part in an online poll by the daily La Nacion said he should resign.

In a similar poll in the daily Clarin, 69% of more than 74 000 participants said that “Maradona is the only one to blame about this situation in the national team”.

Press and fans also fired their guns elsewhere, however, with striker Lionel Messi taking a big portion of the blame. Maradona himself stood up for the talented player in Paraguay, arguing that rivals “neutralised him well”.

But many do not agree. In the year when he is almost certain to be awarded the Ballon d’Or and designated the Fifa Player of the Year, Messi has consistently failed to perform with the national team.

“Messi is a shadow of the man who shines at Barcelona; he goes blind in the face of setbacks and he resorts to impossible dribbling,” the sports daily Ole said.

“He looks hesitant, imprecise, nervous and powerless, like most of his team-mates,” La Nacion added.

In this setting, things look grim for the football powerhouse, the winner of two World Cups.

“Argentina do not play, do not react, they let themselves be. They are ineffective. There is no plan,” La Nacion complained.

The fact that veterans Martin Palermo and Rolando Schiavi, aged 35 and 36, came on to the pitch on Wednesday is regarded as a sign of “the major disorientation of those who are in charge”.

Argentina cannot find an identity or even leaders who can bring the team together.

Veteran Juan Sebastian Veron has played the part of late, but he will miss the next game because he was sent off in Paraguay. Messi is not up to the task and current captain Javier Mascherano has shrunk well below his usual stature in recent matches.

For Clarin: “All is not lost, but the danger is real because there is a lack of play, there is a lack of identity and the team is getting worse.”

Argentina are set to host Peru on October 10 and to visit Uruguay four days later.

The South American qualifiers’ table shows Brazil and Paraguay at the top, already sure to play in South Africa.

Chile stand in third place, with 27 points in 16 games and very close to securing their own World Cup berth.

Below that, all bets are off in the fight for another World Cup place and for a place in a play-off.

Ecuador stand fourth with 23 points, one ahead of Argentina. Uruguay and Venezuela have 21 points, while Colombia lie in eighth place, with 20 points and still with a chance of getting to South Africa.

“In 1993 we had to play a play-off and we got to the World Cup. Did anyone die?” Maradona said to play down what would have sounded like a disaster only months ago.

As things stand, however, and particularly given their current level, Argentina cannot even count on playing the play-off, let alone winning it.

– Sapa-DPA.

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