History beckons Maradona

In this third and final part of team analysis, A. Vinod takes a look at the nine giants.

To say that Argentina had a tortuous campaign in the South American qualifiers would be a big understatement. Following a 6-1 mauling at the hands of Bolivia and an equally disastrous 3-1 defeat to old foe Brazil at home, the Argentines were under serious threat of missing the World Cup for the first time since Mexico 1970.

However, as luck would have it, the Albicelestes finally hauled themselves up with wins over Peru and Uruguay in their final two matches, much to the relief of the football-crazy nation.

Argentina is now in South Africa with high hopes of repeating its memorable triumphs of 1978 and 1986, the latter under the stewardship of Diego Maradona, who is the coach of the current team.

Among others, what gives the Argentine fans hope is the favourable draw that the two-time champion has received. Drawn in Group B alongside not-so-powerful Nigeria, South Korea and Greece, the South American outfit is expected to have a smooth passage to the knockout stage.

History too is cited as one of the reasons why Argentina should come good in the month-long tournament, for in 1985, the side led by Maradona had an equally poor campaign in the qualifiers, but hit the peak in the high altitude of Mexico the following year.

The fine form displayed by two of its key stars, the young Lionel Messi for FC Barcelona and veteran Juan Sebastian Veron for Estudiantes, in recent months has helped the Argentines suddenly go ga-ga over their team's chances at the World Cup.

Certainly, Messi and Veron, recalled to the team after 2002, are Argentina's main hopes in South Africa. The team also has others of truly international class such as Javier Mascherano, the skipper and central midfielder, Angel Di Maria and Jonas Gutierrez, all hardworking players who can do the job of marking and attacking down the flanks.

However, the Argentine defence looks shaky — it has collectively failed to stop the flow of goals for sometime now. It is also a matter of conjecture still as to who will man the Argentine goal though Sergio Romero seems to be a safe bet.

Though the side has many players with great technique individually, it doesn't have a clear style of play which is another of Argentina's weaknesses. This has only made Diego Maradona's task of helping his side lift its first international trophy since 1993 that much tougher. Stepping in as a replacement for Alfio Basile in October 2007, the legendary player, who is equated with the great Pele as the Player of the Last Century, has so far been unable to help his players with his vast experience.

That Maradona used 72 players in 15 matches in the last two years is held against him. So is the fact that he has consistently ignored Juan Riquelme, who was crucial to the team not so long ago, after a public spat with him.

But then, Maradona can make history of winning the World Cup both as a player and a coach only if he can get his assembly of stars clicking.

THE TEAM GOALKEEPERS

Sergio Romero (AZ Alkmaar), Mariano Andujar (Catania) and Diego Pozo (Colon).

DEFENDERS

Nicolas Burdisso (AS Roma), Nicolas Otamendi (Velez Sarsfield), Martin Demichelis (Bayern Munich), Walter Samuel (Inter Milan), Gabriel Heinze (Marseille), Clemente Rodrigues (Estudiantes) and Ariel Garce (Colon).

MIDFIELDERS

Jonas Gutierrez (Newcastle), Maximiliano Rodriguez (Liverpool), Javier Mascherano (Liverpool), Juan Sebastian Veron (Estudiantes), Angel Di Maria (Benfica), Javier Pastore (Palmero) and Mario Bollatti (Fiorentina).

FORWARDS

Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid), Martin Palermo (Boca Juniors), Sergio Aguero (Atletico Madrid), Diego Milito (Inter Milan) and Carlos Tevez (Manchester City).

Coach: Diego Maradona.