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Will Maradona's Argentina avoid the unthinkable?
by Paul Kennedy, October 9th, 2009 6:45AM

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[WORLD CUP 2010 QUALIFYING] Following three straight losses, Argentina finds itself in danger of missing out on the World Cup for the first time in 40 years. If qualifying ended today, Argentina would be forced to play Concacaf's No. 4 team in a playoff. Much of the blame for Argentina's troubles rests with Coach Diego Maradona, who insists on, among other things, afternoon-only practices because he sleeps in mornings.

Following the latest defeats to Brazil and Paraguay, Maradona hid out for 11 days at an Italian spa to lose weight and escape the stress -- or at least he tried to hide out. Italian tax collectors found him and authorities confiscated diamond earrings worth $5,900 as partial payment for a tax bill -- reported to be $54 million dating back to his playing days at Napoli.

Maradona the coach has been a disaster. His team selections have been odd, to say the least. He's called in 76 different players this year, giving chances to players who thought their international careers were long since finished.

His latest call-ups includes Pablo Aimar of Benfica, one in a long of players who were once considered to be the next Maradona.

Despite the presence of Barcelona star Lionel Messi, widely tipped to win the 2009 Player of the Year awards, Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez and Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano, Argentina has struggled in qualifying under Maradona.

Messi has underperformed, the midfield has lacked direction since Juan Roman Riquelme quit the team, and the backline is aging and susceptible to the counterattack -- as Brazil demonstrated in its 3-1 victory in Cordoba last month. Maradona's new first-choice goalie, Sergio Romero, has played only one match for the national team.

Juan Sebastian Veron, who only two years ago was on the verge of joining MLS's D.C. United, has been asked to play a key role in midfield, but he is suspended for Saturday's match against Peru in Buenos Aires.

The South American qualifying schedule is such that direct elimination would be shocking. After playing Peru on Saturday, Argentina heads to Montevideo to face Uruguay on Wednesday.

As long as the Albicelestes beat last-place Peru, they will probably avoid direct elimination even if they lose at Uruguay. (Ecuador, which is in fourth and Uruguay, tied for sixth with Venezuela, play each other Saturday in Quito.)

But the way things have been going under Maradona, no Argentine is taking any game for granted.

SOUTH AMERICA
Standings:

TEAM GP W T L GF GA P
*Brazil 16 9 6 1 32 9 33
*Paraguay 16 9 3 4 22 13 30
Chile 16 8 3 5 27 20 27
Ecuador 16 6 5 5 21 23 23
------------------------------------
Argentina 16 6 4 6 20 19 22
------------------------------------
Uruguay 16 5 6 5 26 18 21
Venezuela 16 6 3 7 22 27 21
Colombia 16 5 5 6 10 14 20
Bolivia 16 3 3 10 20 34 12
Peru 16 2 4 10 9 32 1
*Qualifies for 2010 World Cup.

Schedule:
Saturday, Oct. 10
Colombia vs. Chile   
Ecuador vs. Uruguay   
Venezuela vs. Paraguay   
Argentina vs. Peru   
Sunday, Oct. 11
Bolivia vs. Brazil   
Wednesday, Oct. 14
Peru vs. Bolivia   
Paraguay vs. Colombia   
Brazil  vs. Venezuela   
Chile vs. Ecuador   
Uruguay vs.  Argentina   

 



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