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Old Teammates Defend Maradona

Qualifying for the World Cup is usually a given for Argentina, a country that won the World Cup in 1978 and 1986, and has not missed the competition since 1970. But Argentina's qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup has been a torturous one, as it wobbles on the fringe of missing the cut. The team sits in fifth place in the 10-nation South America group. The top four teams qualify automatically and the fifth-place team enters a home-and-away playoff against the fourth-place team from the Concacaf region. Argentina plays host to last-place Peru on Saturday before it plays a difficult away match in Uruguay on Oct. 14.

Mario Kempes and Daniel Brailovsky, two ESPN analysts who have played with Argentina coach Diego Maradona, were reticent to criticize the iconic man who has been derided recently at home and abroad. "I just came from Argentina and there is no pessimism, yet, there is concern," said Kempes, one of the stars of the 1978 World Cup-winning team. "Today, the people are looking for nothing beautiful, only to qualify, that's it. It's strange. There is so much talent."

Brailovsky, who coached Israel and went on to coach Club America in Mexico, also defended Maradona. He said: "It's difficult for me. I know Diego, I've played with him and he's a friend. Even though people think he's not, he's a very smart person. With Diego, on the field he had an ability to create and change the game by himself without having to depend on other players. As a striker, you don't often look at the game as a coach would."

Read the whole story at New York Times »

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