Maradona, Messi buoyed by opening success

Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona looked back with satisfaction at their opening World Cup win over Nigeria.

Pretoria: Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona looked back with satisfaction at their opening World Cup win over Nigeria.

A 1-0 success thanks to Gabriel Heinze`s header means Argentina look well-poised to advance from Group B where South Korea also beat a feeble-looking Greece and the three points were a tonic after Maradona`s men had struggled to qualify.

"We are right in there in the mix," Maradona insisted yesterday while praising Messi for an enterprising showing which on another day would have seen a much larger winning margin.

"I want to see Leo hug the ball. We enjoy ourselves when he does that. Football would not be beautiful were it not for seeing Messi do wonderful things," said Maradona.

Messi praised teammates Juan Veron, Angel Di Maria and Javier Mascherano for doing the deeper work which allowed him to put the Nigerians under pressure.

"They let me play," said the Barcelona star, who was in the thick of most of Argentina`s attacking moves as he partnered Gonzalo Higuain and Carlos Tevez in a threee-pronged attack.
Despite their laboured path to the finals Argentina are now utterly focused on the job of landing their third crown after 1978 and 1986, says Messi, who finally looks ready to transfer his Barcelona form to the international arena.

"I had more contact with the ball. We created many chances on goal and didn`t have the luck to convert. But we played really well and we are going to carry on in that vein. The important thing was to start with a win."

Argentina are blessed with a wealth of attacking talent so it was somewhat ironic that a defender netted their goal.

Nonetheless, says Messi, eager to show the side are definitely not a one man band, "we have loads of very good players in the squad - any of them can win a match for us, myself included."
He admitted that "we had a few awkward moments in the qualifiers - not just me but all of us".

"But against Nigeria we created so many chances. I think Argentina have been creating more chances than anyone so far, though we didn`t finish them off. Yet we are happy with the way things are going and will take it from there."

A small cloud on the immediate horizon with South Korea to come on Thursday, is the fitness of veteran midfielder Veron, who went off midway through the second half.

Medical staff diagnosed a calf muscle strain but he is expected to recover in time to face the South Koreans.

If not, then the man who replaced him, Maxi Rodriguez, could make the starting eleven at Soccer City.


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