Destiny beckons for Maradona and Argentina

Paris: Having already etched his name into
World Cup folklore as a player, Diego Maradona`s next
challenge is to silence the doubters by leading Argentina to
glory in South Africa as a coach.

Silky as his playing skills may have been, cast in the
role of coach Maradona has presided over a team that has at
times looked to be as leaden as the one he played in was fleet
of foot.

A surprise choice to replace Alfio Basile, who quit in
October 2008, Maradona endured a humiliating series of losses
-- the nadir being a 6-1 hiding in Bolivia -- before Argentina
ultimately came through with victory against Uruguay in their
final qualifying match.

There are now two questions on the lips of the
Albiceleste`s fans.

The first: has Maradona got what it takes to emulate
Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer by winning World Cup glory
for the nation as both player and coach?

The second: can he get the best out of the world`s best
player, Lionel Messi, who has yet to consistently replicate
his sparkling Barcelona form in the sky blue and white of his

Maradona says that Messi himself holds the answer to the
second question.

"He must be the owner of the team. He knows it. We have
the best player in the world in our team," says the coach.

"We will give him lots of responsibility."

Messi, a junior world champion in 2005, was left on the
bench by former coach Jose Pekerman for the 2006 World Cup
quarter-final exit to Germany and he knows that to enter the
all-time hall of fame he has to cut it beyond club level.

"To become a legend, to become great, you have to also
win the World Cup," he said in a recent interview with El
Mundo newspaper.

Raising the bar to that height does not entirely torpedo
the claims to sporting immortality of Johan Cruyff, a success
as player and coach at Barcelona a generation before Messi.

But those who stand at the apex of the sport -- including
Pele, Beckenbauer and Maradona himself -- all have World Cup
winners` medals in their collections.

Maradona already knows that Messi is his key ingredient
but he also appears to have well-developed ideas about the
rest of the recipe.

An impressive 1-0 friendly win in Germany in March was
built upon a defence featuring four centre-backs in Nicolas
Otamendi, Martin Demichelis, Walter Samuel and Gabriel Heinze,
and Maradona says he intends to stick with this defensive

Captain Javier Mascherano will shield the defence, with
veteran Juan Sebastian Veron slightly further forward and
flying Benfica winger Angel Di Maria stationed on the left.

Newcastle United`s Jonas Gutierrez is likely to perform a
largely defensive role on the right flank, with in-form Real
Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain -- scorer of 27 league goals
last season -- completing the outfield line-up.

Argentina face South Korea, Nigeria and Greece in Group B
and it was against Greece at the 1994 World Cup that Maradona
coincidentally scored his last international goal, before
earning a ban for a positive drug test.

The fact that Manchester City`s Carlos Tevez, Inter
Milan`s Diego Milito and Atletico Madrid`s Sergio Aguero
cannot be assured of a starting place demonstrates the
enviable depth of resources at the coach`s disposal.

As Maradona insists, they will "fear no-one".

Bureau Report

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