Win shows spirit of Argentine squad

Johannesburg: A tearful Martin Palermo after scoring his first World Cup goal on Tuesday was a symbol of the spirit as much as footballing depth of Diego Maradona`s Argentina squad.

The 36-year-old Palermo, making a World Cup debut he could not have dreamt of a year ago, helped Argentina beat Greece 2-0 in their final group game after they had spent most of the match patiently breaking down their ultra conservative opponents.

The team that won the match was not Maradona`s first choice side who beat Nigeria and South Korea, yet they played as if they were such is the belief running through the squad from himself down through the whole of his coaching staff.

A defence without Walter Samuel, Gabriel Heinze and Javier Mascherano provided a rock solid platform on which Juan Sebastian Veron and Maxi Rodriguez helped Messi and the strikers chip away at Greek resistance.

Some coaches might have been satisfied to keep the point that ensured Argentina won the group unbeaten but Maradona saw chinks in the Greek armour.

The fresh Angel Di Maria and Javier Pastore made the team stronger in attack down the middle. It was in the final quarter that a freer Messi came so close to breaking his tournament duck.

Palermo Choice

Other coaches would have been worried by Argentina`s failure to come in ahead at halftime and by the hour perhaps opted to bolster the defence but Greece posed so little threat that Maradona felt confident in his choice of Palermo.

As usual captain Mascherano said recently Argentina were not concerned by a perceived imbalance between defence and attack with so many good forwards in the squad.

The fact that Messi and the two strikers of the day pose such a threat means opponents are forced to keep players deep in defence for fear of conceding and attack Argentina less.

Palermo, a player who is almost a black sheep in the talent rich Maradona family with trunks for legs as Argentines would say, is known for his extraordinary goals. Tuesday`s was simple, to steer in the rebound when the keeper saved from Messi.

Maradona included Palermo, who scored a crucial goal against Peru in the qualifiers, in his squad because he is a man who epitomises the commitment he likes to see in players wearing the national colours.

When he came on, that left only three of Maradona`s "23 wild cats itching to come on" who have not yet played.

A reporter, remarking on the amount of kissing and embracing among the Argentina squad, asked Maradona at a recent news conference whether love could win the World Cup.

Maradona replied as if his manhood had been called into question but his answer might have been that it could help.

Bureau Report

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