Maradona can’t make up his mind over the World Cup squad

Having looked at over 100 players during the past 12 months, Argentina coach Diego Maradona declared before the friendly against Germany in March that he had made up his mind about 80 per cent of his World Cup squad.

So it was something of a surprise, following a much improved performance and a 1-0 win, that he was talking in terms of knowing only 60 per cent of his squad for South Africa after the game.

Maradona had told his players before the match in Munich to treat it like a World Cup quarter-final and they lined up as they had for the 1-0 win against Uruguay which secured qualification for this summer’s showpiece. With what appeared to be the side that might start against Nigeria in June, Argentina showed more ideas, better precision and keener marking than in previous games, but still lacked imagination in attack.

It remains a mystery to many why players such as Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain (who scored the winner against Germany), Carlos Tevez and Diego Milito are consistently on target for their European sides, yet fail far too often for their country.

Maradona’s frequent mistake seems to have been in putting these players in different positions to the ones they play for their clubs.

Manchester City’s Tevez, for example, was sent on for the last 20 minutes against Germany and given few chances out on the wing, while Messi, who has been in prolific goalscoring form this season, plays in a three-man attack for Barcelona but – with Maradona sticking to 4-4-2, or occasionally 4-3-1-2 – he is forced to play further back for the national team.

Against Germany, Messi was often marked by three opponents and was fouled repeatedly – as will almost certainly be the case in South Africa – before he could get into a scoring position. To reproduce some of the many goals he gets in Spain he needs to play further up the pitch where, at the very least if still heavily marked, he could make space for others.

The argument has long raged over Argentina’s best way of playing: 1978 World Cup-winner Cesar Menotti’s more attacking style or 1986 winner Carlos Bilardo’s more conservative approach. Maradona says his tactics are a mixture of both, yet the present team is more like that of Bilardo and builds from the back.

Maradona’s general on the pitch is 35-year-old Juan Sebastian Veron, who distributes play well and dictates the rhythm, but rarely creates chances for the strikers as Juan Roman Riquelme did. Despite repeated pleas from fans, the media and even FA chief Julio Grondona, Riquelme – who quit international football after Maradona criticised him on TV – remains committed to his comment: “I will be on holiday during the World Cup.”

Maradona stayed on in Europe after the Germany game to talk personally to his World Cup candidates – and to tell others (such as Internazionale’s Javier Zanetti, who holds the national record of 136 caps) that they would not be picked.

While Maradona has been criticised for the number of players used during his reign, it should be remembered that the majority were players from local clubs who he tried out in B internationals. Although it is a good idea to have such games, even in non-World Cup years, only two of these players – Veron and Velez Sarsfield defender Nicolas Otamendi – played against Germany and are likely to be in the World Cup squad.

Argentina have another game scheduled for May 24, against Canada in Buenos Aires, as part of the country’s 200-year independence celebrations. Maradona is against the fixture, saying it will interfere with his World Cup preparations, but it sounds more like he is getting in his excuses early in case of a poor performance or defeat, against weaker rivals. The coach continues to be afraid of criticism and hates most of the media for it – though these days he is careful to mind his language after an earlier two-month suspension from FIFA.