Argentine fans still divided over Diego

BUENOS AIRES - Argentina's fans remained unconvinced by Diego Maradona as coach after their last-gasp victory over Peru in their World Cup qualifier on Saturday.

Striker Martin Palermo scored two minutes into stoppage time in torrential rain giving Argentina a 2-1 win and reviving hopes of qualifying for the 2010 finals.

They have climbed into fourth place in the South American group before their last qualifier away to Uruguay on Wednesday.

The top four go through automatically with Uruguay, a point behind Argentina, perched in the fifth-place playoff spot.

An emotional Maradona celebrated his team's first victory after three consecutive losses with a belly-flop on the rain- soaked field. Later he told reporters a miracle by 'Saint Palermo' had granted the team another life.

Maradona is adored in Argentina. He rose from a slum to lead the team to two World Cup finals as a player. After his retirement, he fought drug addiction, alcohol abuse and obesity. In an improbable comeback he was named national coach last year.

But fans are tired of relying on divine providence.

They say Maradona's deficiencies as a coach have placed top players too close to failure in what could be Argentina's first elimination from the finals since 1970.

"Maradona is the greatest idol of Argentine soccer but if you ask people, 50 percent of them, including me, will tell you that he shouldn't be the coach," Carlos Andrade, a Buenos Aires taxi driver, said.

"He doesn't have the experience. It's something we tend to do in Argentina - from the president to the national coach - everyone improvises."

 

FOUR DEFEATS

As a coach Maradona has suffered four defeats and only won three games in the qualifiers.

In a country where the national ego is wrapped up in the performance of football on the global stage, some people are so frustrated at watching what they see as flawed coaching and haphazard playing they would rather the national team fail to qualify and for Maradona to quit.

Even before he took the job sceptics queried his limited coaching experience and questions linger after Saturday about Maradona's lack of strategy.

"I want Argentina to reach the World Cup and win it but they have to change the way they're playing," said Maximiliano Reynosa, a pizza deliveryman.

"No one denies Maradona is one of the best players but he's a mediocre coach. We're relying on a last-minute goal from (Palermo) a 35-year-old player."

But some still believe Maradona will be able to lead the national squad to an all-important victory in Uruguay on Wednesday.

"Maradona is the best. He's a God," said Florencia Sassani, a 21-year-old college student, wearing a light blue Argentina jumper. "He's had some back luck in the past but he won today and he'll do well, God willing."