Batista debut receives Messi blessing

BUENOS AIRES - Interim Argentina coach Sergio Batista felt the warmth of a healthy pat on the back from striker Lionel Messi after leading the side to a 1-0 friendly win over Ireland in his first game in charge on Wednesday.

Batista has expressed his desire to retain the job on a full-time basis through to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, not just for the rest of the year, and his cause will be helped by Messi's glowing assessment of the former central midfielder.

"We've got to let him get on with the job. I had him at the Olympic Games (in 2008) and I get on very well with him. Today he's the one and we regard him as the national team coach, not a stand-in," Messi told reporters.

The narrow win in Dublin was exactly the kind of result Batista was hoping for ahead of a more demanding home match against world champions Spain in Buenos Aires early next month.

Messi was happy in an Argentina shirt in Beijing two years ago when he inspired his country to a second successive soccer gold medal and the Barcelona forward admitted he felt similarly as comfortable on Wednesday.

"I liked how we played, it's the same system we use in my club, the same game. I felt comfortable because that's how I play with Barcelona," Messi told TyC Sport, who broadcast the match to Argentina.

Messi found himself increasingly isolated in former coach Diego Maradona's side at this year's World Cup as Argentina progressively came up against tougher opponents and cut a forlorn figure when they lost 4-0 to Germany in the quarter-finals.

BALANCED MIDFIELD

"Checho" Batista, a bearded commanding defensive midfielder in the 1986 World Cup-winning side, fielded a balanced midfield with plenty of back-up for captain Javier Mascherano from Fernando Gago, overlooked for South Africa, and Ever Banega.

All three were in Batista's Olympic team, along with Wednesday's scorer Angel Di Maria and the recalled full-back Pablo Zabaleta.

"We played very well, I liked the first half a lot," Batista told reporters. "After a (prior) 30-minute practice, I'm happy because the lads had possession and respect for the ball. They got the message right away."

The confident Batista believes in his chances of getting the job, saying in a recent interview with the sports daily Ole: "I hope everything is taken into account, what I did at the Olympic Games and the work with the national juniors."

Batista also gets on with Carlos Bilardo, the 1986 and 1990 World Cup coach now the Argentine Football Association's technical director, who was often at loggerheads with Maradona.

How the friendlies go against Spain next month and then Brazil could ultimately decide his fate but Batista said: "I don't feel like an interim (coach), I'm going to work as if I were the man, with a contract until 2014.

"Of course, I'm hopeful, of staying. The decision is the directors'. I want to get this on track and work like a national team trainer."

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