Facts & figures: Argentina

Factbox on World Cup qualifiers Argentina: World Cup record:

Previous appearances in finals: 14

Best performance: Winners in 1978 and 1986

Runners-up: 1930 and 1990

Coach: Diego Maradona, who captained Argentina to World Cup victory in 1986 and the final in 1990. Controversially appointed in Nov. 2008 despite minimal top-flight coaching experience to succeed Alfio Basile, who resigned midway through the qualifiers. Widely criticised for lack of a recognised tactical plan as team lost four qualifiers and almost did not reach finals for first time since 1970.

Key players:

Lionel Messi (Barcelona). Age: 22. Forward

Potential match-winner who has struggled to repeat his excellent club form for his country although Maradona says he has done what has been asked of him. At 18, became youngest player to represent Argentina when he appeared at the 2006 finals though was kept mainly on bench.

Javier Mascherano (Liverpool). Age: 25. Midfielder

Tactically astute ball winner and distributor who stood out at the 2006 finals but struggled, like the rest of the team he captains, to give convincing performances in 2010 qualifiers.

Juan Sebastian Veron (Estudiantes). Age: 34. Midfielder

Key playmaker in the absence of Juan Roman Riquelme, who quit over differences with Maradona. Enjoying a renaissance with national team after being vilified for their failure to progress from group stage in 2002.

FIFA world ranking November 2009: 8

How they qualified: Argentina needed to win their 18th and last match to seal fourth place in the 10-team South American group at the end of a poor campaign that included a 6-1 rout in Bolivia and a 3-1 home defeat by Brazil. They won their last game 1-0 in Uruguay to go through.

Prospects: Despite their poor qualifying campaign, Argentina possess a great pool of players and are always a major threat at big tournaments. Maradona has six months to find a settled team and turn them into a cohesive unit.