Maradona believes public are behind him

MUNICH - Argentina coach Diego Maradona believes he has plenty of public support at home even though he has been the target of fierce criticism in his country's media.

Maradona, who captained Argentina in 1986 when they won the World Cup for the last time, has endured a torrid time as coach, suffering World Cup qualifying defeats in Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay and at home to Brazil.

At one point, it was feared his team might even miss out on the finals for the first time since 1970.

"The people in the street give me strength which I transmit to the players. My sense is that the public are with us," he told reporters on Monday before Argentina's friendly against Germany on Wednesday.

Critics say Maradona, who had only two brief spells as club coach before he was surprisingly chosen to replace Alfio Basile, has often looked out of his depth on the touchline, picking more than 100 players in his 18 months at the helm.

His anger at media criticism led to a foul-mouthed public outburst after Argentina clinched World Cup qualifier with a 1-0 win in Uruguay in October with his comments earning him a two-month ban from FIFA.

Maradona said the situation was similar to 1986, when the media did not believe in the team and they still ended up winning.

TREMENDOUS STRENGTH

"The media think we will finish last and this gives us tremendous strength," said Maradona.

"In 1986, they said we would finish last and we finished first, and this is the message for the players today.

Argentina won the 1978 World Cup under Cesar Luis Menotti, who left Maradona out of his team, and the 1986 tournament under Carlos Bilardo, who made Maradona his captain.

Menotti and Bilardo later become bitter ideological and personal rivals, the former preferring attacking football and the latter a more pragmatic game.

Asked which style he preferred, Maradona replied: "I hope to have the philosophy of Menotti in 78 and Bilardo in 1986."

Maradona said his biggest headache was that he did not have enough time to spend with his players.

"I haven't been able to spend a week with my team," he said. "Today, we couldn't do much in practice. Javier Mascherano played yesterday, Higuain had muscular problem and so on.

Maradona said he had decided on 80 percent of his squad and added he was encouraged by the goalscoring form of forwards Diego Milito, Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain and Lionel Messi for their European clubs.

"I'm immensely happy that they understand the message. This is all positive for us." he said.

Argentina's last World Cup campaign ended with a penalty shootout defeat to Germany after a 1-1 draw in the quarter-finals but Maradona said there was no sense of revenge. "I don't like to dwell on the past," he said.