Maradona buoyed ahead of Brazil showdown

MOSCOW - An emotional and relieved Diego Maradona was thrilled with his Argentina team's performance in Russia on Wednesday ahead of their World Cup qualifying clash with arch-rivals Brazil.

"I think today we showed again that we are alive and that we are going to give joy to the people," Maradona said after Argentina came from a goal down to beat Russia 3-2 in a friendly.

"The truth is that this gives us more encouragement. The team responded when they were a goal down in a stadium full to the brim with Russian fans," he told Argentine television after the final whistle.

"The boys played as I asked them to in the team talk, they couldn't forget," said Maradona, whose side face Brazil at home in Rosario on September 5 in a key match for their chances of reaching the 2010 finals in South Africa.

Maradona and his team have been heavily criticised by Argentine fans following defeats away to Bolivia and Ecuador and a none too convincing home win against Colombia this year.

There has been pessimism at home about Argentina's chances of reaching the finals from their current fourth place in the South American group, and with tough matches ahead against Brazil at home and Paraguay and Uruguay away. They also play bottom-placed Peru at home.

A top four finish will see Argentina through, while a fifth place finish would give them another chance in a playoff with a team from the CONCACAF region.


In friendlies though, Maradona has a 100 percent record, having beaten Scotland, France and Russia away and Panama at home since taking charge in October 2008 when Alfio Basile suddenly quit.

He has come under fire for his lack of coaching experience and poor decision-making from the bench and had not wanted the friendly in Moscow, fearing an injury to one or more players would weaken Argentina for the Brazil match.

On Wednesday night his substitutions worked like a dream, however, for a team fielding several fringe players and debutants, and Lionel Messi sidelined with a pulled leg muscle.

Following Sergio Aguero's brilliant equaliser on the stroke of halftime, Maradona sent on Lisandro Lopez as a substitute for the second half and the striker had the ball in the net within 30 seconds.

Less than a quarter of an hour later, midfielder Jesus Datolo came on for his first cap and put Argentina two up with his first touch.

"Of these players, 85 to 88 percent will be with us against Brazil," Maradona said.

"We had to show the people who were watching and calculating how we reacted ahead of the Brazil match, and we showed them we can do it."