Maradona heaps praise on Messi hard work

MARSEILLE - Although Lionel Messi scored yet another fantastic goal, it was the Barcelona forward's defensive work that earned him praise from Argentina coach Diego Maradona following a 2-0 defeat of France on Wednesday.

Messi, who has netted 16 goals from 19 Primera Liga this season, slalomed through the French defence, wrongfooted centre back William Gallas before coolly slotting the ball past keeper Steve Mandanda to double his team's tally seven minutes from time.

"He played fantastic," Maradona told a press conference at the Stade Velodrome.

"It is like the ball is an extension of his body.

"But what I really loved, more than the technical side, was the way he and Segio (Aguero) fought for every ball," he added.

"They fought, never let go and defended a lot."

Maradona, who was appointed last October following the resignation of Alfio Basile, said motivation was the key to success for his team.

"There are two coaches who inspired me when I was a player: (Cesar Luis) Menotti and (Carlos) Bilardo, they would force me to go and be ready to die on the pitch.

"As a coach I have to motivate them, to encourage them to give their best.

"However, you must not forget that it is always down to the players. They are the ones winning the matches," he smiled, before leaving the press conference room having signed a few autographs.

Argentina's next game will be at home against Venezuela on March 28 in a World Cup qualifier.

Domenech acknowledged the better side won, although he was satisfied with his team's first-half performance.

"We did very well until they scored. Then, we were frustrated and probably try to rush things to equalise," he told reporters.

"The players were feeling it was unfair for them to be led 1-0 after what they had done. It was much better than two years ago, I feel we played much better."

Two years ago, France went down 1-0 to Argentina in a friendly at the Stade de France.

Their next match will be a World Cup qualifier in Lithuania on March 28.