Paraguay keen to capitalise on Diego doubts

ASUNCION - Diego Maradona's struggling Argentina can ill-afford to drop more points when they face Paraguay in their World Cup qualifier on Wednesday.

Paraguay can secure a place in the finals for the fourth time in a row if they win or even draw provided Colombia and Ecuador do not win their matches on the same day.

The possibility of Argentina slipping out of the four automatic berths in the South American group looms large after three losses in their last four qualifiers.

Saturday's crushing 3-1 home defeat by Brazil, who secured their place in the 2010 finals in South Africa in the process, was only rendered less damaging by defeats for Ecuador and Uruguay in the places just below Argentina.

Maradona is expected to make a string of changes, in particular to a defence that failed to deal with dead ball situations.

One such change could be Estudiantes centre back Rolando Schiavi who could become, at 36 years, seven months and 22 days, Argentina's oldest debutant.

TARGET MAN

Fernando Gago is expected to strengthen the midfield, while up front, Carlos Tevez is out with a knee injury which might see Maradona opt for a target man like Diego Milito, Lisandro Lopez, or even Boca Juniors veteran Martin Palermo, for Lionel Messi to play off.

"We must try to profit from Argentina's need to win," said Paraguay defender Julio Cesar Caceres, who plays in Buenos Aires for Boca Juniors.

"If we want to win we must attack but be wary of the quick players Argentina have like Messi because one man alone can't mark him," he told Argentine radio Del Plata.

Paraguay's Argentine coach Gerardo Martino told a news conference on Monday that he could be without goalkeeper and captain Justo Villar, who injured his shoulder in training.

Martino's team are settled even if they have lost the form that took them to the top of the group table last year.

Their laboured 1-0 win over Bolivia with a Salvador Cabanas penalty on Saturday was their first victory in five qualifiers this year.

However, Paraguay are in third place in the group, equal on 27 points with second-placed Chile and three behind Brazil.

Fourth-placed Argentina have 22 points at the top of a bunch of five teams separated by four points fighting for the fourth automatic qualifying berth.

The fifth-placed South American team meet the fourth-placed team from CONCACAF in a two-leg playoff for a place in South Africa.