Argentina show more bite as Maradona cuts teeth

MUNICH - After a turbulent 18 months as Argentina coach, Diego Maradona has put his troubles behind him and finally appears to be finding his way just in time for the World Cup.

The former World Cup captain has at times looked out of his depth in the coaching role, fielding more than 100 players and struggling through the South American qualifying group.

At one stage last year, Argentines feared their team could even miss out on South Africa after qualifying defeats in Bolivia, where they were thrashed 6-1, Ecuador and Paraguay and at home to Brazil.

Some of Maradona's coaching decisions were seen as eccentric, such as handing an international debut to 36-year-old defender Rolando Schiavi and recalling Boca Juniors striker Martin Palermo, another player in his mid-thirties.

But Wednesday's impressive, albeit unexciting 1-0 friendly win away to Germany showed that his team is at last taking shape.

NEWS: Argentina triumph in Germany

After striker Gonzalo Higuain, a player he initially shunned, gave Argentina a win on a freezing night in Munich, Maradona was convinced that he would prove his critics wrong and build a team worthy of Argentina's reputation and tradition.

"If they think that we got into the World Cup through the window, they're wrong," said Maradona, whose team only made sure of their place in South Africa with a 1-0 win in Uruguay in their last qualifier.


"We've said that we're here and we're ready to put up a fight," he added.

"This result was important because it showed the Argentine public that we have a great team.

"We got it wrong against Brazil, Ecuador and in La Paz, but we've always had the players."

Maradona's message has been that Argentina's players are good enough to win and that the criticism of his coaching has come from the media, rather than the public.

Banned for two months by FIFA for a foul-mouthed outburst against his perceived critics in October, Maradona has repeated several times that the ordinary man in the street was behind him.

The flowing soccer which Argentina played at the 2006 World Cup under Jose Pekerman has been replaced by a more pragmatic style reminiscent of Carlos Bilardo, who led Argentina to their last World Cup win in 1986 and is now general manager.

In Wednesday's match, Argentina's players never let their opponents settle on the ball, often harrying Germany's defenders deep in their own half of the pitch.

"The match was very well planned by the coaching staff and we carried it out very well," said captain Javier Mascherano whose feisty approach and tough tackling have become a symbol of Maradona's Argentina.

"Every one played well, maybe we unintentionally dropped back in the second half but it was a good performance."