Maradona faces toughest test

BUENOS AIRES - Diego Maradona fights for his future as Argentina's World Cup coach when he sends his team out against Peru on Saturday.

Maradona, whose side are flirting with elimination in a playoff berth, believes his players will get the victories they need to remain on course for the 2010 finals in South Africa.

"I didn't expect to get to a situation like this. We have to beat Peru and then win in Uruguay," Maradona told a news conference on Thursday.

"As a coach these are surely (my toughest matches) and I have a lot of confidence in myself," said Argentina's 1986 World Cup-winning captain.

The top four in the 10-nation South American group qualify while the team in fifth place, at present Argentina, go into a playoff against the team finishing fourth in the CONCACAF region.

Maradona, set to make a raft of changes, is putting his faith in two players who have not previously been in Argentina's plans since the qualifying series kicked off two years ago.

Benfica midfielder Pablo Aimar, who played at the 2002 World Cup, and Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain look set to start in a revamped attack.

Maradona, who has always admired Aimar's creative game, said he told the midfielder he had him in mind on a visit to Lisbon in January. Aimar struggled with injuries last season.

"I told him to get fit and now he got fit, he's here," said Maradona, who took over as coach from Alfio Basile, who resigned a year ago.


Higuain's good form reflected the players's keenness to play for Argentina and get to the World Cup after turning down France, the country of his birth, he said.

With Aimar's Benfica team mate Angel Di Maria back on the left wing after a four-match suspension, only Barcelona's Lionel Messi is set to keep his place in attack from the team that lost the last three qualifiers, scoring one goal, against Ecuador, Brazil and Paraguay.

"He's our ace of spades," said Maradona.

Maradona said he expected Peru, bottom of the group and out of the running, to be dangerous in attack but "when they defend they are not so secure".

Reports have come out of Peru of financial incentives for the Peruvian players to beat Argentina. With Brazil and Paraguay already qualified, five other nations are vying for two automatic berths and the playoff place.

"There's no money that can buy you glory," Maradona said. "In the match, when it's eleven against eleven, (the Argentine players) play for their lives."