Maradona starts squad pruning after ban

BUENOS AIRES - Argentina coach Diego Maradona began gearing up for the difficult task of trimming his vast player base by more than two thirds for this year's World Cup finals on Tuesday.

Maradona has called up more than 90 players for 15 matches, eight of them World Cup qualifiers, since his first game in charge, a friendly against Scotland in Glasgow in November 2008.

"They say I've called up a lot of players but I ask what trainer has played local matches? None," Maradona said referring to having picked squads of exclusively home-based players for friendlies in Argentina.

"So, of course I called up many, but I want to see them all," he told a news conference in the western city of San Juan where a team of home-based players meet Costa Rica in a friendly on Tuesday.

"First I have to make a list of 30 and afterwards there will be 23 left for the World Cup," Maradona said.

Maradona has just returned from South Africa, where he visited Argentina's Pretoria base for the June 11-July 11 World Cup finals.

His 23-man squad for the tournament is expected to be made up largely of European-based players, the cream of Argentine footballers who were predominant in the qualifying matches.

However, the team played poorly and inexperienced coach Maradona resorted to looking for more and more options at home.

"Tomorrow we'll see the development of the locally-based players and see what we can get from the local national team," Maradona said.

Maradona made his trip to South Africa after serving a two-month suspension, which ended on Jan. 15, for insults directed at reporters at a news conference in Montevideo after a 1-0 win over Uruguay secured Argentina's World Cup berth.

"(The ban) was very hard but it's past and now I'm only thinking about the World Cup," said Maradona, who missed the draw in Cape Town on December 4 when Argentina were drawn in a group with Nigeria, Greece and South Korea.

"Those two months were very painful. I asked FIFA if I could pay a fine with my money and not to distance me from the players but I couldn't do absolutely anything, just speak to the players on the phone. I don't wish it on anybody."