GLASGOW - New Argentina coach Diego Maradona will not accept anything less than first place at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. "I don't like that at all, we're going for first," Maradona told a news conference on Tuesday when asked whether he was targeting a place among the semi-finalists. "The path is to get there first, not in the top four." Twice champions Argentina have failed to reach the semi-finals at the last four tournaments. The 48-year-old former World Cup-winning captain, who is set to make his coaching debut against Scotland on Wednesday at Hampden Park, said he was thrilled to have been handed a job 70 percent of his compatriots thought he would not be able to handle. He added that he hoped to win the hearts of the players and that they would perform well enough to keep him calm on the bench, avoiding the rants that have at times marred his tumultuous life. Maradona was appointed two weeks ago after Alfio Basile resigned following a dismal 1-0 defeat away to Chile in a World Cup qualifier last month, taking over a team in third place in the South American group six points behind leaders Paraguay. He kicked off the conference by saying: "I'm very happy to be back after a long time, to be at the front of the national team and some incredible players, for me that's fantastic. "So much, so much...it was what I'd been wanting for a long time I've had my first chat with the players and I hope to get into their hearts." NO COWARD Asked if he felt ready for the challenge, Maradona, who has had just two briefs spells as a club coach a decade ago, said simply: "I get up every morning. "If I hadn't accepted (the job) I'd have been a coward and I always liked challenges," said Maradona, who has overcome a playing career marred by drugs suspensions and a brush with death since retiring. "It's going to be a hard road but I needed the national team and they needed a guide like me so here we are on the same path," added Maradona, who has said in the past that he was always happiest in Argentina's light blue and white colours. Maradona said he was sure to make changes to the team and tactics as time went on. "Changes that will give the player the security of being in the national team and feel happy defending the jersey as it deserves to be," he added, reverting to his theme of playing for Argentina as being the ultimate honour. He said he planned to give Barcelona's Lionel Messi, absent for the Scotland match, freedom to roam from deep in attack and he would pick players according to the team's needs, rather than respecting a particular system. He added he would not announce his first line-up until just before Wednesday's match and said he knew a bit about Scotland from watching videos of their European Group Nine qualifiers against Norway, Iceland and Macedonia from which they took four points. Maradona said he would not seek conflict with football's authorities as he had often done as a player and hoped to be able to control his behaviour pitch-side. "I won't enter into polemics with (FIFA president Sepp) Blatter or (UEFA's Michel) Platini. As national team coach I have to think of my team." He added enigmatically: "I will try to have the national team give me security on the pitch and if I don't get that I'll move about as I always have done."
18 November 2008
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