Pele defends Maradona over Argentina struggles

MEXICO CITY - Pele defended Diego Maradona on Monday over Argentina's struggle to qualify for the World Cup and laid the blame with officials who appointed him despite little coaching experience.

Maradona was heavily criticised during Argentina's laboured progress towards the finals which they came perilously close to missing for the first time since 1970.

"All the controversy of the qualification, I don't think that was Maradona's fault, it was his first time coaching," Pele said.

"It's the fault of Mr (Julio) Grondona and the directors who put him there," Pele said referring to the president of the Argentine Football Association.

Pele also told a news conference in Mexico that despite Maradona's difficulties in building a team since taking charge in late 2008, Argentina were favourites with Brazil and Spain to win the World Cup in South Africa which kicks off on June 11.

"In Europe we have Spain who were champions, from America I think Brazil have a great team, plus Argentina who we have to see how they look. They are teams that always have the tradition of winning," Pele said.

He added he had no dark horses in mind but any team could cause a surprise and go further than expected.