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Brazil looming large for Maradona and Argentina
Is the fact that Brazil are Argentina’s next opponents in the World Cup qualifiers getting to Argentines worried by the precarious position of Diego Maradona’s team in the standings?
While Brazil enjoy more match practice at the Confederations Cup in South Africa, Argentina, their rivals in the 2005 final in Germany, are bickering over the pitch on which to host their arch-rivals in match that will have a major bearing on their World Cup ambitions.
The River Plate pitch was in a disgraceful state, Maradona said before his team, playing poorly, beat Colombia 1-0 in their last qualifier on June 10 just days after fans at a rock concert trampled all over it.
A 2-0 defeat away to Ecuador at altitude in Quito in a match Argentina, playing better than against Colombia, should have sewn up in the first half, had an unhappy Maradona once again harping on about the River Plate pitch where Brazil are due on the first weekend in September.
River Plate then brought their bitter enmity with Boca Juniors, the club Maradona played for and supports, into the issue.
They demanded from the Argentine Football Association (AFA) to see Maradona’s contract and proof that the former national team captain had undergone psychological tests before being appointed to the job last year.
AFA president Julio Grondona apologised to River over the aggressive tone of Maradona’s remarks.
“It’s all about a Boca and River issue in which the River people are complaining about some remarks made by a fervent supporter of Boca,” Grondona told radio La Red.
But he also reminded River that the AFA has first say over how the ground is used and had not been asked if the club could hold a rock concert there so close to a qualifier.
Grondona also admitted, though, that the AFA had been at fault in having only one stadium that fits FIFA specifications for World Cup matches and said it was applying for the ground of Rosario Central, in Argentina’s second city 400 km north of the capital, to be passed as a reserve stadium.
Newspapers then extended the debate to canvassing fans as to whether they thought Argentina might be better off playing Brazil in the more compact Central stadium where the arch-rivals drew 0-0 during the 1978 World Cup.
With four matches to go, Brazil lead the South American qualifying group with 27 points, one more than Chile, three ahead of Paraguay and five in front of Argentina in the four automatic qualifying berths for next year’s finals in South Africa.
Slipping down to fifth would put Argentina in a playoff berth against a team from the CONCACAF region of North and Central America and the Caribbean.
What also might help Argentina improve their position is playing better and for this Grondona believes it might be good to recall Boca playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme, who controversially quit the national team over critical remarks by Maradona in the media in March.
“Also, if possible we’ll make a move to have Riquelme back,” Grondona said. “It’s not a request of Diego’s, I haven’t spoken to him about this. But who wouldn’t want him back. I sent Riquelme a few hints, he’s a good kid,” said Grondona of the player who was the midfield fulcrum of the Argentina side that reached the 2006 World Cup quarter-finals.
The outspoken Maradona is paradoxically persona non grata at his beloved Boca because of his perceived role in Riquelme’s decision to quit and hasn’t been to his private box at the club’s Bombonera stadium since.
PHOTO: Argentina’s Diego Maradona reacts after an Ecuador goal during their World Cup 2010 qualifying match in Quito, June 10, 2009. REUTERS/Kevin Granja