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Diego Maradona, whose “Hand of God” goal and wonderful slalom against England in 1986 are among the most iconic images of any World Cup, emerged the undoubted victor with his astonishing touchline sideshow compared to England coach Fabio Capello’s unhappy performance.
Both teams are tipped to do well at these finals, and both started the tournament with difficult matches against tough but beatable opponents.
Both got off to excellent starts — Argentina scoring through Gabriel Heinze after six minutes of their Group B match against Nigeria and England scoring after four minutes of their Group C game against the United States with skipper Steven Gerrard firing home.
Diego Maradona’s appeal for fair play has had certain sections of the British media sniggering like naughty school boys.
They find it amusing that, 24 years on, the man who scored the so-called “Hand of God” goal at the 1986 World Cup and is now coach of Argentina could himself make such a request. One television reporter from a well-known cable channel openly labelled Maradona a cheat.
Lionel Messi’s sublime hat-trick for Barcelona against Real Zaragoza on Sunday – his second triple in consecutive La Liga matches – provided more ammunition for those who believe he is the best player in the world.
As well as putting Champions League and World Cup rivals on high alert, his latest masterclass – a nonchalant header, a mazy run reminiscent of Diego Maradona in his prime, and a sweetly struck shot – even prompted club president Joan Laporta to hail the 22-year-old Argentina forward as the best the game has ever seen.
Lionel Messi’s hat-trick for Barcelona last weekend has once again sparked the debate in Argentina over his indifferent form for his country.
“Messi is unhappy in the national team,” former World Cup-winning defender Oscar Ruggeri told the local America TV broadcaster.
Players and coaches are going to have to grin (or rather whinge) and bear it after football’s rule-makers decided that preserving the game’s essence and traditions are more important than the grievances of a few unlucky losers.
Controversies such as Geoff Hurst’s third goal for England in the 1966 World Cup final, Diego Maradona’s Hand of God goal at the 1986 World Cup and, more recently, Thierry Henry’s ball-juggling effort against Ireland, are etched into football’s history.
After the century of call-ups and largely meaningless tests against mediocre opposition in friendlies, not to mention the lack of direction in the qualifiers, talent and form look set to win out in the race for places in Argentina’s World Cup squad.
Most if not all 20 of the players picked by Diego Maradona for the warm-up against Germany in Munich on March 3 would appear to have booked their ticket to Argentina’s Pretoria World Cup base in June.
Diego Maradona is in danger of demeaning as a coach the light blue and white Argentine stripes he graced and worshipped as a player.
As Velez Sarsfield’s Victor Zapata put it recently using an in-vogue term for all things of little substance: “Now it’s very ‘light’ getting to the national team.”
France ensured the likes of Franck Ribery, Karim Benzema and Thierry Henry will be at the World Cup in South Africa next year after winning through with a goal that has left Irish fans seething.
There was nothing wrong with the finish from William Gallas, but Thierry Henry admitted using his hand to keep the ball in play and commentators and Irish supporters are already talking of “The Hand of God II” and “The Hand of Henry” in reference to Diego Maradona in 1986.
Argentina coach Diego Maradona will appear in person before a disciplinary hearing at FIFA headquarters on Sunday to explain his foul-mouthed outbursts (plural) following the win over Uruguay in Montevideo last month.
The result, at the very end of an 18-match campaign, finally clinched Argentina’s place at the 2010 World Cup after they had looked in serious danger of missing out for the first time since 1970. Maradona “celebrated” with an expletive-laden tirade at the hapless touchline reporter who went to interview him.
******The prospect of seeing Sergio “Kun” Aguero pulling on a blue shirt next season instead of the red and white stripes of Atletico Madrid must be a mouthwatering one for any Chelsea fan.******The 21-year-old Argentina striker, nicknamed “Kun” after a Japanese cartoon character with a similar hairstyle, showed why he remains a target for top clubs when he came off the bench and scored two superb goals in the 2-2 draw at the Calderon on Tuesday.******Cash-strapped Atletico turned down offers for him over the close season including, reportedly, one of around 35 million euros from Chelsea. His contract includes a buyout clause worth 60 million.******The London club are waiting to hear the result of their appeal against FIFA’s transfer ban and could make another move for Aguero either in the January transfer window or next summer.******Coach Carlo Ancelotti said this week he could see Aguero playing alongside Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba but added that he thought it would be hard for Chelsea to snare the Argentine.******The contrasting playing styles of the pair were evident on Tuesday.******Aguero, with his low centre of gravity, is hard to shake off the ball and is at his best running at defenders. On his day he is a deadly finisher, as Barcelona found out to their cost last season.******Drogba is all about muscle, which he used to good effect on Tuesday when he outjumped the Atletico defence to score a header and then bulldozed his way through to net a second.******Aguero fathered a son, Benjamin, with Diego Maradona’s daughter Giannina in February and Maradona, who is also Aguero’s boss as Argentina coach, advised him last year to seek a move to Inter Milan.******Atletico, 18th in La Liga after nine matches with just one win, are almost certain to miss out on a Champions League spot for next season, making it much more likely Aguero will move on from the Spanish capital.******PHOTO: Atletico Madrid’s Sergio “Kun” Aguero (L) scores with a free kick against Chelsea, Nov 3, 2009. REUTERS/Juan Medina