Can Diego Maradona lead Argentina to World Cup glory in South Africa?

Diego Milito’s brilliantly executed brace in the Champions League final on Saturday night had many punters looking up the odds for Argentina to win the World Cup and the Inter Milan striker to be the top goal scorer in South Africa. (Milito is 34.00.)

In truth though, the Nerazzurri’s Champions League success is more likely to have shown the folly of appointing Diego Maradona as manager of the South American giants in the first place. If Argentina fail to win the World Cup questions will be asked how Maradona failed to pick two of the best defensive players in the world in Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso.

The two veterans were instrumental in Inter’s treble success and Zanetti in particular had his best campaign for the club in 15 consistent seasons. To underline Maradona’s bizarre decision, Zanetti told the Argentinean media: “Mourinho didn’t believe it when he heard that I had been left out of the team for the tournament.”

The omission of the Inter Milan duo is not the only decision Maradona may regret. Juan Roman Riquelme fell out with the 1986 World Cup winning captain and was not expected to be included but his guile and football brain would be missed by any of the 32 teams taking part in South Africa.

La Albiceste do though have some outstanding attacking talent, so much so that Milito is far from certain of a starting place. Chief amongst those is Lionel Messi (12.00 to be top scorer) who scored 47 goals in all competitions in 2009/2010 and even away from the familiar surroundings of the Nou Camp, “The Flea” could win the competition on his own.

Throw in the likes of Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain (19.00 to be top scorer), all world class strikers, and the Argentina squad looks to be woefully lop sided. It is one thing being short of a world class keeper (as England know too well) but the defence looks shaky and there is a severe lack of cover in midfield as Maradona insisted on taking 36-year-old Martin Palermo despite the fact he is unlikely to play. (Argentina are 6.50 to be the highest scoring team at the World Cup.)

In front of rookie keeper Sergio Romero, Walter Samuel will be hard pressed to produce his Inter Milan form alongside the likes of error prone defenders Martin Demichelis and Gabriel Heinze. The former Manchester United defender has been a liability for some time now but still holds favour with Maradona. Nicolas Otamendi is probably Argentina’s least known player and the highly rated Velez Sarsfield youngster is expected to play in an unfamiliar right back position.

The midfield is filled with yet more talent. Angel Di Maria is slowly emerging as one of the top left wingers in the world. Whilst Liverpool pair Javier Mascherano and Maxi Rodriguez alongside Newcastle’s Jonas Gutierrez provide the legs in midfield which could be crucial against the likes of Spain who will dominate possession.

Tim Vickery in his weekly South America article on the BBC wrote earlier this week that if Juan Veron is injured there is a severe lack of cover in the Argentina squad. Javier Pastore, another promising youngster can come in, but the Palermo playmaker is more suited to playing higher up the pitch.

Another highly esteemed journalist, Richard Williams in The Guardian has also called upon Maradona to instill some of Jose Mourinho’s pragmatism in his squad. Just as in 2006, Argentina are likely to be one of the best teams to watch but with a leaky defence and no plan b, they will surely founder in the later knockout rounds.

Maradona faces an almost impossible job due to his own personal involvement and his madcap ways. The attacking options are though mouth watering and even with three up front (likely to be Messi, Higuain and Di Maria) the Argentina bench will still include Tevez, Milito and Aguero. Similarly, Juan Veron could have a big impact on the tournament and he has shown with Estudiantes that he is still able to inspire from a deep lying position in midfield.

More than anything Argentina will be the South American side the global media will be closely following. Brazil, under Dunga, are a functional side with the best defence in the tournament but there is unlikely to be much drama and attacking brilliance without the likes of Ronaldinho and Neymar.

Argentina’s progress in South Africa will be pure soap opera. They face an easy group on paper against Nigeria, South Korea and Greece but struggled in qualifying against almost all the teams in South America. (Argentina are 6.00 not to escape their group.)

Much like England, the Albiceste probably won’t win the World Cup but it will be fascinating to see how Maradona screws it up.

Odds: Argentina are 8.00 to win the World Cup


A wonderful advert by Quilmes is well worth a watch for some Argentinean World Cup nostalgia.