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Diego: Messi's my man!

Diego Maradona will tell Lionel Messi to go out and destroy Germany -- just like he did in the 1986 World Cup final.

Messi will be given a free role to play exactly where he likes in tomorrow's quarter-final at Cape Town's Green Point Stadium, despite suffering from a touch of flu.

The Barcelona star sat out this afternoon's training session but will start tomorrow.

Maradona, who scored five goals in the 1986 World Cup and was their inspiration in a a 3-2 final defeat of Germany, said: "He did feel a bit under the weather, had a slight fever.

"He told me about it and I sent him back inside. It was very cold when we started training at 4.30pm. I gave him a bit of a rest.

"The session went well, but I never considered him not playing in this game. I just let him have a rest so he could play against Germany."

Messi has not scored so far at this World Cup but has provided assists for more than half of Argentina's 10 goals, and Maradona will allow him the same free role he used to occupy for the national team.

"I want to give him freedom to play his game," said Maradona. "He has no defined position.

"These players, like Messi, if you label them or shackle them, you'll detract from their freshness and initiative."

Maradona refused to accept Argentina were now favourites to win the trophy after Brazil's 2-1 defeat to the Netherlands.

He said: "No. No. We're not favourites. But to beat us our opponents are going to have to play better than us and leave their skin on the pitch.

"We don't feel like we're hot favourites. We have to keep playing our football. We're focused."


Maradona, who was written off as a coach by the sceptics before this World Cup, has nurtured a rapport of respect and togetherness with his players, showering them with hugs and kisses before and after all four matches they have won.

He is determined not to change anything now, either in the make-up of his team or in his coaching style.

He said: "We showed we are an attacking team, good in midfield and at front and back.

"I'm not here to make any changes of style. We respect our opponents but we don't fear anyone.

"I'm proud of all 23 I've selected. They're my players, my national side. I'm very grateful to all of them."

He also singled out Manchester City star Carlos Tevez for special praise.

"I've known him for a long time and he's phenomenal," said Maradona. "He's playing a great World Cup and we're very proud of him.

"Wherever he plays -- West Ham, Corinthians, Manchester United or Manchester City -- he always excels. He's always the same."

Maradona ranked Argentina's form as a 6.5 at the start of the tournament. Now he agrees it has risen to an eight, but he knows it must get even better if his team are going to get past the quarter-final stage for the first time in 20 years.

He refused to talk about Germany, preferring to focus on his own side, demonstrating a humility which has not always been associated with him.

He said: "We're working towards the goal of winning the World Cup, but we're not wizards. We don't have crystal balls.

"We're not the smartest people in football. We can't predict this. It might happen. We're just working as hard as we can."

He did give an insight, however, into what might be his final team-talk before his players take to the pitch.

"They have to leave their lives on the pitch," he said.

"Behind them is a whole country who haven't enjoyed a victory for a long time and they're so excited.

"Argentina depend on this team to be able to get up in the morning with a smile on their faces."


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