Monday 22 January 2018

No rest for 'best in the world' Messi

IN A World Cup that has offered a briskly expanding repertoire of on-field shocks and off-field sound and fury, the progress of Argentina under the stewardship of Diego Maradona has been unexpectedly serene.

Maradona greeted Argentina's haphazard qualification for the finals with a tirade of abuse at journalists, but yesterday, with two wins out of two and all seemingly sweetness and light within the squad, the tournament's most improbable coach joked with reporters about the legality of Luis Fabiano's goal against Ivory Coast in comparison with his rather more high profile handball, played up Brazil's chances while at the same time looking down his nose at them and even had an encouraging word for England.

Barring another mighty upset, Argentina will top Group B and face a second-round match with Mexico or Uruguay, whom they beat in that final qualifier back in October. Since then, and after sifting erratically through over 100 players, Maradona appears to have settled on his line-up, although he will make changes today with Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain and Javier Mascherano all likely to be on the bench, while Jonas Guiterrez, a very square peg in a very round hole on the right of the defence, is suspended.

Even that may prove something of blessing, with the Newcastle winger looking the glaring weakness in the Maradona masterplan.

Lionel Messi, though, will not be given a break. "We had planned to rest him but he always wants to play and I love that," said Maradona before proclaiming his No 10 the "best in the world".

Irish Independent

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