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October 17, 2009

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Maradona future in doubt after sealing Cup spot

NOW that Argentina has squeaked into next year's World Cup, the question still remains whether Diego Maradona will be going with the team to South Africa.

Or will the man recognized as one of the world's greatest players be pushed aside, or resign as he threatened to do a week ago under mounting criticism over his coaching acumen?

Maradona probably did not help his case after Wednesday's 1-0 victory against Uruguay, letting loose with a string of crude profanities on live television -- much of it directed against reporters and his critics.

Last week he threatened to resign, then said later he was misquoted. Asked about it again after reaching the World Cup, he said he had to speak with Julio Grondona, the powerful, longtime head of the Argentine Football Association.

It was Grondona who hired Maradona -- he had virtually no coaching experience -- almost a year ago despite a wealth of Argentina talent.

Argentine Marcelo Bielsa coaches Chile, while countryman Gerardo Martino is in charge of Paraguay, and both countries qualified for the World Cup with ease.

On Thursday, Grondona said if he had to do it again he would repeat his choice of Maradona as coach. And he excused him for his swearing tirade.

"Anybody at a moment can say things that they regret later," Grondona told radio 10. He said he was not happy with the team's play, but did not fault Maradona.

Many angles

"Logically, I'm not content with the football we're playing, but you can look at football from many angles," he said. "From the fans' view ... from the economic side. There are many factors in play."

In an Internet poll by the newspaper La Nacion, 85 percent of 3,253 respondents said Maradona should quit now that the team has qualified. In a similar poll by Clarin, 81.4 percent of 62,000 responding said AFA should reprimand Maradona for his outburst on television.

Team leader and midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron was outspoken after the victory, and he offered little support to either Maradona or Grondona.

"There's nothing to celebrate. From Grondona on down, it's all bad," Veron said. "We suffered, we hung in there and in the end we were able to win, but we have much room for improvement. Now the coach can take the time he needs to correct what needs to be corrected, and put together a team for the World Cup."

Veron also confirmed what many watching the team have also noted.

"In terms of players we have some of the best, but we are not a team," Veron said.

Midfielder and captain Javier Mascherano concurred.

"There wasn't a moment when we were able to play the way everyone expects Argentina to play," Mascherano said.

Maradona shrugged off Veron's criticism and accused the media of "inventing" his confrontations with AFA technical secretary Carlos Bilardo, who coached him on Argentina's 1986 World Cup-winning squad in Mexico.

Thursday's Argentine newspapers were still critical despite the victory. "This is just a part of the story," Clarin said. "There's still a lot to do. The first thing was to beat Uruguay, but it was a poor game in which Argentina seemed content with a draw."

"If the way the team played yesterday was because it was an emergency, OK," it added. "But if this is a long-term situation, we have problem."


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