Spain vs Argentina could serve as a marker for World Cup
MADRID: European champions Spain host Argentina in an international friendly today that could serve as an early marker for both teams’ World Cup ambitions.
Spain have lost only twice in the past three years and reached the 2010 finals with a 100 percent qualifying record in its group.
With Argentina only making it to South Africa by winning their last qualifier, coach Diego Maradona knows his team faces a tough task at the Vicente Calderon in a match which forms part of the Spanish Football Federation’s centenary celebrations.
“If I accept Spain as the favourite, then I would be misleading my players,” Maradona said. “But there is no doubt that Spain is going through a brilliant spell.”
Maradona, who launched an expletive-filled tirade against his critics after Argentina’s World Cup qualification last month, has challenged his players to repeat the exploits of the team which won the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. “Brazil, Germany, Italy and Spain were all ahead of us,” he said. “We were the first to arrive and the last ones to leave. I’d like to repeat that.”
Although Maradona has only called up European-based players for the friendly, he views the match as a chance to consolidate his starting 11 ahead of the World Cup. Playmaker Lionel Messi, who has failed to reproduce his Barcelona for m when he has played for Argentina under Maradona, remains key to the coach’s strategy.
“Messi needs to lead this team and he knows it,” Maradona said. “We’ve got high expectations, we’ve got great players. Now we have to find the team.”
Maradona believes Spain’s Euro 2008 success will take the pressure off the team in future major championships.
He added that Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez was the player he admired most in the Spain team. “Every time I see Xavi play, he fills me (with emotion) with everything that he does,” Maradona said.
“Every game I see him play with Barca or the national team is like a masterclass, a master- class in football.”
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque left Fernando Torres out of his 23-man squad as the Liverpool striker battles a her nia injury, giving a chance to Sevilla winger Jesus Navas.
Striker David Villa returns after missing Spain’s last two games with a leg muscle injury.
Maradona is unlikely to call on striker Sergio Aguero, who is nursing a leg injury. – Sapa-AP