Spain vs Ar­gentina could serve as a marker for World Cup

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

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

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