Thu, Jul 02, 2009 - Page 20 News List

Official blames Maradona for Argentina’s struggles

AP , BUENOS AIRES

A top official of the Argentine Football Association (AFA) is warning that the national team may fail to qualify for next year’s World Cup in South Africa, and he’s blaming coach Diego Maradona.

“Nobody seems to realize that we have one foot in the intensive care unit,” said Enrique Merelas, a member of the AFA’s executive committee and a close friend of AFA president Julio Grondona.

Merelas has been a consistent critic of Maradona’s coaching and management of the team.

“I can’t put up with the coaching staff any more, and I never agreed with hiring Maradona,” Merelas said in an interview late on Monday with the radio station FM Sensitive.

Argentina have lost two of their last three World Cup qualifying matches, prompting questions about Maradona’s coaching style and his tactics. The two-time World Cup winners are in fourth place in the qualifying group, the final spot that guarantees a place at next year’s World Cup in South Africa.

Merelas and Grondona have both urged Maradona to return Juan Roman Riquelme to the team.

A skilled midfielder and playmaker, Riquelme retired from international soccer in March saying he and Maradona did not get along. Maradona criticized Riquelme’s play and overlooked him for several friendlies after he was named coach in November. He says Riquelme needs to apologize to get back on the team.

“Why does he have to apologize to return?” Merelas asked. “Apologize for what?”

Riquelme is a polemical figure. Some believe his organization and passing are keys to Argentina’s attacking play. Others say he’s too laid back and doesn’t word hard enough for the team.

Brazil leads the South American qualifying group with 27 points followed by Chile (26), Paraguay (24) and Argentina (22). They are followed by Ecuador (20), Uruguay (18), Colombia (17) and Venezuela (17).

The top four advance automatically to South Africa. The fifth-place team faces a playoff with the fourth-place finisher from North and Central America and the Caribbean for another qualifying berth.

Argentina’s two remaining home qualifiers are on Sept. 5 versus Brazil and Oct. 10 versus Peru. Argentina have away matches on Sept. 8 in Paraguay and on Oct. 13 in Uruguay.

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