Maradona future hangs in balance after defeat
Paraguay 1 – 0 Argentina
Diego Maradona’s controversial tenure as Argentina coach is hanging precariously in the balance after watching his side slump to a defeat that secured Paraguay’s spot in the World Cup finals.
The former Barcelona and Napoli star continued to raise eyebrows as his team selection was announced.
Since taking charge of his beloved national side in November 2008, he has failed to keep the same defensive line up for back-to-back matches and has used over 60 players during his 9-match reign.
And the pattern continued at the Estadio Defonsores del Chaco.
Another change in goal for Argentina saw 22-year-old goalkeeper Sergio Romero earn his first senior cap, Heinze was shifted into the centre of defence as Papa started at left back, and most baffling of all was Juan Veron’s strategic deployment on the right wing.
Maradona’s selection for the bench was also a cause for concern for the Albicelestes faithful.
He opted for Martin Palermo – a 35-year-old striker that last featured at international level by missing three penalties against Colombia in Copa America 1999 – and centre-half Rolando Schiavi – yet to win a cap for Argentina at the age of 36 – ahead of established internationals such as Esteban Cambiasso, Walter Samuel and Real Madrid striker Higuain.
It was the home side that created the game’s first scoring opportunity after seven minutes.
Paraguay left-back Torres delivered a cross into the box and the impressive Nelson Valdez flicked a right-foot volley towards goal that was saved brilliantly by Romero and tipped onto the post.
Ageing midfielder Veron was later shown a yellow card for a showing his studs dangerously high in a challenge on Riveros on 19 minutes.
Paraguay struck the woodwork again minutes later.
Salvador Cabanas drove into the box and pulled the ball back for Santana to hit a fierce shot that rebounded against the post after an incisive counter-attacking move.
The home side scored the decisive goal just before the half-hour mark and again the skillful Cabanas was involved in the build-up.
The 29-year-old – currently plying his trade in Mexico for Club America – produced sublime trickery before playing a one-two and sliding a pass into Valdez who finished with aplomb into the far corner.
Argentina – completely devoid of any shape – finally forced Villar into a save on 34 minutes following Veron’s speculative effort.
Messi proved a peripheral figure throughout the first half and the game went from bad to worse for Maradona after the break.
Juan Veron was given his marching orders on 53 minutes – receiving a harsh second yellow for a trip on Torres – and will now miss another must-win fixture at home to bottom-placed Peru.
Paraguay sat back in the second-half in an attempt to defend their lead and yet still managed to produce more purposeful football than that mustered by Argentina.
In the anxious closing moments of the game, each clearance made by the home side was greeted with enormous cheer as Paraguay clung on to clinch qualification.
Argentina now lay fifth in the play-off spot of the CONMEBOL qualifying league just one point ahead of both Uruguay and Venezuela, and only two points from Colombia.
The bloated frame of the tactically inept Maradona on the sideline at the final whistle may be his final appearance on the international scene before returning to the much safer seat as host of weekly celeb chat show Ã¢â‚¬ËœLa Nocha del 10′ (The night of the number 10) – for which this, maybe tellingly, wasn’t.
Paraguay: Villar, Veron, J Caceres, Da Silva, Torres, Vera, Santana (Ledesma, 67), Riveros, Barreto (V Caceres, 81), Cabanas, Valdez (Benitez, 81)
Argentina: Romero, Zanetti, Dominguez (Schiavi, 80), Heinze, Papa, Gago, Mascherano, Veron, Datolo (Lavezzi, 45), Messi, Aguero (Palermo, 59)
Man of the Match: Salvador Cabanas – His tricky footwork was a joy to behold and forced the forlorn Messi into the shade.
The week’s other CONMEBOL qualifier results:
Bolivia 1-3 Ecuador
Uruguay 3-1 Colombia
Venezuela 3-1 Peru
Brazil 4-2 Chile