Maradona coaches Argentina to win over Scotland

November 20, 2008

GLASGOW, Scotland -- Diego Maradona acknowledged there are things in life far more important than football -- even as he enjoyed the fulfillment of his long-held dream of coaching Argentina.

Maradona hugged each of his 11 players as they walked off the pitch following Wednesday's 1-0 win at Scotland, but the gesture was as much for their support following his daughter's transfer to a Madrid hospital because of complications in her pregnancy.

Giannina, who is six months pregnant with the child of Argentina striker Sergio Aguero, was taken to a hospital on Tuesday after complaining of pain. Maradona immediately let Aguero quit the squad to visit her, and said after his victorious debut that he was set to make the same journey as soon as he could leave Hampden Park.

"I've been thinking of my daughter and her baby and the lads made things easy for me during a difficult time," Maradona said. "She was happy for me to be here leading the Argentina side. The players wore the shirt with pride and made me proud.

"It was a great experience and I was relaxed throughout."

His daughter's condition is said not to be serious, but perhaps with her on his mind, the 1986 World Cup-winning captain had a surprisingly quiet first game as coach, with little of the frantic gesticulating and wild cheerleading that had characterized his time as a fan of the national team.

The 48-year-old spent most of the match huddled on the bench, his diminutive figure exaggerated by the outsized coat insulating him from the cold Scottish night.

His arms tight to his chest to keep out the weather, he was uncharacteristically calm in his reaction to the slick move involving Carlos Tevez and Jonas Gutierrez. Tevez found space on the right in the eighth minute and crossed to Gutierrez, who had time to play a simple pass to the onrushing Maxi Rodriguez for an easy finish that turned out to be the winning goal.

Maradona did not even uncross his arms to celebrate.

Such a demeanor contrasted starkly with a playing career so dominated by outrageous skill and flashes of furious passion that it, and a personality which would also lead to infamous battles with addiction and authority, seemed for a long time to disqualify him from becoming a successful manager.

But his return to the touchline 13 years after his only two previous coaching stints -- when he won just three of 23 matches in Argentine club football -- was so orthodox that his four brief forays to the touchline were apparently only to instruct his wavering defense.

The win was so comfortable, he was even able to shrug off his worries briefly during the post-match press conference.

Hounded since his arrival in Glasgow by questions from British journalists still obsessed with his handball goal in Argentina's 1986 World Cup quarterfinal win over England, Maradona was asked if he had shaken hands with Terry Butcher -- a former England defender who is now assistant to Scotland manager George Burley.

"Who is he? Who is Butcher?" Maradona said grim-faced through a translator, seemingly frustrated by the subject being brought up again. "I greeted the manager of Scotland after the game. Who is Butcher?"

As the assembled journalists started to gasp and snigger at Maradona's apparent dismissal of the man who has admitted he is still angry over the so-called "Hand of God" goal, Maradona burst into a wide smile at the parochial questioning.

"Since the bad news I've had about my daughter, this is the first time I've managed to laugh," he said with a chuckle.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press