Sunday, October 11, 2009
ESPNsoccernet: October 12, 8:46 AM UK
Messi on the missing list in eye of the storm
Diego Maradona looked like Jurgen Klinsmann on ice when he propelled his ample belly along the wet ground to celebrate a remarkable victory by his besieged Argentina over Peru.
• Maradona: Palermo winner was a "miracle"
• Last-gasp Palermo wins it in the rain
For those of us who stayed up late enough to watch a game the old
Argentina would have skated, but who, almost contrived to lose, it
was a fitting conclusion to a bizarre occasion.
Maradona was virtually out of a job when Peru looked like stealing a
point, but he lives to fight on another day against Uruguay, but
while Argentina's World Cup qualification remains on hold, the mystery continues over Lionel Messi.
Messi looked a shadow of the player so many regard as the world's best.
Often described as the nearest thing to the new Maradona, there is a
growing suspicion that he has become overawed by his predecessor now in
charge of the team.
Messi has all the attributes to carry Argentina to the finals in
South Africa on his own, but at the moment he is struggling to hold
down his place in the team.
Argentina's 2-1 victory keeps alive their hopes of reaching the 2010
finals as they climbed into fourth place in the South American group
before their last qualifier away to Uruguay on Wednesday. The top
four go through to South Africa. Of course it will be a crying shame
if the world is deprived of the special talents of Messi in South
Africa. As Ossie Ardiles told us in the build-up to two such important
games, it would be a travesty for the tournament to be without the
world's No.1 player.
But on the evidence of this and recent displays the joy has
evaporated from Messi's game when playing for his country. With it has gone his confidence, and
that magic has deserted him. He has been outshone by some players
who, on the surface, seemed strange decisions for Maradona to make.
New cap Gonzalo Higuain had put Argentina ahead two minutes into the
second half but, as the driving rain became steadily worse at the
Monumental, Peru equalised in the final minute through substitute
Substitute Martin Palermo had the last word, though, when he turned a
low ball from the right into the net in a packed area as Argentina
threw everything at their opponents in search of the winner.
Higuain started ahead of Carlos Tevez, while Palermo was back after a
The key game for Maradona's Argentina is on Wednesday against
Uruguay, who are only a point behind in the fifth-place play-off
berth after beating Ecuador, who are now in sixth, another point back.
"I told him at half-time "go and resolve this"," Maradona said of his
decision to bring on Palermo. "It was a miracle from Saint Palermo
that gives us another life."
Pablo Aimar's selection was also much criticised, the little
midfielder back out of the blue, but he was inspirational.
But Peru had a penalty appeal rejected when when former Newcastle
midfielder Nolberto Solano's shot was blocked by the arm of Emiliano
But just as Argentina's World Cup dreams looked to be slipping away, the Boca Juniors striker Palermo give his famous coach a lifeline.
There was more drama to come as Rainer Torres tried his luck straight
from the kick-off, but his effort struck the bar.
Who would have thought Palermo would be the hero while Messi went on the missing list? Knowing Maradona's topsy-turvy world, it could all change against Uruguay.