|ESPNsoccernet: World Cup 2010|
Argentina coach Diego Maradona has admitted he would love to see Lionel Messi have the same impact on the tournament in South Africa as he himself had on the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
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The now Argentina coach scored one of the greatest goals of all time against England 24 years ago, along with four more across the tournament to lead the Albiceleste to their second World Cup.
"I would love to see that,'' Maradona said. "I certainly would appreciate it if he could have the same impact on the World Cup that I had in 1986, the same leading role that I had then.
"But behind Lionel there is a whole team backing him up and he should be the cherry on the cake. I just hope from the bottom of my heart that Lionel gets to show what he can do and that he has the best performance of all time.''
Concerns had been raised by fitness coach Fernando Signorini over the condition of Messi after a long domestic season with Barcelona, but he has been declared fit for Argentina's opening game against Nigeria on Saturday.
Maradona acknowledged that the Barcelona star has had a gruelling season, but he is confident the reigning World Player of the Year is capable of having a major impact.
"(Barca coach Pep) Guardiola would take the other people off the pitch, Xavi, etc...and he wouldn't take Messi off, so he has played 63 matches, but Messi knows very well that he can make the difference and create chances,'' Maradona said. "But this is what a World Cup is all about, there's little margin for error and there is no guarantee that the players will always be at their best."
Messi comes into the tournament with a reputation for being the best player of his generation but Nigeria coach Lars Lagerback insists he will not target the Argentina star, saying: "We are playing Argentina, not Messi. So there will be no player given the special job to mark him."
With Messi's talents well known to footballers all over the world, Maradona hopes that opponents do not adopt a heavy-handed approach to dealing with the 22-year-old.
"Those looking for fair play shouldn't stand alone, let's really look for fair play and referees should understand what fair play is," he said. "We've been through that but we want to see good football, we want to have fair play in matches, we want to enjoy this World Cup.
"I think FIFA must definitely look for fair play. If you don't want to play clean football then go up into the stands. People want to see football and we want people to watch football peacefully, without violence.''
Maradona also admitted that, while he still lives and breathes every match his team plays, he is more relaxed than he was as a player because he has complete faith in his 23-man squad.
"I was much more nervous as a player. I was telling (Javier) Mascherano yesterday that I had sweaty palms, I was wondering how I was going to play, I was trying to save energy while I was playing.'' Maradona said.
"I live it just as intensely today but I'm not as nervous because I completely believe in the 23 players that I have. I'm going to live or die with these 23 players. Tomorrow (Saturday) I believe we will start building towards a dream. Many of us cherish this dream and this dream had not come true for quite some time.
"It's great what we have. We are proud, we're happy, and I think we've had good preparation. These 23 players, these monsters, these fighters, give me great peace of mind when I see them, which I've never felt before.''