|ESPNsoccernet: World Cup 2010|
Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano has revealed that while coach Diego Maradona may have courted considerable controversy with some outrageous comments in front of the cameras, he is an unquestionably popular figure in the dressing room.
Maradona has previously stated his belief that Mascherano is as important to the team as Lionel Messi and the rest of Argentina's galacticos, and the Liverpool midfielder feels that his coach would do anything to protect his players.
"The way you saw Maradona hug us after the South Korea game is the way he behaves normally," says Mascherano, the Liverpool midfielder who is the subject of intense scrutiny about a potential move to Inter Milan where his former club manager, Rafael Benitez, has just landed. "Away from the TV cameras he always embraces us and this is important."
Mascherano and his team-mates have all but assured a second round berth and have the luxury of a five-day break before their final group game against Greece.
Hence the relaxing workout at their Pretoria headquarters on Friday when you would not have known for a moment how close they came to being eliminated in qualifying.
Mascherano, on a yellow card, could miss the final group game against Greece to avoid possible suspension and whatever the result - barring an absolute disaster - Argentina will progress.
"We are all confident that we can win the title," Mascherano said. "We feel strong working with and for Diego. We don't worry about other teams but we do realise that any opponent can make life difficult for you. It's all about going step by step."
If there is one criticism of Argentina it is that they can be too offensive. Just occasionally their defence looked suspect against both South Korea and Nigeria but fortune favours the brave, says Mascherano.
"I don't feel that the team is unbalanced," he said. "I feel it's an advantage, because if you have so many players going forward the opponent will attack you less.
"We all need to keep our feet on the ground. Us Argentinians tend to go from euphoria to depression very quickly. Big teams grow while the tournament progresses."