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The South Africa Angle

Maradona must solve Lionel mess

December 23, 2009
By Tom Adams
(Archive)

Despite fears that a renegade Facebook campaign would result in Rage Against The Machine's Zack de la Rocha being named FIFA World Player of the Year on Monday night, justice was done in Zurich when Barcelona's Lionel Messi took home the biggest individual honour in world football. But given Argentina's chaotic existence on and off the pitch, it remains worryingly doubtful whether he will be able to reach his full potential in South Africa next summer.

Lionel Messi
GettyImagesLionel Messi was named FIFA World Player of the Year on Monday

At the 2006 finals in Germany, Messi suffered acute disappointment when, to the bemusement of the watching world, coach Jose Pekerman left him on the bench as Argentina exited at the quarter-final stage after losing to the hosts on penalties. There is no danger of Diego Maradona doing the same. After all, Messi did not miss a single qualifier despite his coach chopping and changing his team with more enthusiasm than Mick McCarthy. Of more concern is that Maradona, currently suspended of course, is failing to get the best out of this world-class talent.

Messi scored only four times in 18 qualifying fixtures despite netting a ridiculous 60 goals in 84 games for Barca in the same period. Those four goals still made him the joint top scorer for Argentina alongside Sergio Aguero and Juan Roman Riquelme, who has since been exiled from the international set-up, so clearly Maradona's tactical morass and anarchic brand of coaching have not uniquely impacted on Messi. But the devilish forward does not cut the same dashing figure in the blue and white of Argentina as he does in the blue and red of Barca and it is a conundrum that must be solved before June if the billions watching next summer are not to be denied the sight of the world's best player at his peak.

It is often said that Argentina won the 1986 World Cup solely because of Maradona. This time, the national team, and the newly-crowned best player in the world, may have to do so in spite of him.

EVERYBODY LIKES RAYMOND?

France have had plenty of chances to sack Raymond Domenech over the past few years so it came as little surprise to learn, on Friday, that the board of the French Football Federation had rejected calls from dissident member Guy Chambily to dispose of the services of the head coach. President Jean-Pierre Escalettes said: "He had to qualify Les Bleus for the World Cup and that's what he did. We're qualified and that was the only sportive clause that figured in his contract." No doubt his new deal, if he gets one, will include a proviso that any qualification based on a lamentable campaign followed by a dodgy handball decision in a play-off will not count.

BENT'S WEB OF INTRIGUE

Darren Bent
GettyImagesDarren Bent: Scored 25 goals this season.

The build-up to the 2010 World Cup finals has been dogged by incessant security fears and speculation over whether adequate infrastructure will be in place. But it appears that quite another menace is occupying the thoughts of England and Sunderland striker, Darren Bent. News reaches us from the Daily Mail that Bent is so scared of spiders he could resort to hypnotherapy should he make the trip to South Africa, which boasts a healthy array of deadly arachnids. "I can't stand spiders, they are so creepy," Bent said. "I don't hate animals or anything - I used to have a pet snake as a child. But don't get me started on spiders, they terrify me." The England hopeful should probably be more terrified by the form of Bobby Zamora though.

PLAYER IN FOCUS: PEDRO

Prior to this season, Pedro had started only four La Liga games for Barcelona but his rise to prominence in recent months has been as rapid as it has spectacular. The 22-year-old completed a unique record last week when he scored in his sixth competition of the season - a goal in the Club World Cup adding to his efforts in La Liga, the Champions League, the Copa del Rey and the European and Spanish Super Cups. Spain coach Vicente del Bosque has taken note, stating: "Pedro is a serious candidate for a place at the finals in South Africa." Could he be the shock inclusion in a vastly-talented squad that holds few surprises after victory at Euro 2008?

WORLD CUP QUOTE OF THE WEEK

Fernando Torres gives a glimmer of hope to all those expecting said Spaniards to trounce the opposition in South Africa. "Everyone expects a great deal from us and that pressure is not always good for a player," Torres told Spanish publication ABC. "We have good players who have played harmoniously for three or four years now. If we miss this chance to win the World Cup, it is possible that we will not have a second opportunity. The pressure is enormous." It would not be the first time that Spain have bottled it on the biggest stage of all.