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World Cup Watch Part Two: Argentina

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 11:  Lionel Messi (R) walks off with team mate Fernando Gago (L) after the 2-0 victory during the International Friendly match between France and Argentina at the Stade Velodrome on February 11, 2009 in Marseille, France.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Chris PotterCorrespondent IMarch 28, 2009

Argentina is the focus of this second report on the challengers for the prestigious Jules Rimet trophy at next year's FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

HISTORY

Winners in 1978 and '86, the Albicelestes have a proud World Cup history and won just over half of their 65 matches in the finals tournament. They have a history that is marked by triumph and controversy, flashes of brilliance and insolence, and pride and disgrace in equal measure. 

Notable incidents in the past have included legendary winger and current coach Diego Maradona's infamous 'Hand Of God' goal and sublime dribble and finish in their 2-1 quarter-final triumph over England in '86 and an ugly brawl at the end of their surprise quarter-final defeat to the Germans in 2006.  

SHAPING UP FOR 2010

With just 16 points from 10 games so far in qualifying, they lag SEVEN points behind Paraguay in the CONMEBOL qualification group and are not yet assured a place in next summer's tournament.

The defeats to Venezuela and Colombia were embarrassing for a nation with an unbelievable wealth of talent at its disposal and an impressive football heritage and hard-nosed captain Javier Mascherano and straight-talking coach Maradona will not put with mediocrity for long.

STRENGTHS

The squad has an enviable blend of youth and experience and has a good balance of offensive and defensive players. Superstars such as Lionel Messi, Javier Zanetti, and Javier Mascherano will be vital to the team's success. It is also a squad with real depth, highlighted by the fact that star Genoa striker Diego Milito is fourth choice. 

WEAKNESSES 

Coach Maradona has almost no experience of coaching football at any level and will have prove himself and impose his character on his team.

The Pumas have been poor so far in qualifying and the players will have to gel on a more regular basis and develop a greater understanding of each other's games if they are to go all the way.

COACH

The appointment of Diego Maradona as national coach over other more qualified candidates was met with surprise by some and vehement opposition by others. Yet, following a friendly victory over Scotland at Hampden Park and an impressive 2-0 defeat of France, it's a case of "so far, so good" for Argentina under Maradona's leadership. 

KEY PLAYER 

Lionel Messi needs little introduction, especially as he is considered by many to be the greatest footballer on the planet currently. With an incredible 50 goals in 103 appearances for Catalan giants Barcelona and 11 goals in international football already, the diminutive wizard is still just 21 years old.

Will he be able to live up to the hype when push comes to shove?

ODDS

5-1

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