Argentina starters remain secret
Pretoria - Argentina coach Diego Maradona would not reveal his starting lineup ahead of time on Friday for his team's opening World Cup game against Nigeria.
Lionel Messi. (AFP)
Speaking to reporters in Pretoria, Maradona only confirmed that he had decided his starting 11 a short time ago and that he was satisfied with the whole team's condition.
In an interview Thursday with Argentine television, Maradona confirmed that Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez would start, making him the likely third forward along with Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain.
"I realized that (Tevez) can't be excluded from this team because of what he showed me and what he showed in England," Maradona said. "Seeing him play gives me goose bumps."
Teams are not obliged to reveal their lineups until one hour before the game, but unless there are some last-minute changes, Argentina should start with goalkeeper Sergio Romero, defenders Gabriel Heinze, Martin Demichelis and Walter Samuel, midfielders Jonas Gutierrez, Angel Di Maria, Javier Mascherano, and Juan Sebastian Veron, and Messi, Tevez and Higuain up front.
Maradona said he expects Messi to have the same impact in South Africa that he himself had when leading Argentina to the 1986 World Cup title in Mexico.
"I wish with all my heart that 'Leo' has a wonderful starring role and that he becomes the best player of all time," Maradona said, adding that he could rest Messi during the World Cup if match circumstances allow.
"Behind Messi, there is a team that has to support him and he would have to be the strawberry on top of the dessert," Maradona said. "(Messi) knows very well that he is a defining player who can create a scoring opportunity at any time."
Maradona defined first rival Nigeria as a "rough, hard team" but said that Argentina was prepared to face them.
"The group is well, secure and it knows what it wants," Maradona said. "Being at the front of these 23 monsters - but first of all football players - gives me peace of mind I never expected."
Maradona also made an appeal for fair play, asking FIFA to pay special attention to the issue.
"That's what we have to start with, because we will see better football, we will see the stars we want and we are going to enjoy this World Cup," Maradona said. "FIFA has to keep fair play very much in mind ... and the referees have to know the meaning of those words."
In the face of much criticism because of some his disputed decisions as coach, Maradona acknowledged some of the difficulties but also his right to lead the team.
"After a qualifying stage which really did not go well for us, I was waiting for this moment to have all the players together and teach them things," Maradona said. "I gave something to Argentine football to deserve being on this bench, just as others who have given sacrifice, blood and courage to the national jersey also deserve it."