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Page last updated at 11:12 GMT, Friday, 9 October 2009 12:12 UK

Maradona under pressure

Fifa World Cup Qualifying Group, South America - Argentina v Peru
Venue: Buenos Aires Date: Saturday, 10 October Kick-off: 2300 BST Coverage: Live on Sky Sports 1

Diego Maradona (centre) with Lionel Messi (right)
Maradona has to get the best out of his richly talented collection of players

By Nabil Hassan

In Argentina, Diego Maradona is worshipped like a God.

So revered is the man known as 'El Diego' that a religion started in his honour in his homeland now has more than 100,000 members.

His magical skills and achievements for Argentina and Napoli mean his status as one of the best players the sport has ever seen is beyond reproach.

But his skills as a manager are held in rather lower esteem, with Maradona's beloved Argentina in severe danger of missing out on next year's World Cup after three qualifying defeats in a row.

A 6-1 humiliation at the hands of Bolivia back in March has been followed by successive defeats by Ecuador, Brazil and Paraguay.

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And Maradona's close friend Ossie Ardiles believes his former team-mate's place in his country's affections will be severely damaged if the unthinkable happens and football's showpiece event takes place without an Argentina side for the first time since 1970.

"If Argentina don't qualify for the World Cup it will be a big blow for his legacy and for him personally," Ardiles, a World Cup winner himself in 1978, told BBC Sport.

The 57-year-old is able to put his friendship with Maradona to one side when it comes to his assessment of the job Argentina's most famous number 10 is doing in trying to guide the team to South Africa.

Diego Maradona

Maradona's World Cup highlights

"He is not doing very well and it remains to be seen if he is the right man for the job," says Ardiles.

"The problem now is that they are not playing as a team, and there is no getting away from the fact, that this is the responsibility of the manager."

Maradona's failure to get Argentina's wonderful collection of individuals, which include Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi and Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez, to play as a team has seen him come in for severe criticism.

And his man-management has been under scrutiny ever since talented midfielder Juan Roman Riquelme walked out in March after a row with the coach.

"We don't think the same way," Riquelme said of Maradona.

"We don't share the same codes of ethics. While he is the coach of the national team, we can't work together."

Maradona was named Argentina manager in November 2008, but four defeats in his 10 games in charge have left Argentina in fifth place in the South American qualifying group with two games to play.

The top four teams qualify for the World Cup while the fifth-placed team enters a home-and-away play-off with the fourth-placed team from the North, Central America and Caribbean region.

Argentina's final group games come against bottom of the table Peru on 10 October and sixth-placed Uruguay on 14 October.

"There are two games to go and if they qualify then he will prove to be the right man but these two matches will decide the fate of Argentina - and of Maradona," said Ardiles.

If he doesn't get Argentina to the World Cup then he will lose his job

Ossie Ardiles

"But a World Cup without Argentina is unthinkable."

Maradona is not exactly inspiring his compatriots with confidence with his public pronouncements, having recently called for God's help in saving Argentina from a humiliating World Cup elimination.

It was God, Maradona believes, who saved him when severe weight and addiction problems left him fighting for his life in intensive care back in 2004 - not to mention any possible intervention in the infamous "Hand of God" incident against England in 1986.

"The Beard (God) saved me many times, I hope he saves me this time too," said Maradona.

The last time Argentina failed to qualify for a World Cup was in 1970 and Ardiles is in no doubt what will happen to Maradona if a football-mad country is forced to watch the tournament on TV without their team to cheer on.

"He was from a different planet as a player," said Ardiles, who was speaking after his induction into the National Football Museum's Hall of Fame.

"I played with some wonderful players. He was unlike anyone I had played with before but he was by far the best.

"But if he doesn't get Argentina to the World Cup then he will lose his job, certainly."

Ossie Ardiles
Ardiles is still a legend to Spurs fans

Ardiles, who is still revered at Tottenham for his contributions on the pitch during a brilliant career at White Hart Lane, can sympathise with Maradona's plight after struggling to translate his skills as a player to the managerial arena.

The mercurial midfielder played more than 200 times for Spurs and went on to manage the club, and enjoyed some degree of success at West Brom and Japanese club Yokohama Marinos.

But as a manager he has found it difficult to reach the same heights of achievement as he did as a player with short spells at clubs in Croatia, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Israel, Argentina and Paraguay failing to yield much in the way of silverware.

One of the main reasons for the particular pressure on Maradona is the sheer quality of the players he has on offer to him, with the peerless Messi heading the cast list.

"Messi is a wonderful player and still very young," said Ardiles, who believes the Barcelona forward Messi is certain to be named World and European player of the year.

"He can still improve and achieve so much more. He is certainly in the same mould as Maradona."

Once the whistle blows against Peru on Saturday, Maradona himself can only watch from the sidelines and hope Messi can inspire Argentina to victory just as he did on so many occasions.

Argentina goalkeeper Nery Pumpido and captain Diego Maradona lift the World Cup

Archive - Maradona inspires Argentina to 1986 win



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see also
Who has qualified for South Africa 2010?
19 Nov 09 |  Internationals
Maradona denies threat to resign
09 Oct 09 |  Internationals
Pele hits back in Maradona spat
17 Sep 09 |  Internationals
Argentina World Cup spot in doubt
10 Sep 09 |  Internationals
Argentines back England Cup bid
17 Sep 09 |  Football
Police seize Maradona's earrings
18 Sep 09 |  Europe
Maradona named as Argentina coach
04 Nov 08 |  Internationals
Maradona, Mascherano and philosophy
04 Nov 08 |  Football
When Lineker met Maradona
27 Apr 06 |  Football
Maradona leaves alcoholism clinic
07 May 07 |  Americas
The Maradona Diaries
04 Nov 08 |  Football
Maradona's fall from grace
19 Apr 04 |  Football
The 'Hand of God' church
04 Nov 02 |  Football


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