Eriksson sacked and Maradona humbled

Swede dismissed by Mexico while Argentina hammered 6-1 at altitude in Bolivia
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The Independent Football

The Birmingham City striker Carlos Costly scored twice in San Pedro Sula on Wednesday as Honduras recorded their second win over Mexico in just six months. That was the latest in a series of disappointing results for El Tri under Eriksson, including defeat to Jamaica and a draw with Canada and left them outside the qualifying places in the final Concacaf group. "This morning we talked to Mr Eriksson and announced his departure," the Mexican Football Federation president, Justino Compean, said. "It's a fact results have not been what we expected."

Eriksson had courted unpopularity in Mexico by relying on a number of overseas-based players such as Arsenal's Carlos Vela, Giovani dos Santos, currently on loan from Tottenham at Ipswich Town and Nery Castillo, whom he signed last year while at City. The 61-year-old Swede's availability will alert a number of Premier League clubs, notably Portsmouth, who were heavily linked with Eriksson after they sacked Tony Adams in February.

Another manager who suffered a trying result on Wednesday, Argentina's Diego Maradona, was largely spared any harsh criticism from the nation's press the morning after the "catastrophic" 6-1 World Cup qualifier defeat in Bolivia. Maradona's legendary status as a player affords him a leniency that others would not receive – he was even praised for not using the altitude the game in La Paz was played at on Wednesday – 3,640 metres above sea level – as an excuse, though as someone who spoke out against Fifa's decision to ban qualifiers in the Bolivian capital last year that avenue was not really open to him.

"As the manager and strategist, Diego is the most responsible for the tsunami in La Paz," said sports daily Ole, "a prisoner of his own words and the belief that altitude has no effect – a prisoner of his moral compromise with [Bolivian president] Evo Morales, he really did believe the altitude had no effect and, with that reasoning, made no special plans."

Unusually, Argentina did not travel to La Paz early for the game to acclimatise and arrived, late, just two hours before kick-off. "Naivety" and "lack of experience" were the harshest charges aimed at Maradona, who stayed calm throughout the thrashing and humble in the post-match press conference. "Every goal was like a knife through my heart. I suffered with you all," he said.

Bolivia used the tactic of shooting from distance, knowing the Argentina goalkeeper, Juan Pablo Carrizo, would struggle to read the movement of the ball in the thin air. However, the altitude could not account for some of Argentina's terrible marking in defence, with the whole back four looking saky and unorganised. Liverpool's Javier Mascherano also had a very poor game, Clarin describing the captain as "unrecognisable".

With the public prepared to consider the match in Bolivia as a one-off, a clearer indication of Argentina's chances should emerge after the next two qualifiers in June. The South American qualifying group is very tight and their place in South Africa next year is by no means guaranteed.

39

Number of years since Argentina last failed to reach a World Cup finals – Mexico 1970.

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