Argentina's coach Diego Maradona refused for once to accept a tempting bait last night and respond to the criticisms made of his players by Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger ahead of Saturday's quarter-final.
At the squad's training camp at the University of Pretoria, he declined to attend the scheduled media conference for two players, third-choice goalkeeper Diego Pozo and the uncapped midfielder Javier Pastore. Both deflected questions about the German accusations, which date back to the previous World Cup meeting between the two countries four years ago at the same stage, which ended in acrimony after Germany, the hosts, won on penalties.
Diego-watchers had only the training session to enjoy, in which he performed as referee with great gusto, looking as if he was desperate to join in but somehow exercising self-control; a quality for which he has rarely been renowned. It was a relaxed session suggesting players at ease with themselves and their coach, and delighted with their performance so far in scoring ten goals – four of them to Real Madrid's Gonzalo Higuain -and conceding only two.
The session finished as usual with those perceived to have been the worst trainers lining up on the goalmouth and bending over while the rest fired footballs at them.
Maradona is even coming to terms with the criticisms previously levelled at him, notably after the unprecedented 6-1defeat by Bolivia in qualifying. "They said I had no idea about how to coach," he has said. "But suddenly I am winning matches and I am still the same guy."
Meanwhile the enthralling possibility of a final against Brazil is growing, at which point Maradona would have plenty to say. Even yesterday here there were two reminders of how personalised such a confrontation could become. On a wall near the university is a huge banner in Argentina's colours reading: "One Diego is worth two Peles." After training an onlooker who turned out to be a Brazilian, safely lurking behind a fence, finally managed to attract Maradona's attention before shouting: "Pele is better!" and scuttling off. Old rivalries die hard.