Maradona revels in being centre of attention

Scotland 0 Argentina 1
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The Independent Football

It was the summer of '79 that a stocky young South American bounded into town, scored his first international goal and departed on a journey that hurtled to the top of the world. And then back down. If this slim-line victory 29 years on for the managerial version of Diego Maradona –courtesy of Maxi Rodriguez's first-half goal – prefaces even a fraction of the glory he had as a player, what lies in store could be amazing? Could be. That, for better or worse, is Argentinean football all over again.

The man himself pronounced himself delighted with victory, even though he said that for much of the game his thoughts were focussed on events in Madrid, where his daughter, Giannina, 18, has suffered complications with her first pregnancy.

There were bursts of mischief and his trademark cockiness nonetheless. Asked by a Spanish-speaking journalist whether he was pleased with a less- than-resounding result, Maradona replied: "Are you Scottish? You must be Scottish. I can't agree with your point. We were excellent for 25 minutes. We scored early. We didn't convert another half-dozen chances but we kept the ball. And when we gave it away, Scotland did not capitalise. It was a deserved victory"

There was other bite to his attitude when he was asked if he had had any contact with Terry Butcher, George Burley's No2 who said before the match that he would never forgive Maradona for the 'Hand of God' goal. "Who is Butcher?" he asked. "Who is this? I greeted Burley, the manager of Scotland. Who is Butcher?"

Argentina's manager then praised his players extravagantly, conceding the national team had "lost its way a little bit" recently but was comprised of "real men who will die for the Argentina shirt".

"We needed a win to get back on track and we got that," he said. He added that his thoughts had been with Giannina for days and "the lads have made things easy for me, giving me support at a difficult time".

For a little barrel of just 5ft 5in, Maradona casts one big shadow. It would have been easy to forget in the build-up that a football match might actually break out. Eyes from the 150 countries that took TV coverage have been glued to the World Cup-winning maestro since he landed on Sunday.

Since then, it has been Diego, ego, ego all the way. On Tuesday he almost abandoned ship to be with Giannina, whose fiance is Sergio Aguero, the 20-year-old Atletico Madrid striker who is one of Maradona's new footballing charges. Aguero was allowed to leave to be with her. Maradona admitted he almost went too. "I've got a lump in the heart," he said. "I want to run to see her, but I knew that she wanted me to stay here."

Like Kevin Keegan "the man who Maradona said earlier this week was his favourite British player of all time", Argentina's new manager is fuelled primarily by passion. For all that, he picked a predictable XI last night in the absence of Lionel Messi and Juan Riquelme, and when Rodriguez scored, he did little more than stand up with his arms crossed then sit down again.

For Scotland, Wolverhampton's Chris Iewlumo started up front. Not that any neutral or international observer would have noticed that. This was not an evening when Championship strikers were going to overshadow a man widely regarded – by the post-Pele generation at least – as the greatest football player of all time.

His side dominated a first half peppered with flashes of light, like Rodriguez playing keepy-uppy with his back to goal inside the area before laying off backwards to Javier Mascherano. The Liverpool man thumped a first-time volley that Allan McGregor did well to push away.

Argentina went ahead in the eighth minute when Carlos Tevez bustled in from the right and passed to Jonas Gutierrez, who slid the ball inside for Rodriguez to finish. It was not the swashbuckling jaw-on-floor stuff of Maradona's famous display at this venue in '79, but it was neat enough.

The string-puller Mascherano combined fluidly with Javier Zanetti to set up a rising shot from Tevez, which went over. Maradona was at his more animated when Tevez was then clattered by Gary Caldwell. He composed himself quickly.

Burley used the occasion for the task it deserved, experimenting. It did not bring a goal but then neither did Argentina extend their lead. Not that it needed extending. Maradona was a winner here, again, at the start of something, yet to be defined.

Scotland (4-4-2): McGregor (Rangers); Hutton (Tottenham), Caldwell, McManus (both Celtic), Broadfoot (Rangers); Brown (Celtic), Hartley (Celtic), Ferguson (Rangers), Commons (Derby); McFadden (Birmingham), Iwelumo (Wolves). Substitutes: Miller (Aberdeen) for Iwelumo, h-t, Robertson (Dundee United) for Ferguson, 59; Maloney (Celtic) for Hartley, 59; Clarkson (Motherwell) for McFadden, 67.

Argentina (4-4-2): Carrizo (Lazio); Zanetti (Inter), Demichelis (Bayern Munich), Heinze (Real Madrid), Papa (Velez Sarsfield); Rodriguez (Atletico Madrid), Mascherano (Liverpool), Gago (Real Madrid), Gutierrez (Newcastle); Lavezzi (Napoli), Tevez (Man Utd). Substitutes: Luis Gonzalez (Porto) for Gutierrez, 71; Denis (Napoli) for Lavezzi, 75; Diaz (Getafe) for Papa, 86; Sosa (Bayern Munich) for Rodriguez, 90.

Referee: F Brych (Germany).

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