Maradona slips deeper into mire after loss

It was so nearly the dramatic riposte Diego Maradona needs to silence his growing band of critics. Deep into the death throes of Argentina's World Cup qualifier in Asuncion, with Paraguay winning 1-0, Martin Palermo rose at the far post to head across the box. Breaking in to the area was Rolando Schiavi, introduced a few minutes earlier as a substitute. Maradona's decision to select the pair, respectively a 35-year-old last capped in 1999, and a 36-year-old who was making his international debut, had been highlighted as further evidence that
El Diez's expertise as a coach was in inverse proportion to his greatness as a player.

Maradona brought on Schiavi with 10 minutes left and quickly sent the centre-half forward as an auxiliary attacker – the traditional last throw of the coaching dice at any level. However, not being a striker, Schiavi had paused in his run, waiting to see what happened instead of gambling. The delay proved fatal, he stretched, but just failed to turn Palermo's header into what was effectively an open goal.

It proved the Albicelestes' last chance. Paraguay, coached by Argentine Gerardo Martino, had scored after 28 minutes when Nelson Valdes completed a swift passing move with a fierce shot. The goal was overdue, La Albirroja having already hit the woodwork twice. Argentina, with Lionel Messi anonymous, suffered another blow when Juan Sebastian Veron was dismissed soon after the interval for a second yellow card.

As Paraguay celebrated, having secured their place at the World Cup finals as South America's second entrant after Brazil, Argentina began to contemplate the very real prospect of missing out for the first time in 40 years. The two-time winners are now in fifth place, which leads to a play-off against the fourth-placed Concacaf nation. This is currently Costa Rica.

But if Maradona does not conjure at least four points from his remaining matches, against Peru and in Uruguay, Argentina may not even come fifth as Uruguay, Venezuela and Colombia are all within two points.

"It is down to poor form and failures as a team," said Maradona. "I didn't think we were going to be like we are, but this is the reality. I will face it like always in my life. I am not afraid of criticism. I am afraid of nobody. They won't get rid of me. While I've still got a drop of blood left, I'll fight for Argentina's qualification. I have my team and I am going to go forward."

Maradona has lost four of six qualifiers and if the media have their way - the influential Clarin headlined: "Argentina is in freefall – without a parachute" - it will be someone else taking the team forward, perhaps Sergio Batista who steered Argentina to Olympic gold last year, or technical director Carlos Bilardo. However, as the Argentine Football Association's veteran president Julio Grondona boasts he has never fired a manager Maradona should survive, for now.

Additional reporting by Neil Clack in Buenos Aires.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee