Maradona's men snatch finals place

Uruguay 0 Argentina 1
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The Independent Football

Expectation was high in Uruguay before the so called 'Battle of Montevideo', fear and nervousness across the river in Argentina. However, for the first time away from home, Maradona, needing only a point, got his tactics right. His team, set up to defend, successsfully took the sting out of the game in the first half and then hit on the counter-attack in the second half, scoring in the 39th minute through substitute Bolatti. After all the drama of the last year, Argentina have finally sealed their place at the World Cup. The tournament will be richer for the presence of Leo Messi, and who knows what kind of controversy and madness Maradona might bring to South Africa?

News of a goal in Chile at the begiining of the second half also took the pressure off both sides, as an Ecuador defeat (they lost 1-0 ), suited both Argentina and Uruguay, who will now contest the play offs next month.

The first fifteen minutes were frantic, as expected, but once Mascherano and Veron began to impose their quality in the midfield, Uruguay were unable to open up Argentina. Whether by accident or design, Maradona found a balanced side by playing 4-4-2, with some much needed solidity at the back. Mascherano and Veron provided defensive cover in front of the back four, and they broke down the flanks through Newacastle's Jonas Gutuerrez on the right, and Benfica's Di Maria on the left.

Before the game, Mascherano, who had been desperately out of form in recent qualiifers, asked the manager for more support in midfield. Wth Veron retrning from suspension, his call was duly answered.The Estudiantes player is the current south american player of the year and has been in outstanding form this season. With the ball at his feet, conducting the play, there are few players in the world who can match Veron's passing range.

Messi, once again, was on the periphery, so Maradona has seven months now to find a way of incorporating him more into the play, With expectation low, even in Argentina - nobody is talking about them as candidates to win the World Cup - that could work to Maradona's advantage. There is a good team in there somewhere. It is upto the much-criticised manager to fiind it and prove all his doubters wrong. Although, strange, as it may sound, the whole of Argentina is just breathing a huge sigh of relief right now- for scraping through in fourth, the last automatic qualification place.

Maradona was euphoric upon the final whistle. He hugged his technical director Carlos Bilardo and sung. "I asked the players to give their all and they gave their all" he said, before adding that his critics can "go and suck themselves".

Uruguay Muslera, Scotti, Lugano, Caceres, Maxi Pereira, Perez, Gargano, Pereira, Jorge Rodriguez, Suarez, Forlan. Substitutes: Castillo, Victorino, Fucile, Eguren, Cristian Rodriguez, Abreu, Cavani.

Argentina Romero, Otamendi, Schiavi, Demichelis, Heinze, Gutierrez, Mascherano, Veron, Di Maria, Messi, Higuain. Substitutes: Andujar, Pareja, Federico Insua, Brana, Aimar, Tevez, Palermo.

Referee: C Amarilla (Paraguay)