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Riquelme set for return to national service against Spain

Juan Roman Riquelme, who had a falling out with former Argentina coach Diego Maradona that saw him banished from the side, could return to the national team under interim coach Sergio Batista.

Batista has said that he would like to see the playmaker team up with Barcelona forward Lionel Messi. The two played together to win the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"It would be good to have Riquelme and Messi playing together," Batista said. "We had them together in the Olympics and it went well."

Batista also suggested he might recall Internazionale teammates Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso, who were left out of the World Cup squad by Maradona.

The 32-year-old Riquelme quit the national team 17 months ago in a spat with Maradona, who criticised Riquelme's play at Boca Juniors and said he would be of no use to the national team. Riquelme is still recovering from left knee surgery and has yet to play a match for Boca Juniors, which has only one point in its first two matches.

Batista won last week in his debut as national team coach, defeating the Republic of Ireland 1-0, and will get his second chance in Buenos Aires on 7 September against the world champions Spain.

Another victory might secure a permanent job, although many candidates seem to be in the running, including Alejandro Sabella, Carlos Bianchi, Diego Simeone and Claudio Borghi. There is even speculation Maradona might return.

A study of Europe's top clubs has revealed that Argentine footballers are catching up with Brazilians as the favoured foreigners to sign. The Professional Football Players Observatory says that Brazil still had the most players with top-tier clubs in Europe's five highest-ranked leagues, but its lead over Argentina was down to 139-120 last season. The gap had been 60. France sent 106 players to English, German, Italian and Spanish top divisions.

The Swiss-based report says clubs employed 42.6 per cent of players from abroad. The Premier League was almost 60 per cent foreign. Arsenal gave 93.3 per cent of playing time to non-English players, slightly more than Inter, the European champions. In contrast, Athletic Bilbao fielded only Basque players.

Fifa has promised an objective and realistic assessment of Russia's capability to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup after an inspection of four potential host cities beginning this week.

A Fifa delegation landed yesterday in St Petersburg, one of four cities it is set to visit as part of its inspection in the bidding process for the 2018 World Cup finals. Harold Mayne-Nicholls, head of the six-person delegation, vowed to provide an "objective and realistic" assessment of Russia's potential.