Maradona and Messi work it out for Argentina

Sun Jun 13, 2010 11:26am GMT

By Rex Gowar

PRETORIA (Reuters) - Diego Maradona thrives on attention and continuing to be acclaimed as one of the greatest players of all time, which is a recipe for keeping Lionel Messi out of the World Cup limelight according to critics.

However, Messi did what all Argentines hoped for in Saturday's 1-0 opening win over Nigeria, dispelling the doubts surrounding his ability to carry his country towards a third world title and Maradona, confounding the critics, did his bit.

In Maradona's statements, even when he says he would like Messi to go down as the greatest footballer ever, there is always the lingering suspicion of a slight reluctance to accept that Messi is now what Maradona was but no longer is.

Maradona's praise for World Player of the Year Messi is always tempered by an immediate follow-up about the quality and form of the team around him.

No-one is in doubt, though, that Saturday's victory in Argentina's first Group B match at Ellis Park was due mainly to Messi even if the goal came from a corner drill involving Juan Sebastian Veron and scorer Gabriel Heinze.

The key was a Madrid heart-to-heart between Maradona and Messi in April in which the coach gave the little ace his head and the role of pulling the strings in the team.

"I want Leo close to the ball and today he was there," Maradona said on Saturday. Messi added: "Fortunately, I managed to get the ball a lot and make my team mates play."

Argentina could have won by three or four goals. Messi made half a dozen clear chances and might have put a couple away himself if Vincent Enyeama had not played the match of his life in the Nigeria goal.   Continued...

<p>Argentina's coach Diego Maradona celebrates with Lionel Messi at the end of the the 2010 World Cup Group B soccer match at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg June 12, 2010. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian</p>
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