Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Diego Maradona ’s deadly mission for Messi

Diego Maradona will tell Lionel Messi to go out and destroy Germany just like he did in the 1986 World Cup final.

Messi will be given a free role to play exactly where he likes in today's quarter-final at the Green Point stadium despite suffering from a touch of flu.

The Barcelona star sat out yesterday afternoon's training session but will start today.

Maradona, who scored five goals in the 1986 World Cup and was their inspiration in a a 3-2 final defeat of Germany, said: “He did feel a bit under the weather, had a slight fever.

“He told me about it and I sent him back inside. It was very cold when we started training at 4.30pm. I gave him a bit of a rest.

“The session went well, but I never considered him not playing in this game. I just let him have a rest so he could play.”

Messi has not scored so far but has provided assists for more than half of Argentina's 10 goals and Maradona will allow him the same free role he used to occupy for the national team.

“I want to give him freedom to play his game,” said Maradona. “He has no defined position.

“These players, like Messi, if you label them or shackle them, you'll detract from their freshness and initiative.”

Maradona refused to accept Argentina were now favourites to win the trophy after Brazil's defeat against Holland.

He said: “No. No. We're not favourites. But to beat us our opponents are going to have to play better than us and leave their skin on the pitch.

“We don't feel like we're hot favourites. We have to keep playing our football. We're focused.”

Maradona, who was written off as a coach by the sceptics before this World Cup, has nurtured a rapport of respect and togetherness with his players, showering them with hugs and kisses before and after all four matches.

He is determined not to change anything, either in the make-up of his team or in his coaching style.

He said: “We showed we are an attacking team, good in midfield and at front and back.

“I'm not here to make any changes of style. We respect our opponents but we don't fear anyone. I'm proud of all 23 I've selected. They're my players. I'm very grateful to all of them.”

He also singled out star Carlos Tevez for special praise.

“He's phenomenal,” said Maradona. “He's playing a great World Cup and we're very proud of him. Wherever he plays — West Ham, Corinthians, Manchester United or Manchester City — he always excels.”

Maradona ranked Argentina's form as a 6.5 at the start of the tournament. Now he agrees it has risen to an eight, but he knows it must get even better.

He said: “We're working towards the goal of winning the World Cup, but we're not wizards. We don't have crystal balls.

“We're not the smartest people in football. We can't predict this. It might happen. We're just working as hard as we can.

“They have to leave their lives on the pitch. Behind them is a whole country who haven't enjoyed a victory for a long time and they're so excited.”

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