Maradona says Brazil still World Cup favorite
PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Argentina coach Diego Maradona tried to lower expectations on his team Monday, insisting that Brazil is still the favorite to win the World Cup.
“Brazil doesn’t play well but it finishes off the matches when it has to. That’s why they’re still the great favorites,” Maradona told reporters at Loftus Versfeld Stadium. “We are not candidates or favorites. We are here to give joy to the Argentines, to play as we like, in the way which makes us happy.
“I like my team because it is solid in the back and it is permanently on the attack.”
Maradona, who will travel with his team to Polokwane later Monday and play against Greece on Tuesday, said that South American teams were doing better than the Europeans because of the more difficult qualifying tournament they go through to reach the World Cup.
Maradona said that while some of the top teams like Spain and Italy are struggling in the group stage, they would end up advancing to the next round.
“There is disillusionment with France because it should be doing much better due to the quality of its players,” Maradona said. “(But) the teams that today are having problems will make it (to the next round) as they have always done.”
While Maradona will rest several players from the team which defeated South Korea 4-1, he said Barcelona’s Lionel Messi would remain in the starting 11 against Greece.
Messi will start “because he always wants to play and I love that,” Maradona said. “We had planned to rest him but … he’s going to play.”
Maradona called Messi “without a doubt, the best in the world” and said he was “extremely happy with Lio’s game.”
While Messi was involved in the attacks leading to all four Argentina goals against South Korea and had several great passes and clear scoring opportunities in the 1-0 win against Nigeria, the FIFA player of the year has yet to score at this World Cup.
“If this is a bad streak, let it continue,” Maradona said. “He’s had chances to score but it just hasn’t happened yet.”
Maradona confirmed that Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain, Gabriel Heinze and Javier Mascherano would stay on the bench against Greece, while Sergio Aguero and Diego Milito will start up front.
Maradona said there was “incredible competitiveness” on the team and that if those playing Tuesday performed well, they could remain as starters if Argentina advances to the next rounds.
“Every player has the same chance,” Maradona said.
Argentina leads Group B with six points from two matches and could reach the knockout stage even with a loss. South Korea and Greece have three points, while Nigeria has none.