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MARTIN SAMUEL: Uruguay eager to exploit Diego chaos in decisive qualifier

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13 Oct 2009 08:06:42

MARTIN SAMUEL: Uruguay eager to exploit Diego chaos in decisive qualifier

It was a national holiday in Uruguay on Monday. Men sat in the town squares of the capital, Montevideo, sucking mate - the national drink, a cross between green tea and coffee - from gourds, while stray dogs chased pigeons pointlessly and a number of committed souls campaigned for candidates in the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections. The only evidence of the coming storm was contained in a newspaper headline revealing that 30,000 additional tickets had gone on sale for a football match due to take place on Wednesday, and were sold in four hours.  It is the kind of match that is termed el gran clasico in these parts: Uruguay versus Argentina for a place in the World Cup finals. Winner takes all. Wet and wild: Maradona celebrates Argentina's win over Peru in chaotic fashion but Uruguay will be eager to exploit his side when they meet on Wednesday Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina, is a relatively short boat ride to Montevideo across the Rio de la Platabut it will feel light years from home when Diego Maradona and his players walk out at the Estadio Centenario on Wednesday night.   Website hackers get revenge on 'cry baby' Argentina boss Diego MaradonaWhy all true lovers of the game must want the big guns to be in South AfricaArgentina 2 Peru 1: Palermo's injury-time winner rescues MaradonaMARTIN SAMUEL: Ronaldo weaves his magic for Portugal in one 27 minute spellThey are clinging by their fingertips to a place in the World Cup finals and there will be no more than 3,000 Argentine supporters in a famously impassioned arena that holds 76,000. Every place is now spoken for because Uruguay's football history is punctuated by legendary moments such as this. A victory over Argentina to win the first  World Cup competition in 1930, the miracle of the Maracanazo in 1950, when Uruguay regained the trophy by defeating Brazil at their home. Soft touch: Argentina captainMascherano (R) was pleading withPeruvians to stop fighting so hard Ambitions have been scaled down these days; Uruguayans no longer imagine winning the World Cup, just playing in it, but the opportunity to do so at the expense of  Maradona and Argentina is exquisite. Uruguay made it to the 2002 World Cup finals after a play-off win over Australia, but it is 20 years, 1989, since they last came directly out of the South American qualifying stage. Even without the opportunity to defeat a historic rival - this will be the 177th  game between Uruguay and Argentina, a record at international level - it would  be a huge event for Uruguayan football. Yet all the pressure will be on the visitors. Argentina do not dream of qualifying, they expect it. Indeed, the whole CONMEBOL qualification process is devised so that it is all but impossible for the big two, Argentina and Brazil, not to make it. The ten countries play an 18-match round robin, so there is plenty of time to recover from the odd upset, with the top four going through and the fifth team facing a play-off against the fourth best qualifiers from Central America. It is this comfortable passage that Maradona is one defeat  from turning to a road to perdition. Saved by an injury time goal from his striker Martin Palermo against Peru at the weekend, the most humiliating revelation came from Roberto Palacios, the Peruvian midfield player, who claimed that Javier Mascherano and other Argentine players were pleading with the opposition to stop trying so hard. 'Mascherano told me that their situation was complicated and we must stop fighting,' Palacios said. Riding the wave: Palermo could hardly contain himself after his dramatic winner 'He asked us to end the game, he was saying they  would love us to letthem win. I did not know how to react, but we could not  give anythingaway because we had done so badly in qualifying.' ARGENTINA: HOW THEY WILL OR WON'T QUALIFY FOR THE WORLD CUPArgentina will definitely qualify for the World Cup finals if they beat Uruguay, and almost certainly if they draw because that result would keep them ahead of Uruguay and would mean Ecuador need to defeat Chile by six clear goals to move above Argentina on goal difference. If Uruguay win, however, they will take the last guaranteed qualifying place and Argentina will slip to fifth and a play-off with Honduras or Costa Rica, providing Ecuador do not beat Chile. The doomsday scenario for Argentina is defeat to Uruguay and a win for Ecuador, which will push them down to sixth place and out of the World Cup. Chile joined Brazil and Paraguay in qualifying automatically at the weekend.  Even though Argentina won there is no question of a fix. Peru equalised in injury time and when Palermo snatched the lead again in the 94th minute, Peru lobbed the goalkeeper directly from the kick-off and hit the bar to be denied an astonishing second goal. As it is, the game will go down as another broadcast from the bizarro planet inhabited by Maradona, and not just because a torrential downpour obscured much of the action in the final minutes. In a game that Argentina had to win against a team that is bottom in the South American group, Maradona gave a debut to two midfield players, and played Jonas  Gutierrez, the Newcastle United winger of questionable ability, at right-back.   Up for it: Newcastle winger Jonas Gutierrez was used at right-back against Peru His central defensive pairing was Rolando Schiavi, who won his first cap last month aged 36, and Gabriel Heinze, a left-back. Walter Samuel, centre-half for Italian champions and league leaders Inter Milan, last played for Maradona in April. The coach has used 78 players in less than two years.   Palermo had not played for Argentina since 1999 having contrived to miss three  penalties in one game against Paraguay but Maradona described him as a miracle  worker and he needs to be. In his last game for Boca Juniors before joining up with the squad, Palermo won a game against Velez Sarsfield with a header measuring 38.9 metres, after anticipating a hasty clearance from the edge of  the penalty area by goalkeeper German Montoya.  VIDEO: See Palermo's incredible header'We have to go to Montevideo and  play for our lives,' he said, sounding slightly more earthbound and clearly not sharing Maradona's belief in his miraculous powers.   So chaotic has Argentina's campaign become that there have even been calls to drop Lionel Messi. Maradona is having none of it - he would no doubt tell the  critics to give the dog its face back, which is a slang term he frequently uses  to describe people who are too stupid to bear consideration - but it is  undeniable that the true successor to Maradona after so many impostors has not  flourished under his guidance. In a mess: Lionel Messi looked like a shadow of a player who will soon win World Footballer of the Year Messi did set up one of the goals against Peru -  with a lovely sideways pass that Chelsea followers will know only too well -  but he looks a shadow of the player who will soon be crowned World Footballer of the Year. Even Maradona is not mad enough to leave out Messi, though, although when he is the voice of reason in a debate it really is time for a lie down in a darkened room.  He has attacked the job of managing Argentina like a kid given the new FIFA 2010 game on Playstation and a bucket of blue Smarties. Imagine Paul Gascoigne in charge of England and you've got it. Pablo Aimar is back in favour, Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez, not. Neither featured against Peru. Uruguay have worked double training sessions this week, Argentina only in the afternoon because Maradona doesn't do mornings. He likes to sleep late, even if some argue it is  the entire nation that is sleep-walking towards this latest calamity.  VIDEO: Argentina's World Cup hopes stay alive...It is as if the Argentine Football Association, fed up with public agitation, decided to  give the people what they wanted. You can just hear the meeting now. 'Look, what's the worst that can happen? Messi, Tevez, Aguero, Aimar. It's not as if  we're going to come sixth, is it?'  Website hackers get revenge on 'cry baby' Argentina boss Diego MaradonaWhy all true lovers of the game must want the big guns to be in South AfricaArgentina 2 Peru 1: Palermo's injury-time winner rescues MaradonaMARTIN SAMUEL: Ronaldo weaves his magic for Portugal in one 27 minute spell  Explore more:People:Gabriel Heinze, Sergio Aguero, Martin Samuel, Jonas Gutierrez, Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano, Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Paul GascoignePlaces:Newcastle, Buenos Aires, Paraguay, Honduras, Brazil, Peru, Australia, Argentina, United Kingdom, Chile, Ecuador


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