ROSARIO, Argentina - Lionel Messi can
stamp his authority on international football when Argentina
clash with arch-rivals Brazil in Saturday's World Cup
qualifier, coach Diego Maradona said.
"He has to become a man suddenly, he can no longer be the
kid with promise, and he's showing it," Maradona said on
"He's fast, concentrated, totally committed, he knows the
chance he has," he added at a news conference in Buenos Aires
ahead of Saturday's match in Rosario.
"We've been heaping responsibility onto him...Since I've
been coaching Messi, since I've been watching him (train), this
has been his best week."
Messi has yet to transfer his brilliant club form for
Barcelona to the national stage for Argentina, whose fans hope
to see him inspire his country to victory in his first official
match in the city of his birth.
He had barely entered his teens when he left Rosario for
Barcelona after no club in Argentina could afford the hormone
treatment he needed if he was going fulfil his huge promise.
Brazil have not lost to Argentina in four matches since the
teams' last meeting on Argentine soil, a Juan Roman
Riquelme-inspired 3-1 victory in Buenos Aires in 2005.
Overrun by a counter-attacking Brazil in the 2005
Confederations Cup final, a 2006 friendly in London and the
2007 Copa America final in Venezuela, Argentina managed to stop
the rot in a 0-0 draw in last year's qualifier in Belo
A World Cup without Messi, widely regarded as the world's
best player, and Argentina seems almost inconceivable.
Yet Argentina can ill-afford to drop points if they are to
remain on course for the 2010 finals in South Africa.
They are precariously placed in fourth place in the South
American group, the lowest automatic qualifying berth, five
points adrift of leaders Brazil.
The team finishing fifth after the remaining four rounds in
the 10-nation group have second chance to qualify with a
two-leg playoff with the fourth-placed team from CONCACAF.
Maradona, beset by injuries, is giving defender Sebastian
Dominguez a debut alongside his Velez Sarsfield team mate
Nicolas Otamendi and a first competitive start to Napoli
midfielder Jesus Datolo after he scored on his debut in last
month's 3-2 friendly win in Russia.
"Our idea is to go out to strangle Brazil," Maradona said.
"We will attack them down the wings with Maxi (Rodriguez)
and Datolo, and with (Juan Sebastian) Veron through the
middle...(Carlos) Tevez and Leo (Messi) will cause trouble for
Brazil's two centre backs.
"They have some big names, but whoever plays we know we are
going into battle, whatever yellow jersey goes by we will have
to chase it."
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