Pretoria: Whenever Diego Maradona addressed the media during this World Cup, its been an exciting experience. But on Monday, when the Argentine coach addressed the scribes at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium here, it was a rather subdued affair.
Maradona started the media conference by showing off a flashy, diamond-studded pair of sunglasses that his daughters have presented on Fathers Day.
After that, except for a brief period, when he commented on Luis Fabianos handball and Brazils performance, the legend spoke mainly about his own team and their possibility of winning the World Cup.
Hinting that more than half- a- dozen of his first team players would be rested against Greece on Tuesday, Maradona said that Lionel Messi is likely to lead in place of Javier Mascherano as he thinks it would be a sin to put Messi on the bench.
If you have a player as good as Leo, who is the best player in the world, I think it would be a sin not to give Leo to the people, to the team, and leave out the player who can certainly make the difference in a match.
With senior players such as Javier Mascherano, Gabriel Heinze, Walter Samuel and Juan Sebastian Veron all likely to be on the bench due to niggles or yellow cards, there is a strong possibility that Messi would be asked to take the leaders role.
His moment has come, said Maradona. When I told him and what I told him, he was very emotional. Its a wonderful thing. We already saw it in training, hes having a great time training today (Monday). But you will only find out what the thing is tomorrow (Tuesday), when we take the field, the coach added.
Wing back Jonas Gutierrez is suspended, Mascherano and full-back Gabriel Heinze are on one booking each, while strikers Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain are among the players likely to be rested with Sergio Aguero and Diego Milito taking their places.
Argentina lead the group after beating Nigeria 1-0 then South Korea. A draw with Greece will be enough to top the group. Asked whether Messi would be able to score his first goal of the tournament, Maradona said: I would love it for Leo to take the baton of the goal in this match.
Maradona was referring to Argentinas 4-0 win over Greece in 1994 finals, in which Maradona scored his final international goal.
Above all, because of the move which started in midfield...I hope Leo can score a similar goal, or better, or one that trickles agonisingly over the line but is a goal, he added.
When an Argentine journalist still insisted that Messi should score a goal, Maradona laughed and said: If you think Leo is having a bad run then let him continue with that bad run because Im extremely pleased with his performance, he said. He goes out to play and help his team-mates. Leo helps define the match and creates things for the other players.
With two back-to-back wins, the Argentine coach is aware of the growing expectations from the fans. He tried his best to underplay his teams chances in the World Cup and said: We are not favourites. All we are trying to do is to play good football and please our fans.
Brazil doesnt play well but it finishes off the matches when it has to. Thats why theyre still the great favourites, Maradona said. But Brazil can take a match when they want it, even if they have to use their arms, he joked.
Maradona, however, was hopeful that top teams like Spain and Italy would make a comeback in the World Cup.
There is disillusionment with France because it should be doing much better due to the quality of its players. But the teams that are now having problems will make it (to the next round) as they have always done, he assured.
When Spain started, it looked they were coming to pick up the World Cup and we all were playing for the second place. Its not that easy. I know what World Cup is all about, he said.
Argentina: 22-Sergio Romero, 2-Martin Demichelis, 4-Nicolas Burdisso, 3-Clemente Rodriguez, 15-Nicolas Otamendi, 5-Mario Bolatti, 20-Maxi Rodriguez, 17-Jonas Gutierrez, 10-Lionel Messi, 19-Diego Milito, 16-Sergei Aguero
Greece : 12-Alexandros Tzorvas, 15-Nicolas Otamendi, 2-Giourkas Seitaridis, 15-Vassilis Torosidis, 16-Sotiris Kyrgiakos, 3-Christos Patsatzoglou, 10-Giorgos Karagounis, 21-Kostas Katsouranis, 7-Giorgos Samaras, 14-Dimitris Salpingidis, 17-Fanis Gekas
Referee: Ravshan Irmatov (Uzbekistan)