Maradona perched on hot seat

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

The road to the World Cup will get some heavy use over the next few weeks, as teams face key qualifiers for South Africa 2010.

For some -- barring complete collapse -- this weekend and midweek qualifiers are really victory laps before official qualification.

The Netherlands has already qualified, with England, Spain and Germany having one foot on a plane to South Africa.

But for others, the next few qualifiers will make or break the dream of a trip to Johannesburg.

The most intriguing clash in Europe involves Denmark and Portugal. Denmark is close to qualifying for the tournament.

Portugal, a nation that boasts some of the top players in the world including Cristiano Ronald, has little choice but to win. It sits third in the group. A loss to Denmark puts a boot on their throats and may well make South Africa nothing more than a tourist destination for them.

Greece and Switzerland will square off for first place in their group.

Italy is away to Georgia, a team that is last in their group. But it's a delicate trip considering the state of the Italian national team. The defending world champions lead their group but can't distance themselves from the pesky Irish.

The Italians have shown precious little that would indicate they are ready to repeat as world champions. But that's hardly unusual given that's they often enter a tournament playing poorly.

France is also in a battle for its life. It is chasing Serbia for top spot, hoping to avoid having to play to go into a playoff round with out second-placed teams for qualify. They trail Serbia by four points with a game in hand but there is no confidence in this French team.

The qualifier that has captured the imagination of the soccer world is thousands of miles across the ocean.

Argentina and Brazil will square off in Argentina.

The top four teams in South American automatically qualify for the World Cup. The fifth-place team must go through a playoff round.

Brazil is first, Argentina, coached by Diego Maradona is fourth. It is a vital match for Argentina, a team that has suffered through some humiliating loses with Maradona at the helm including a 6-1 thumping by Bolivia.

If the battle on the pitch is anything like the battle of words before this game, it should be an epic contest.

The problem is the words come from the mouths of non-combatants. Arguably the two best players of all-time, Pele and Maradona have been jousting before the match.

Maradona told Radio Palermo that Argentina would win "because we have better players."

Maradona also said he had finished ahead of Brazil's Pele in a poll to determine the best player of all time.

Pele responded saying: "We already know who Maradona is . . . What he says isn't worth taking into consideration."

And so it goes.

Someone should tell these guys that their time has come and gone.

That is one of the biggest problems for Argentina. The hiring of Maradona almost a year ago surprised everyone. Since then, we've heard at varying times how Maradona wished he were still a player. He would then be able to show everyone how the game of football could still be played.

Maradona's ego and runaway mouth has not made things easier for Argentina. It has created some division within the team and the knives are out for him.

Maradona has been able to survive for a number of reason, not the least of which is no one wants to humiliate a legend. But while a loss to Brazil won't spell the end of Argentina's chances for a World Cup berth, it might make the hotseat for Maradona too hot to sit on.

morris.dallacosta@sunmedia.ca


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