ARGENTINA coach Diego Maradona admitted it would be tough for his side to ensure World Cup qualification following Saturday's home loss to rivals Brazil.
Inspired by Real Madrid maestro Kaka, five-time champions Brazil rubbed salt in their hosts' wounds by ensuring their own passage to the finals in South Africa courtesy of their 3-1 victory in Rosario, handing Argentina their first home qualifier loss in 16 years.
"It's going to be complicated for Argentina after this defeat - but we will keep on plugging away. Losing to Brazil always causes you to have a little crisis of confidence but we have to keep working, we must not give up," said the man who inspired the Albiceleste to glory in 1986 but is struggling as coach. While Kaka inspired the Brazilians, the Argentines, led by Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez, endured a miserable night.
"There were moments where we could have got on top - we must not jump down their throats" , Maradona, pictured, added.
"I take full and exclusive responsibility for the loss," he insisted. But after his team were sent packing for a fifth qualifier loss in 15 matches to date, the two-times world champions are hanging on for dear life in the fourth and final regional qualifying slot.
Ahead of Wednesday's tough trip to Paraguay, they have 22 points with just three games to go and both Colombia, who saw off Ecuador 2-0, just two points adrift.
Theoretically, even Uruguay (18 points), and, rather more fancifully, Venezuela (17), could overhaul them if the Argentines do not come out of a recent current spiral which included a 6-1 loss away to struggling Bolivia.
The fifth-placed team enters a home-and-away play-off with the fourth-placed team from the North, Central America and Caribbean zone.
"Our marking was poor, especially dealing with high balls. We went out there looking for a result - we needed to get out there and take a couple of risks," Maradona said as he sought to find an explanation for the damaging defeat.
Praising his counterpart Dunga, he added: "Dunga is doing well. He has very good players, but I am not bitter. I am calm with my players and this will not break me," he said.
Yet he conceded: "It's always horrible to lose to Brazil." Brazil striker Robinho said the visitors deserved their triumph, which ensured Brazil maintained their proud record of never having missed a World Cup after they joined Holland, Japan, Australia, South Korea, North Korea and hosts South Africa in next summer's finals.
"We knew it would be a tough game - but we deserved to win it. We came here to qualify and that's what we achieved," said the Manchester City star after the Brazilians stunned 40000 fans who had packed the notoriously partisan Gigante de Arroyito stadium.
Team mate Lucio added that "beating Argentina always is very special - but the important this is we qualified." Luis Fabiano set the seal on a famous win with two goals after Benfica skipper Luisao scored the first from an Elano free-kick in the 24th minute with a free header.
It was 2-0 just six minutes later after Kaka was brought down on the edge of the box.
Sevilla striker Luis Fabiano scored from six yards out.
Argentina pulled one back in the 65th minute thanks to a rocket from Jesus Datolo but Brazil sealed the win two minutes later when Fabiano chipped home a superb clincher. - Sapa-AFP