Argentina scrape through

MONTEVIDEO - Diego Maradona suffered countless depressing lows among barely remembered highs on Argentina's roller- coaster ride to the World Cup finals.

MONTEVIDEO - Diego Maradona suffered countless depressing lows among barely remembered highs on Argentina's roller- coaster ride to the World Cup finals.

Just two weeks short of his first anniversary as coach of the two-time world champions, Maradona was indebted to virtually unknown midfielder Mario Bolatti for the scrambled win against Uruguay that put his team into the finals. They made it, but only just.

Maradona, who skippered his country to World Cup glory in 1986, was a shock choice to replace Alfio Bastile as coach on October 28 last year, two days before his 48th birthday.

With no serious coaching experience, the decision was widely ridiculed and dismissed as another dangerous flirtation with a legend whose lustre, outside of Argentina, had faded many years earlier.

But in his first outings in charge, Maradona confounded his critics with victories over Scotland, France and Venezuela. But the feel-good factor didn't last.

Four days later, Argentina were humiliated 6-1 by Bolivia, and three defeats - against Ecuador, Brazil and Paraguay - seriously compromised the team's chances of making the World Cup finals.

But a last-minute win on Saturday against Peru and Bolatti's strike six minutes from time here on Wednesday allowed Argentina to claim the region's fourth and last automatic qualifying place. - Sapa-AFP

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