Glory on hold for fallen giants

BUENOS AIRES - Argentina won two editions of the World Cup, but the most recent was in 1986 and they approach South Africa 2010 from a platform of recent disappointments and poor results.

BUENOS AIRES - Argentina won two editions of the World Cup, but the most recent was in 1986 and they approach South Africa 2010 from a platform of recent disappointments and poor results.

Coach Diego Maradona and superstar Lionel Messi have been unable to lead the side confidently off and on the pitch, and Argentina only secured a place in South Africa in the last game of the qualifiers.

By that time, fans in the football-crazy country were growing restless. They want to see their team reclaim global glory, but recent play - and the results of the last few editions of the World Cup - provide ample evidence that that will not be easy.

In the qualifiers, Maradona has fielded scores of players - in just one year as coach - without finding an ideal team, or even so much as a reliable side.

Striker Messi, arguably the best player in the world, has been a shadow of the player who led Barcelona to an historic treble last season.

Other world-class stars, like Carlos Tevez or Sergio Aguero, have also been unconvincing, keeper Sergio Romero has only been in goal for a couple of games, and striker Gonzalo Higuain only just made his national team debut.

Only veterans like Juan Sebastian Veron and Martin Palermo are widely regarded as worthy representatives of Argentina by the country's demanding fans.

Argentina head for South Africa as a most hesitant team, one that only qualified fourth in the South American region and only escaped the playoffs in the last round.

Maradona, 49, is one of the top two candidates to the title of best footballer in history, as well as an Argentine living legend.

As a coach, however, he has had little experience and even less success. But neither that nor a history of past addictions to alcohol and cocaine stopped the Argentine Football Association from turning to him when the national team appeared to run out of steam under veteran Alfio Basile late last year.

Messi is arguably the best player in the world, and he is regarded as the main candidate to win the Ballon d'Or and the Fifa Player of the Year award this year . The 22-year-old striker , started playing for Newell's Old Boys in his native Rosario before moving to Barcelona at the age of 13. Messi quickly rose through Barcelona's youth schemes and made his official La Liga debut at 17. A few months later, he became the youngest player ever to score a league goal for Barca, still aged 17, though the record would later be broken by Bojan Krkic.

Messi led Barcelona to an historic treble last season, but for all his record-breaking prowess at club-level he has consistently disappointed Argentine fans and failed to make a real difference on the pitch in the national team shirt.

Factfile: Nickname: Albicelestes (White and Sky Blue); Founded: 1893; Fifa affiliation: 1912; Previous World Cup appearances: 14 (1930, 1934, 1958, 1962, 1966, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006); Best World Cup performance: Winners (1978, 1986); Date qualified for finals: October 14 2009. - Sapa-DPA

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