Since his first match in charge only a year or so ago; a friendly away to Scotland in November 2008; Maradona has called up 94 players to the Argentine national team.
“They say I’ve called up a lot of players but I ask what trainer has played local matches? None,” Maradona said referring to having picked squads of exclusively home-based players for friendlies in Argentina.
“So, of course I called up many, but I want to see them all,” he told a news conference in the western city of San Juan before a team of home-based players beat Costa Rica 3-2 in a friendly on Tuesday.
After the match, Maradona stated that “Clement Rodriguez, (Jose) Sosa, (Walter) Erviti, (Juan) Mercier and (Nicolas) Gaitan impressed me,” and went on to say that he has decided upon “about 60 percent” of his squad, adding that only “Lionel Messi, Juan Sebastian Veron and Javier Mascherano have already secured a place at the World Cup.”
These words shouldn’t be taken too seriously, as Maradona has previously claimed that Boca’s Martin Palermo and Newcastle United’s Jonas Gutierrez were guaranteed a place in his 23 man squad.
Of those named as impressive on Tuesday, special attention should be placed on Rodriguez, who indeed performed admirably at left back; a position yet to be claimed due to the frequently erratic performances of incumbent Gabriel Heinze of Marseille.
The 28 year-old Rodriguez plays either as a left or right back for Estudiantes La Plata and is the last in a long line of left backs who have been trialed by Maradona. Others include Emiliano Insua of Liverpool, Emiliano Papa of Velez and Fabian Monzon of Boca.
Another position up for grabs is that of the playmaker. Following the retirement of Juan Roman Riquelme, Messi has worn the number 10 shirt, but his direct attacking style from advanced positions makes still leaves the team without a creative playmaker in the classic number 10 mould.
At the age of just 21, and with few impressive domestic performances behind him, let alone national team caps, Gaitan would be a strange choice to fill this spot. A better option would surely be Pablo Aimar of Benfica or even the frequently ignored Lucho Gonzalez of Marseille. No longer a number 10, Veron will make the side, but will operate as one of two holding midfielders.
It is probable that, given the retirement of Riquelme, Maradona will forgo a central play maker in favor of creative wide players. This is the approach that was favored during the latter stages of qualifying and saw Angel Di Maria of Benfica and Jonas Gutierrez secure regular starting spots. However, this approach is unlikely to set Argentinean heart’s pumping with delight and anticipation.
LIKELY ARGENTINA XI
(4-4-2) Sergio Romero – Javier Zanetti, Marin Demichelis, Nicholas Otamendi, Gabriel Heinze – Jonas Gutierrez, Javier Mascherano, Juan Pablo Veron, Angel Di Maria – Leo Messi, Sergio Aguerro
POSITIONS REQUIRING ATTENTION
Centre Back: Otamendi’s place is far from settled, with many suggesting that Inter’s Walter Samuel would be a better option.
Left Back: Heinze has been frequently cumbersome and could be usurped by either one of the young hopefuls or a change to a back three.
Right Back: Often not deployed during qualifying, with Jonas or Fernando Gago dropping deep. Zanetti now looks the best bet, but don’t be surprised to see a bolter deployed here ala Lionel Scaloni in 2006.
Attacking Midfield: Di Maria is looking increasingly comfortable, but Jonas is not so highly regarded by the Argentinean public. Maradona may decide to replace either player with like minded wingers or change to a three-man forward line with a central playmaker such as Aimar or Federico Insua deployed behind them. Without doubt the most fascinating area of the team.
Centre Forward: No matter what formation, a striker will be needed. This position really could be anyone’s.