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Maradona's Argentina face French test

Following a gritty win over Scotland in his first game as Argentina coach, Diego Maradona is likely to face a sterner challenge on Wednesday as the "albiceleste" take on France in a friendly at Marseilles' Vélodrome stadium.


AFP - Bringing his unique blend of feisty bullishness and a combative nature to the table Diego Maradona will mark 100 days in charge of Argentina with Wednesday's friendly away to France.

The surprise choice to take the helm in place of Alfio Basile has a 100 percent record to date, thanks to Maxi Rodriguez's match-clincher against Scotland at Hampden Park in November.

Maradona scored his first international goal at the same venue as a precocious teen - but despite the general fan adulation the 1986 World Cup winner has not found things all plain sailing to date, as he admitted to reporters in Marseille on Monday.

"I thought they (the federation) gave you everything when you take over the reins. But you come in and ask for a coach and they don't give him to you, you ask for kit and they give you Sweden's, you ask for a player and (instead) they arrange you a match in Cochabamba (Bolivia) at eight at night - and the plane leaves  Argentina at half past eight," Maradona colourfully complained.

Clearly, little love is lost between Maradona and the Argentine hierarchy despite his appointment.

He arrived insisting he wanted close friend and former teammate Oscar Ruggeri on his technical staff - but Federation chairman Julio Grondona vetoed the move.

Maradona also wanted playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme in the squad to face France but the Boca Juniors star has a rearranged Argentine league date pending. The same reason saw the coach unable to select San Lorenzo midfielder Cristian Ledesma.

"I thought the national team was the important thing," Maradona moaned.

On the plus side, the man whose "Hand of God" goal in the 1986 World Cup final against England will always go before him, can select the man who he sees as being in his own image when it comes to sheer talent.

Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi.

As well as Messi, Maradona can call on Atletico Madrid's great hope Sergio Aguero - and the pair of them together will strike fear into the best of teams.

Since Maradona wore the number ten shirt the likes of Javier Saviola and Riquelme have tried to fill the huge void but Maradona has personally anointed Messi as the man who can truly do so.

Maradona's close confidant and 1986 teammate Jorge Valdano puts it succinctly.

"Messi wins matches on his own. He's like (former Brazil hero) Garrincha. He does everything quicker and better than anyone. And Aguero has something of Romario about him - a capacity for invention in the tightest spots."

Just like the original.

Aguero would have played in Glasgow but had to return home at the last moment as his fiancee Giannina Maradona - Diego's daughter - had problems related to her pregnancy in Madrid.

Now both will be unleashed on the French with Barcelona having given into Messi's insistence he wants to play in this one

The starlet played in the Beijing Games triumph and as a result had agreed to stand down from friendlies - but this one marks an exception to which the Catalan club have agreed.

Maradona is determined not to put too much pressure on Messi, despite regular fulsome praise.

"They compared me with loads of players all through my career and I just wanted to be me. I told Leo (Messi) once - you have to be Messi."

Turning to the French, Maradona said he believed the key was to "ensure the ball doesn't get through to (Franck) Ribery or (Thierry) Henry."

He added he had watched Ribery, Nicolas Anelka and Henry tackle Uruguay in a recent friendly - which ended goalless - and opined "it's scary watching those three, although we have the players to neutralise them."

Summing up the significance of Wednesday's test, Maradona said: "This match is important as it is against the world vice-champions. I'll be telling the lads the French have a strong team."

Liverpool midfield destroyer Javier Mascherano will skipper the albiceleste as "he is the emblem of my team. Every time I meet with Masche it underpins all the more - Mascherano and ten more. He sets an example," Maradona said.

French counterpart Raymond Domenech has meanwhile called up defender Mouhamadou Dabo of St. Etienne in place of injured pair Gael Clichy and Julien Escude.

Toulouse goalkeeper Cedric Carrasso is another new face.

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