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Oct 30, 2008

Maradona set to make bow against Scotland

BUENOS AIRES, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Diego Maradona, celebrating his 48th birthday on Thursday, said he expected to make his debut as Argentina coach in a friendly with Scotland on November 19.

Maradona has yet to be officially confirmed by the Argentina Football Association (AFA) but he has already been making plans and his appointment is widely seen as a certainty.

The AFA has said it will confirm the new coach next Tuesday.

One of the greatest players the game has produced and also one of the most troubled, it would be a remarkable turnaround for a man who has fought off drug addiction, alcohol problems and obesity since retiring.

Maradona's career peaked when he captained Argentina to World Cup victory in 1986 with some outrageously brilliant performances but dramatically declined as he was banned three times for drug offences, including one at the 1994 World Cup.

Bilardo, coach of Argentina's 1986 team, is expected to take on the role as general manager, marking his return to the national team set up after an 18-year absence, and has been involved in meetings with Maradona.

"We have to start working as quickly as possible," said Maradona. "We are going to play the game against Scotland with the best team we've got," he told reporters in front of his home on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

"I scored a goal there, on a tour with Menotti," he added, referring to his first goal for Argentina in a 3-1 friendly win over Scotland in 1979 under coach Cesar Luis Menotti.

Maradona, initially seen as a rank outsider in the race to replace Alfio Basile, has only had two short stints as a coach in the mid 1990s with Deportivo Mandiyu and Racing Club.

His 23 games produced three wins.

"I really never expected this although I always dreamed of having the chance," he said. "I'm really looking forward to it."

His imminent appointment has largely been supported by the media, although public reaction has been sceptical as many see him as too impulsive, inexperienced and volatile.

Maradona would take over at a difficult moment with Argentina third in the 10-team South American World Cup qualifying group, ahead of Chile on goal difference.

Argentina need to finish in the top four to qualify while fifth place would mean a playoff against a CONCACAF team.

Argentina still have to play Brazil at home, face high altitude trips to Ecuador and Bolivia and must visit neighbours Uruguay.

Maradona added he would respect an agreement with Spanish club Barcelona under which Argentina will not select Lionel Messi for friendlies.

Barcelona made the agreement in return for allowing Messi to compete in the Olympic Games tournament.

"If there's an agreement, we are going to respect it. But it's good that Messi always wants to play for Argentina," said Maradona.

He added that no meetings would be held on Thursday as a mark of respect for Boca Juniors president Pedro Pompilio, who died of a heart-attack in the morning. Maradona said talks would resume on Friday.

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