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Ardiles: It's make or break for boss Maradona

Ossie Ardiles has told ESPN Soccernet that the next two games will be "make or break" for Diego Maradona, and that the consequences would be much more far reaching than merely being sacked as Argentina manager.

Ardiles, a personal and long-standing friend of the besieged Argentinean coach, knows that Maradona will suffer on a personal and emotional level to intolerable degrees.

Ardiles told ESPN Soccernet: "This is make or break for him, and I know how much it will hurt him if Argentina fail to qualify for the World Cup; it will hurt him very, very much, absolutely."

Maradona has suffered two successive defeats against Brazil and Paraguay to put his country's qualification at risk, and his body language shows a man falling into a deep depression, fighting with his nation's media, and a public who want to believe in their once golden boy of the world game.

I asked Ardiles, who nurtured the kid Maradona into the national team in 1978, if Argentina will qualify and he took a deep intake of breath as he commented: "Hmmmm, we can only wait and see.

"I have to be perfectly honest and say that Argentina have some fabulous individuals and for that reason I would say they can, 'can' qualify. But they are not playing as a team, and there is no getting away from the fact, that this is the responsibility of the manager.

"But we have two games to go, and two games for Diego to get them playing as a team. I desperately want him to succeed, because I know if he gets Argentina to the World Cup finals he might do something special, but he needs to get there first.

"Of course the signs are not very good for qualification, but I am going to say 'yes' they can qualify because of the immense amount of talent Diego has at his disposal."

Ardiles brought Maradona to White Hart Lane to pay in his testimonial, the one day Diego played for an English club and wore the white shirt of Spurs.

On that day, Maradona was late for the big game, and Ardiles personally drove him from his London hotel base to North London, with me sitting in the back seat, and Ossie translating as Maradona first talked openly about his infamous Hand of God goal.

Ardiles has remained firm friends with the legend of his country's football, but, as yet, has not been in touch with the troubled Argentina manager.

• Harry Harris has twice won the British Sports Journalist of the Year award. His book Down Memory Lane is now available.
•  Harry writes in association with Football40
and Football Nights.

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