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Rewind to Boxing Day 1963

Barclays Premier League
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Ardiles fears for Argentina's hopes of qualifying

Ossie Ardiles knows it will be a travesty if Lionel Messi is not in South Africa for the World Cup, and he is worried about Diego Maradona's ability to get Argentina to the finals after a run which has seen four defeats in the last five qualifiers.

• Maradona vows not to quit Argentina job

In an interview with ESPN Soccernet, Ardiles fears that it cannot even be taken for granted that Argentina can beat Peru, "the weakest side in South America", because of the crisis now gripping Argentinean football under Maradona.

Ardiles said: "I think Argentina will win, they should win, but after all that has been going on, it won't be plain sailing even though Argentina are at home.

"The entire team will be a bundle of nerves, because every single player knows they have to win this game for their country, and it's not going to be easy under these circumstances even though they are playing against the weakest side in South American by an awful long way.

"Peru used to have a good team, but not any longer. They used to be quite powerful, actually, but now the players are fighting the FA, the manager is fighting with the players and the manager has offered to resign, but the FA have said no.

"They might be in crisis, but Argentina are in a big, big mess of their own. But Argentina cannot have a better team to play than Peru, right now. If they cannot beat Peru, then that's it, forget it. Normally in a game like this Argentina would be guaranteed the three points, but not right now. They will have to fight for it."

So, I asked Ardiles, who still lives in Hoddesdon, just north of London, what has gone wrong with Argentinean football under Maradona?

"All the time the team is changing, there is so much criticism of the players Diego calls up, so many old players. One year ago Argentina were proudly ranked by FIFA as the number one country. No one wanted to play Argentina, for fear of losing. Now they are a shadow of their wonderful selves of only a year ago.

"The last two defeats against Brazil and Paraguay, who are also a very poor team, has put the country's qualification in peril.

"Think of the World Cup without Messi. It is unthinkable. It would be a tragedy. A travesty. He is the best player in the world. But he is not the only world class player, they have plenty, Tevez and Mascherano too.

"But they are not a team, just a group of individuals, and Diego has to find a solution to bring them all together into a team. At the moment all these great players are playing well, well, below their true abilities. But the World Cup without Messi! I really hope it doesn't come to that.

"I am sure Argentina will qualify, even if it's through the back door and a play-off with Costa Rica, the most likely opponents for a play-off."

As for the future of Maradona, his great pal Ardiles doesn't think he has one.

Ardiles revealed: "I know that the vast majority of the Argentinean FA want Diego out. Even if he qualified for the World Cup, they wouldn't want him to take the team to South Africa. But you never know with Diego. It can change from one second to the next."

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