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Oct 13, 2009

Ardiles: Argentina may need a play-off to qualify

Ossie Ardiles knows the eyes of world football will be on Argentina's clash with Uruguay on Wednesday night, but the 1978 World Cup winner thinks that Diego Maradona's men will have to go through a play-off in order to reach South Africa.

Ardiles also warned that Diego Maradona is capable of any kind of unlikely team selection at the moment and has backed former Manchester United midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron to start.

"There has been talk about Lionel Messi being dropped, but I don't think so now,'' he said. ''Diego played two teams in practice leading up to the big game, and Messi was the joker, the only one to play in both teams. So, I cannot see how he can be left out, but you never know with Diego. Veron might be old now but he is playing well in Argentina, so it looks like Veron will play in midfield, so too will Javier Mascherano."

Ardiles also claimed that, despite having already qualified, Chile will be trying their hardest against Ecuador. A draw will be enough for Argentina to get through to at least a play-off, while Uruguay can confirm their place in South Africa with a victory; but if Ecuador fail to win in Chile, a draw would be enough for Uruguay to secure a two-legged play-off against Honduras or Costa Rica.

"Chile are already qualified, but Ecuador can get through if they win, and Argentina could miss out if they lose, so everything depends on Ecuador,'' he said. "I might be commenting on Argentina [on TV], but the real tie to watch will be the Chile game. Marcelo Bielsa is the manager of Chile, and he is Argentinean, and he won't put up with any nonsense about Chile wanting Argentina to fail to qualify.

"However, the scenario of Ecuador winning and Argentina losing would mean Argentina missing out on even the play-offs - they would be out, and that would be hard to take.

"As for Argentina, I am not so sure they are capable at the moment of beating Uruguay, so everything is very tense. When it's all over I expect Argentina to end up in the play-offs, and then to make it to the finals. They need to be there, they must be there, but at the moment no-one can be sure."

Ardiles also made it clear that he thought Maradona would pull off yet another major shock in team selection.

"Diego has already said he will make changes, and there will be more surprises,'' he said. "He was asked after the game with Peru whether he will continue to start with Messi as the forward had such a poor second half. Diego said 'yes, yes', but you can never be sure with Diego."

Atletico Madrid striker Diego Forlan maintained Uruguay's qualification hopes with a penalty three minutes into stoppage time during a 2-1 victory in Ecuador at the weekend. With Martin Palermo scoring two minutes into added time to seal a 2-1 victory for Argentina against Peru in Buenos Aires, both nations go into the winner-takes-all encounter in Montevideo with something to prove.

With more than 170 meetings and four World Cup victories between Argentina and Uruguay, and centuries of enmity between the two neighbours, Forlan admits that the stakes are huge.

"I have warm feelings for Argentina,'' he said. ''I played there for four years with Independiente and have many Argentine friends. But of course there is rivalry between the two countries. It's maybe not like Argentina against Brazil, but it is going to be a battle of life and death. To play at home in front of your own fans to qualify for the World Cup is a dream scenario. We will have our fans behind us, so it will be an extraordinary event."

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