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Diego Maradona scraps Argentina through to World Cup 2010

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Despite a tumultuous qualification campaign which at times looked like ending in embarrassment, footballing heavyweights Argentina have booked their place in the World Cup finals. This was confirmed as they beat a well organised Uruguay side 1-0 in Montenegro, with midfielder Mario Bolatti slotting the winner in the 84th minute. It was a commendable end to the preliminary campaign as Uruguay have proved incredibly tough to beat at home, with only Brazil winning at the Centenario stadium previously.

However this will do little to paper over the cracks as MaradonaÂ's team and tactics have fallen embarrassingly short in recent months. In theory Argentina have one of the best squads in the world but have fallen to eighth in the Fifa rankings. In reality tactical naivety, selection controversy and infighting have severely impaired the squadÂ's potency. Humiliating defeats to Bolivia and arch rivals Brazil left Argentina teetering on the brink of elimination. Only a stoppage time goal from veteran striker Martin Palermo sealed a win against lowly Peru and allowed MaradonaÂ's men to stay competitive.

Despite this negativity Argentina will still rank among the favourites for the biggest prize in football this summer. They boast an array of world class players including Manchester CityÂ's Carlos Tevez and BarcelonaÂ's superstar Lionel Messi. If Maradona opts to recall exiled stars like Esteban Cambiasso and Diego Milito then they could again be a force.

Argentina are currently ranked as outsiders for the tournament in South Africa with bookmakers giving odds of around 10/1. The South Americans have undeniable pedigree on this stage and have a genuine chance now they have put the ignominy of qualification behind them. The current favourites are Brazil and Spain (both 9/2) with England at 7/1 and the USA ranked as 100/1 outsiders. ItÂ's a big ask for Maradona but lifting the World Cup as a manager is not beyond the realms of possibility.

Dan Stephens

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