Zanetti out, as Messi leads Argentina charge
By STEPHEN WADE (AP)
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — World player of the year Lionel Messi will lead Argentina’s attack at the World Cup.
There was no room for veteran defender Javier Zanetti in coach Diego Maradona’s provisional squad for the tournament, however.
The 30-man squad announced Tuesday included four high-profile forwards to support Barcelona’s Messi: Gonzalo Higuain, Diego Milito, Martin Palermo and Carlos Tevez. Maradona has to pick his final 23-player squad from this list.
But the big surprises were the inclusion of defenders Ariel Garce (Colon) and Juan Insaurralde (Newell’s) and midfielder Sebastian Blanco (Lanus). Zanetti, captain of Champions League finalist Inter Milan, and club teammate Esteban Cambiasso both missed the cut. Real Madrid midfielder Fernando Gago also was left out.
Maradona selected seven forwards, and all seven could make the final list on June 1.
Only nine players have been in previous World Cups: Walter Samuel, Gabriel Heinze, Nicolas Burdisso, Fabricio Coloccini, Javier Mascherano, Maxi Rodriguez, Messi, Tevez and Juan Sebastian Veron.
Maradona seems to be betting increasingly on players on clubs in Argentina and a bit less on Europe-based players, who have made up the bulk of recent World Cup squads.
Another veteran of the national team who was bypassed was defender Gabriel Milito of Barcelona, the brother of Diego.
World Cup winners in 1978 and 1986, Argentina plays its final warmup at home May 24 against Canada before heading to South Africa. Argentina opens on June 12 against Nigeria and also faces Greece and South Korea in Group B.
Maradona waited until late in the day to reveal the roster. The team’s website kept promising the list, but eventually posted a notice saying the website was overloaded with requests. Hundreds of journalists milled around all day waiting for the names outside the gates of the Argentine Football Association in the Buenos Aires suburb of Ezeiza.
TV programs speculated throughout the day about the team, and Maradona was quoted repeatedly in a short clip saying: “I have no doubt about this list.”
Argentina finished fourth in South American qualifying — the last automatic qualifying spot — and won its last two matches when faced with the real possibility of being eliminated. The struggling qualifying campaign included a humiliating 6-1 loss last year in Bolivia, and a 3-1 defeat at home to archrival Brazil. All this despite the presence of Messi and many of the best players in the world.
Maradona, regarded by many as the greatest to ever play the game, has been widely criticized for his tactics. He had virtually no coaching experience before taking over the national team.
He selected the squad a day after he was accused of forcing the previous head coach, Alfio Basile, to resign so he could take over. Maradona denied the charges leveled by Basile’s son Alfito.
“Not only isn’t it true, but I have always given my praise and criticisms of the national team in public,” he said in a letter published Tuesday in Argentina newspapers. “All I have ever wanted is for Argentina to do well.”
Jorge Ribolzi, a former assistant to Basile, used strong language in supporting the claims of the younger Basile.
“As a person he (Maradona) is garbage,” Ribolzi said. “He’s good for nothing. No dignity.”
Goalkeepers: Mariano Andujar (Catania, Italy), Diego Pozo (Colon), Sergio Romero (AZ Alkmaar, the Netherland).
Defenders: Nicolas Burdisso (AS Roma, Italy), Fabricio Coloccini (Newcastle, England), Martin Demichelis (Bayern Munich, Germany), Ariel Garce (Colon), Gabriel Heinze (Marseille, France), Juan Insaurralde (Newell’s Old Boys), Nicolas Otamendi (Velez Sarsfield), Clemente Rodriguez (Estudiantes), Walter Samuel (Inter Milan, Italy).
Midfielders: Sebastian Blanco (Lanus), Mario Bolatti (Fiorentina, Italy), Jesus Datolo (Olympiakos, Greece), Angel Di Maria (Benfica, Portugal), Jonas Gutierrez (Newcastle, England), Javier Mascherano (Liverpool, England), Juan Mercier (Argentinos), Javier Pastore (Palermo, Italy), Maxi Rodriguez (Liverpool, England), Jose Sosa (Estudiantes), Juan Sebastian Veron (Estudiantes).
Forwards: Sergio Aguero (Atletico Madrid, Spain), Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid, Spain), , Ezequiel Lavezzi (Napoli, Italy), Lionel Messi (Barcelona, Spain), Diego Milito (Inter Milan, Italy), Martin Palermo (Boca Juniors), Carlos Tevez (Manchester City, England).