Buenos Aires: World Cup veterans Javier Mascherano and Juan Veron have thrown their support behind embattled Argentina coach Maradona ahead of Saturday's crucial qualifier against Peru.
"Maradona has all our support," Liverpool midfielder Mascherano said after a closed training session Wednesday at the general headquarters of the Argentine Football Association. "He's the coach and he knows what he does."
His comments come a day after Maradona, acknowledged as one of football's greatest ever players, said he may quit as coach if he cannot continue on his terms, even if Argentina qualifies for South Africa 2010.
Estudiantes de Argentina playmaker Veron, who is unavailable for the Peru match due to a suspension, defended Maradona's stance.
"Diego isn't satisfied, or doesn't like something, it's not bad that he demands certain conditions to continue," he said.
Argentina is in danger of missing out on next year's World Cup, and most of the blame has been placed on Maradona who has failed to mold a team out of some of the world's best players including Barcelona star Lionel Messi and Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez.
Maradona, 48, put Messi and Gonzalo Higuain in the attack during Wednesday's practice session.
And while Messi is in the lineup, Real Madrid striker Higuain, who has yet to play in Argentina's qualifiers, and Martin Palermo, the Boca Juniors leading scorer, will contest the other lead spot. For the moment, Higuain seems to be a step ahead.
The rest of the lineup for Saturday's match will include Sergio Romero, Jonas Gutierrez, Rolando Schiavi, Gabriel Heinze, Emiliano Insua, Enzo Perez, Javier Mascherano, Angel Di Maria, and Pablo Aimar, a team official said.
Maradona has been at odds with AFA technical secretary Carlos Bilardo, who coached him in Argentina's 1986 World Cup-winning squad at Mexico, and at Italy four years later. He said Bilardo should have traveled to England to persuade Manchester City to rest defender Pablo Zabaleta and striker Carlos Tevez.
Zabaleta returned unfit to play against Peru.
Argentines are losing their patience with Maradona after losses against Brazil and Paraguay have left the team struggling in fifth place. Brazil with 33 points, and Paraguay on 30 have already qualified. Chile (27), Ecuador (23) and Argentina (22) round out the top five, while Uruguay and Venezuela have 21.
The top four teams from South American qualifying earn an automatic berth for the World Cup, while the No. 5 team faces a playoff in November with the fourth-placed side from the North and Central American and Caribbean region for another berth.
Maradona has led Argentina to four losses and only two wins, with 12 goals against and only six in its favor. He also had a poor record in his short time as a coach in the 1990s, when he led two Argentine clubs to 5 wins and 29 losses.
The team will practice again Thursday afternoon, avoiding the twice-a-day workouts conducted by most national teams. Maradona said in a television interview after taking over as coach that he only works in the afternoon because he likes to sleep in.
This rankles many Argentines. Polls show a majority feels Maradona is unfit to coach, despite his success as a player.