Thursday, 25 March 2010

Maradona: Lionel Messi 'maturing in giant strides'

The Argentina coach, Diego Maradona, has hailed Lionel Messi's recent performances after his return from a fact-finding tour around Europe, saying Barcelona's 22-year-old forward was "maturing in giant strides".

During his trip Maradona saw Messi score a hat-trick, one of two in successive league games. Although he failed to match his brilliant recent form in last night's 2-0 home win against Osasuna, he has been good enough of late to prompt comparisons with Maradona himself. "To me, Messi is better than Maradona," his Barcelona team-mate Pedro Rodríguez said this week. "I play with him, I see him every day and to me he is the best. Maradona has been the best player in history and for me, Messi is even greater than he is."

With Messi in such fine form, Gonzalo Higuaín scoring regularly for Real Madrid, Diego Milito impressing with Internazionale and Carlos Tevez having an excellent first season at Manchester City, Argentina would appear to have an embarrassment of attacking riches with the World Cup now less than three months away.

"I'm happy, we have all the Argentinian goalscorers scoring goals in all the leagues in Europe and they're all showing they want to be [at the World Cup]," Maradona told reporters. "It will be a good, very open fight and it will be difficult for me to leave some out because they're scoring incredible goals ... but I have to take 23 players."

Maradona, who has been Argentina's head coach since November 2008, has called up a hundred players during his tenure as he searched for a winning formula, with the nation's performance in World Cup qualification so poor that they were in danger of failing to reach the finals for the first time since 1970. He could not find a formula in which Messi could replicate his brilliant Barcelona form and only picked Higuaín in the last two games against Peru and Uruguay, that Argentina needed to win.

"Messi looked fantastic, full of energy, happy ... He's maturing in giant strides," said Maradona. "Messi is another I'm certainly taking [to the finals] as a first-choice player alongside [midfielder and captain Javier] Mascherano," he said.

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