The September 5th encounter between the Albiceleste and Seleccao fast approaches.
If there are any indications who feels most pressure, do not look to Dunga. The Seleccao are a team where the sum of the parts equals the whole. A physical and intimidating defense, a potent offense, and a creative midfield combining to form a well oiled machine that is firing on all cylinders. They are well on their way to South Africa.
Diego Maradona on the other hand is exhibiting the paroxysms of a coach short of experience and time, with his change in venue, tinkering of players, and bizarre formations. He also said: "I would give anything to be 20 years younger and going out there."
The match on Maradona's insistence is to be played at Rosario Central, and not at the expansive El Monumental, where it is hoped that the much closer stands will contribute to a claustrophobic type of atmosphere that will unsettle the Brazilians. Rosario Central also carries an unsavory association, it was the 1978 World Cup venue where Argentina needing four goals to enter the finals beat Peru, 6-0 thus ending Brazil's dreams of making the finals. The Brazilians charged that the match was fixed but FIFA could prove no collusion.
However, it is player selection that is proving to be nightmare as Maradona has gone for a completely new look bringing back Boca veteran Martin Palermo and two Estudiantes players who played a big part in the Copa Libertadores win against Cruzeiro, midfielder Rodrigo Brana and defender Rolando Schiavi.
Palermo's selection has raised eyebrows as the 36 year old Boca striker last played nine years ago in a career marked with injuries and penalty kick misses. It is even more bewildering that he be given precedence over Gonzalo Higuain and Mauro Zarate, two of the most promising players plying their trade in Europe. Higuain in particular had a stellar 2008-2009 season at Real becoming their top scorer and has continued to be in the form in the pre-season. He has the option playing for both Argentina and France and overlooking him could spur his decision to play for France.
One of the priorities is stopping Inter's Maicon whose tirelessly looping runs down the right has stymied oppositions. Maradona was counting on Newcastle's Jonas Gutierrez to stop the Brazilian juggernaut but he is injured. The Brazilians swamp the Argentinians in goal output, 97 to 51 with their complement of strikers and attacking midfielders. Luis Fabiano has been particularly prolific. But it is the defense with their dominance in set pieces that has grabbed attention lately. Maicon's 5 goals in 49 matches compares favourably with Carlos Tevez's 8 goals in 51 matches. Then there is Dani Alves whose pinpoint passes and free kicks are just what one needs from the bench.
Gutierrez is not the only player out with injury as Juan Sebastian Veron, Argentina's playmaker is also doubtful. Maradona would ideally like to start Veron alongside Javier Mascherano. But his inclusion will most likely be a game time decision. Maradona's other option, Boca midfielder Sebastian Battaglia is out with a hamstring injury and will miss the Brazil and Paraguay encounter. Nicholas Burdisso, Martin Demichelis, Lisandro Lopez, Jesus Datolo, and Diego Milito also have injury concerns.
The bloated squad reflects a grab bag of Maradona's past loyalties. Napoli's Jesus Datolo and Ezequiel Lavezzi also feature. Datolo might start if he is declared match fit, otherwise Maradona is considering starting Maxi Rodriguez on the left wing. On defense, Maradona's fondness for right back Gabriel Heinze is hard to fathom. The ex- Man Utd player had his last decent season two years ago. He has been a defensive liability in Real's back line ever since.
Rolando Schiavi might compete with Nicolas Otamendi and Saba Dominguez for the center back position which would mean that the center back pairing have exactly two international appearances between the three of them. Dealing with Luis Fabiano, Robinho and Kaka could be a tall order.