x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Maradona defends Messi but gives mixed messages about future

Uncertainty surrounds the future of Diego Maradona after the distraught Argentina manager refuses to confirm whether he will remain in charge.

CAPE TOWN // Uncertainty surrounded the future of Diego Maradona last night after the distraught Argentina manager refused to confirm whether he will remain in charge. Joachim Loew, the Germany coach, described Maradona as "devastated" after the Europeans' crushing 4-0 win, and an emotional Argentine manager relayed mixed messages in his post-match press conference. "We will see what happens," Maradona said. "I haven't thought about it. I'll have to check with my family, the players, the federation; there a number of things to consider. I may leave tomorrow, but I want these boys to go on showcasing what they are and the real Argentine football. We could not make our dream come true, but you always find a path."

After patrolling his technical area for the nearly the entirety of the match, Germany's fourth goal sent Maradona - for the first time in 90 minutes - to his seat in the dugout. He was back up seconds later, however, when Lionel Messi burst forward and sent a shot on goal. It was a repeat of the Barcelona forward's earlier efforts, though; Messi's final goal-scoring effort of the tournament was straight at Manuel Neuer and Argentina were denied again.

Maradona, beloved by his players, defended Messi, who leaves South Africa without a goal. "Messi played a great World Cup," Maradona said. "To see him crying in the dressing room and saying to me that he deeply regrets was ?" He shook his head. "If anybody says he hasn't honoured the Argentine colours, they would be a stupid person." Maradona walked on to the pitch at the final whistle and hugged each of his players. Several were visibly upset; Maxi Rodriguez, the Liverpool midfielder, was crying uncontrollably.

It was a day when the South Americans just never got going. "Argentina is a country where we live and breathe football - no one is going to like it," Maradona said. "This strong sadness is similar to when I stopped playing football, it is tough. I am 50 in October, I am mature and this is the toughest moment of my life. It is a kick in the face and I have no more energy for anything." emegson@thenational.ae