MADRID, Nov 13 – Argentina coach Diego Maradona has told superstar Lionel Messi to take charge of his country's World Cup dream, starting by masterminding victory over European champions Spain on Saturday.
The two soccer super-heavyweights clash in a friendly at Atletico Madrid’s Vicente Calderon stadium with both nations safely qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
But whereas Spain cruised into the finals, winning all 10 qualifiers, two-time champions Argentina lurched from one crisis to another and just squeezed through as the fourth and last South American qualifier.
Now Maradona, under whom Messi has failed to hit peaks on a consistent basis, wants the Barcelona star to stamp his undoubted authority on his mis-firing team.
"He must be the owner of the team. He knows it. We have the best player in the world in our team," said Maradona.
"We will give him lots of responsibility. He is doing the work that I have asked of him. I am very happy with Messi."
Argentina trained behind closed doors on Thursday with Maradona refusing to indicate who will start in Saturday’s high-profile clash.
"Everyone says Spain will be the favourites, but if I thought this then my players wouldn’t thank me," he said. "Spain are a great side."
After Saturday’s clash, Maradona will face a FIFA disciplinary committee to explain his sexually-explicit rant after his team’s World Cup qualification was secured thanks to a 1-0 win over Uruguay in October.
The 48-year-old, a sporting icon in Argentina after skippering the 1986 World Cup winning team, told journalists to "suck it and keep sucking it".
Meanwhile, Sevilla winger Jesus Navas is in line to make his international debut against Argentina.
Liverpool duo Fernando Torres and Albert Riera, as well as Villarreal’s Santi Cazorla and Marcos Senna, all miss the game through injury.
Spain will also face Austria in Vienna on Wednesday in another friendly.