Messi to lead Argentina Cup bid

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Messi to lead Argentina Cup bid

BUENOS AIRES - World Player of the Year Lionel Messi will lead Argentina’s attack at the World Cup, but there is no room for veteran defender Javier Zanetti in coach Diego Maradona’s provisional squad for the tournament.

The 30-man squad named Tuesday included four high-profile forwards to support Barcelona’s Messi: Gonzalo Higuain, Diego Milito, Martin Palermo and Carlos Tevez. Maradona has to pick his final 23-player squad from this list.

But the big surprises were the inclusion of defenders Ariel Garce (Colon) and Juan Insaurralde (Newell’s) and midfielder Sebastian Blanco (Lanus), while Zanetti, captain of Champions League finalist Inter Milan, and club teammate Esteban Cambiasso both missed the cut. Real Madrid midfielder Fernando Gago was also left out.

Maradona named seven forwards, and all seven could make the final list on June 1.

Only nine players on the 30-man list have played in previous World Cups.

World Cup winners in 1978 and 1986, Argentina plays its final warm-up at home on May 24 against Canada before heading to South Africa. Argentina opens on June 12 against Nigeria and also faces Greece and South Korea in Group B.

Maradona waited until late in the day to name the team. The team’s Web site kept promising the list but eventually posted a notice saying the site was overloaded with requests. Hundreds of journalists milled around all day waiting for the names outside the gates of the Argentine Football Association in the Buenos Aires suburb of Ezeiza.

TV programs speculated throughout the day about the team, and Maradona was quoted repeatedly in a short clip saying: “I have no doubt about this list.”

Argentina finished fourth in South American qualifying - the last automatic qualifying spot - and won its last two matches when faced with the real possibility of being eliminated. The struggling qualifying campaign included a humiliating 6-1 loss last year in Bolivia and a 3-1 defeat at home to archrival Brazil.

All this, despite the presence of Messi and many of the best players in the world.

Maradona, regarded by many as the greatest to ever play the game, has been widely criticized for his tactics and had virtually no coaching experience before taking over the national team.

He named the squad a day after he was accused of forcing the previous head coach of Argentina - Alfio Basile - to resign so he could take over. Maradona denied the charges leveled by Basile’s son Alfito.

“Not only isn’t it true, but I have always given my praise and criticisms of the national team in public,” he said in a letter published Tuesday in Argentina newspapers. “All I have ever wanted is for Argentina to do well.”

Jorge Ribolzi, a former assistant to Basile, used strong language in supporting the claims of the younger Basile.

“As a person he [Maradona] is garbage,” Ribolzi said. “He’s good for nothing. No dignity.”

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