Gregory Sica
Tuesday September 22nd, 2009

With Argentina on the brink of elimination from the 2010 World Cup, which would be the first time it missed out on the finals in 40 years, immediate measures need to be taken. Diego Maradona, who will remain the coach for Argentina's final two qualifiers versus Peru and Uruguay next month, will need to pick up positive results to avoid the embarrassment of elimination.

As a result of Argentina's poor run of results, Maradona has been forced to make several significant changes that could either benefit the team or all but bury it. Still, all hope is not lost for Argentina to join 31 other teams in South Africa.

Below are five paths Maradona and Argentina can follow to the World Cup:

1. A win over Peru isn't only possible, but essential

No matter how much criticism Maradona and his side have received, if Argentina claims the three points against Peru in its next qualifier it would represent a giant leap toward South Africa. As Maradona's side returns to River Plate's Monumental stadium, it is well aware that a victory is well within its reach.

La Albiceleste enters the match coming off frustrating defeats to Brazil and Paraguay (the only two teams from the region to have already qualified for South Africa), and, obviously, bottom-placed Peru is a significantly weaker opponent. If Maradona can guide his team to victory, not only could Argentina possibly overtake Ecuador for fourth place, but it will provide it with the necessary confidence to confront its final qualifier against Uruguay in Montevideo.

A loss or a draw with Peru, however, will surely put an end to Argentina's World Cup hopes.

2. Find unity with Argentina's home-based players

Argentina's best players ply their trade in Europe's top leagues, which leaves Maradona only a few of days to work with his squad before the qualifiers. Consequently, his idea to call-up more home-based players seems fair. This way he will have more time to work with his players, to unite the group and essentially to form an effective game plan. In Argentina's defeats to Brazil and Paraguay, the squad clearly lacked cohesion, evident in its difficulty to create decent scoring chances. Maradona may be playing with fire, but his idea to use the backbone of the Estudiantes de La Plata side that won the 2009 Copa Libertadores should assure him of team unity.

Furthermore, there is plenty of quality in the Argentine first division, and as Maradona has said in the past, several of these players are evidently "more hungry" to succeed with the national team than their European counterparts. Maradona will have the opportunity to test them out in a friendly match against a third-rate Ghana side in Córdoba on Sept. 30.

3. Provide Real Madrid's Gonzalo Higuaín with his first call-up

Finally it seems that Maradona has taken an interest in the talent of Gonzalo Higuaín, and will award the striker with his first official national team call-up. "Pipita" is a class act and proved his worth with 22 goals in Spain's La Liga last season. Not only is Higuaín a prolific goal-scorer, but he is exactly the kind of player Argentina needs when taking into account size. Lionel Messi, Carlos Tévez and Sergio Agüero are all great players, but they are relatively short and need to be complemented by a taller player capable of winning high balls.

In recent years Argentina has opted for shorter players because of their skills with the ball at their feet and their speed. But Argentina has struggled to score goals in the qualifiers, because often these faster players can't match the frames of some of the defenders they face. If Argentina manages to qualify for the World Cup, it could be up against teams who base their games on height and strength, as do many of the European and African teams.

While Maradona would be well-served to recognize that physical presence is important in the modern game, he can't go to extremes, as he did in the clash against Paraguay, when he sent on veterans Martín Palermo and Rolando Schiavi as a last resort to win high balls in the area. Balance and shape is the key.

A Messi-Higuaín attacking partnership would best suit Argentina. Between them they scored a combined 45 goals in Spain last season, and have the potential to thrive with the national team. However, Argentina can't limit itself to thinking that placing these two players up front will be enough, but will have to find a way to provide them with some help. With Juan Sebastián Verón suspended for the Peru game, should Maradona try to convince Juan Román Riquelme to come out of retirement?

4. Listen to the advice of Carlos Bilardo

Even if it seems that Maradona is completely on his own, he isn't. One of his assistants is Bilardo, the accomplished tactician who guided Argentina to the 1986 World Cup. In recent weeks AFA chief Julio Grondona confirmed that Bilardo will have a more active role with the national team, giving Maradona a hand in selecting and modifying tactics. Bilardo is a maestro in this regard, and is more than capable of finding a way for Argentina to exploit its strengths and hide its weaknesses. Maradona has made all of the decisions up until now, including some terrible ones along the way, but now he'll have no choice but to listen to the advice of Bilardo. If the two can mesh Argentina might finally play the style of ball expected of them.

5. Find a way for Lionel Messi to flourish

The Barcelona superstar is, without doubt, the most gifted player on the planet, but he has yet to transfer his incredible club form into national team success. According to Messi, his familiarity with Barcelona's system is not matched by his familiarity with Argentina.

"It isn't the same [system] of Barcelona, neither the same teammates; you can't compare both. I love the system of Barça, I'm used to it. We always play to attack, we are very offensive and I like that very much," Messi declared to France Football last week.

Once again, for Messi to begin to play the kind of football which he is capable of with Argentina, Maradona has to find a system which best suits the player. Messi has found success at Barcelona because he has the security and support of his teammates, allowing him to roam the field at will. With Argentina, on the other hand, he can hardly play his normal game because his side doesn't have a clear game plan and is more concerned about defense than attack.

Maradona recently traveled to Europe to attend a weight loss program, but also took the time to speak to a number of his players. Like most of us, he wants to know why Messi isn't half the player he is with Barcelona when with the national team. Maybe Maradona's best bet is to ask Barça boss Pep Guardiola instead.

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