Over the last 15 years, Argentina has undergone a vast array of changes, be they social, financial or political. However, there is one thing that has remained constant in the Albiceleste nation: the sight of Javier Zanetti turning out for the national team.
The experienced and versatile defender, who missed out on the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, is Argentina's most capped player and is ideally placed to assess squad morale after the 6-1 humbling in Bolivia. As he and the rest of Diego Maradona's charges prepare to face Colombia and Ecuador on 6 and 10 June respectively, El Pupi made time for an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Javier, how would you explain what happened in Bolivia? Nobody expected such a heavy defeat.
Javier Zanetti: We played an awful match, which was bad for us and our fans. We know that, but now's the time to turn the page and think about the next match. We have to win to get our qualifying bid back on track and that's what we'll try and do.
What lessons did you learn from that match?
The conditions were out of the ordinary, particularly the altitude, but we don't want to look for excuses. We made a lot of errors which I'm sure we won't repeat.
Are Argentina in danger of not qualifying?
We're not even contemplating the idea of not being at South Africa 2010, so the only way we can be sure of achieving our objective is to win our six remaining matches. We can't wait and are working hard to do just that.
What can you tell us about upcoming opponents Colombia and Ecuador?
Both games will be really tough, like every game in this qualifying phase. Both teams are in with a chance of qualifying which makes them even more dangerous. On paper the Ecuador game is more difficult because it's away from home, but we respect all our opponents. That said, we don't fear anyone. We need all six points and that's what we're aiming for.
Are you concerned the match in Quito could turn out like the one in La Paz?
Playing at altitude is never easy, but I think that the Bolivia game has taught us a painful lesson.
Would it be right to say Argentina's next two matches are their most important in qualifying so far?
They are vital, but we mustn't forget that we've got four other games that are equally or more important. We need to be ready to fight to the end.
The South American Zone seems more evenly matched than in previous qualifying phases. Is that the case?
I don't know if it's more difficult that previous ones. For us Europe-based players, it's not easy playing 50 or 60 games a year and then travel for so many hours before performing at the very highest level. But it's an honour to wear the national-team jersey and the tiredness is worth it.
What can you tell us about the Albiceleste's man of the moment, Lionel Messi?
Leo is an extraordinary player who proved his worth in the Champions League final and in every game he plays for Argentina. Despite being so young, I don't think he needs advice from me or anybody else. I just want and hope he can keep playing like he is at the moment.
Let's talk about your international future. Could South Africa 2010 be your last competition with the senior side or will you try and stick around until the following year's Copa America in Argentina?
Well, it's hard to predict the future in football. For the moment I just try to play each game as if it was the first and last of my career. I've set my mind to playing for Argentina every time the national coach selects me. I can't deny how proud I am at being my country's most capped player.
Who will be the next Javier Zanetti?
To tell the truth, I don't really like comparisons. Everyone has their own characteristics though Argentina is full of fantastic players, there's no need to fear the future.
Is that why players who are performing so well on Italian soil, such as Esteban Cambiasso and Diego Milito, aren't in the national side?
Each decision is personal and, out of principle, I don't like talking too much about the choices my coaches make. What is certain is that both Cambiasso and Milito are excellent players, just like those called up instead of them. Sometimes choosing players can be really tough!
The first FIFA World Cup on African soil is fast approaching. Do you feel this is a historic moment?
Definitely. The 2010 World Cup will go down in history for that reason. It's good news and confirms how football has spread across the world. And I'm sure of one thing: it'll be a great fiesta for everyone.
Can we expect the favourites to be the usual suspects or new faces?
Everybody is going to find it tough to play against the African teams. Then you have the sides we all know about: Italy, France, Argentina, Brazil etc.
Are Italy capable of defending their title?
I don't usually focus on other teams, but Italy has been my home for 14 years. I've got a lot of respect for this country which has given me everything, but I can't tell a lie: I hope they don't win the title again because I want Argentina to win it.
If a genie popped out of a bottle and offered you the choice of the 2010 Champions League crown or that year's FIFA World Cup. Which would you choose?
I'd beg him to let us win both! Seriously though, the only way to achieve those objectives is to train hard and play without fear. If you can do that, who knows how far you can go.