Paraguay secured their place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ with a 1-0 win over Diego Maradona's hapless Argentina on Wednesday. For their part, Argentina suffered their fourth defeat in their last five qualifying games and tumbled into the play-off position in the South American standings.
Paraguay showed team play from the very beginning, with attacking duo Salvador Cabanas and Nelson Haedo Valdes teaming up perfectly. Paraguay become the 11th side to qualify for the finals, while Argentina slip to fifth with Peru at home and Uruguay away as their remaining games. Maradona praised his conquerors, but remained defiant.
"Paraguay played well, particularly Cabanas and Haedo Valdes," he said. "They held the ball and midfielders attacked us from the sides. We should have marked them better.
"It is down to poor form and failures as a team. We must re-start and do the puzzle again. I didn't think we were going to be like we are. I wanted to be higher in the table.
"This is the reality we must live and I will face it like always in my life," he said. "We still have a chance and we are holding it."
The defeat will inevitably raise further questions over the stewardship of coach Diego Maradona - a playing icon who inspired Argentina to the 1986 FIFA World Cup trophy and to the 1990 final - as the Argentinians slipped to fifth with just two matches remaining to seal one of the two remaining automatic qualifying places.
However, Maradona, who has overseen four defeats in the six FIFA World Cup qualifiers he has been in charge of, insisted that his team would qualify and dismissed his critics.
"I am not afraid of criticism. I am afraid of nobody. I am doing my job, I have my team and I am going to go forward," he said.
"I have been battling critics since I was 15 years old. Now I am 48 and I am going to continue to battle with them [the press]."
Maradona had to once again march to Messi's defence after another anonymous performance. "Do not throw stones at Messi yet again," said Maradona. "The Paraguayan players and Martino knew that he was dangerous.
"They were three or four around him. They neutralised him well and he was not able to shine like he normally does."