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Old foes in Diego's sights

Argentina's football team coach Diego Maradona gives instructions to his players

Diego Armando Maradona's career in the game has been intertwined with that of Argentina's fiercest footballing rivals: Brazil. From his red card against the Auriverde at the 1982 FIFA World Cup Spain™ through the eternal debate over Pele and his claims to being the world's best, to the wonderful run and pass which helped win a memorable encounter at Italy 1990, El Diez and A Seleção have shared decisive moments aplenty.

The latest chapter in the Albiceleste icon's own Brazilian story is set to be written on 5 September, when he guides his Argentina charges in his first clásico as coach: a game that could prove vital on the road to South Africa 2010. As the day of the match looms large, Maradona took time out to speak to about opposite number Dunga, Brazil's strengths and some of the fiercest duels between the two nations during his playing career.

You can access the first part of this interview by clicking on the link on the right-hand menu. Diego, another huge clash with Brazil is fast approaching. How would you explain the rivalry between the two countries to somebody not from either nation? Diego Maradona: They're the ones who play the joyous and attractive football, while we're known for our gutsiness and having very good players. I'd say that neither is better than the other - there we both are, level-pegging. You have to remember that both countries supply so many players to world football.

Can you compare it to any other game?
It's a South American derby which compares to the final of the Champions League or European Championship. That said, neither side does the other any favours. If they say Kaka won't play then we don't believe them, and if we say Messi will miss out, Dunga won't believe us - that's how it works. You get nothing for free.

What do you remember about your red card against Brazil at Spain 1982?
To be honest, that kick in the 82 tournament was meant for Falcao, not Batista. After they made it 3-1 he (Falcao) started to toy with us, knocking the ball around and showing off, and I didn't like it. I got riled up and kicked out but when I saw it was Batista on the floor I said to him, 'Oh no! That wasn't meant for you!'

What matters is that when the people voted, he came second behind me. Nobody can take that away from me.

Was he ok with that?
Yes, of course. We became good friends later on because he went to join Lazio and we lived close by. Every time there was an awards ceremony or something we'd sit together and chat loads. I'd always say to him, 'Look, that kick wasn't for you. I swear I saw you and thought you were Falcao.' We'd have a good laugh because he used to say that Falcao was fair-haired and they didn't look anything like each other. And he's right, but I explained to him that I couldn't see anything because of the red mist!

So did your part in Claudio Caniggia's winning goal at Italy 1990 feel a bit like revenge?
It was marvellous. Brazil had a great team and they had us on the back foot the entire game, but the one chance I had I undid them. I beat Alemao and Dunga for pace, then got my body between him and the ball and stopped him bundling me over. And when I ran out of room I played a through-ball with my right for a bolt of lightning called [Claudio] Caniggia who had raced past me. I played the ball with my right and it went through the legs of (Brazil defender) Ricardo Rocha, who caught me with a sliding tackle.

And then came Caniggia's finish...
That's it. I was still on the floor watching as Cani took on [Claudio] Taffarel. And I was thinking 'shoot, shoot, please shoot!' but he just kept on dribbling and dribbling. Then he swerved round him and shot, and when the keeper moved out the way I looked towards the goal and saw the net rippling. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.

You have, on occasion, given Caniggia some friendly stick about his less-than-enthusiastic celebration, isn't that right?
It's unbelievable, I wanted to reach up and embrace the heavens! But Caniggia just did this, this movement (Maradona raises his hand in the air). That was typical of him, he did the same against Italy. It was crazy.

There's a constant debate between Brazilians and Argentinians over whether Pele or you is the world's best ever player. Is it possible to make a comparison given you played in completely different eras?
Do you know what? I played in European football for ten years while Pele played in South America. Yes he won World Cups and everything, but playing in Europe is something else entirely. Not that that makes me much better than him or anything like that. When I played, the man-markers in Spanish and Italian football were like hunting dogs. They never left me alone.

Pele had Coutinho and Rivelino, who for me is one of the best ever, alongside him. And then there was Jairzinho, Clodoaldo, Gerson and Tostao. Those guys were brilliant. Oh well, what matters is that when the people voted, he came second behind me. Nobody can take that away from me. And there was another vote in Brazil in which he came second behind Ayrton Senna. He needs to stop coming second!

The thing is that Dunga, when he was a player, wanted to be the Sheriff of the pitch. There he was with those huge legs and he wanted to hog half the pitch.

Staying on the Brazilian national team. How did you rate their performance at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009?
They played very well. I think they struggled to find a solution on the left flank, where they tried Kleber, [Andre] Santos and even Dani Alves. But Felipe Melo was on top form, as was Luis Fabiano and Kaka. Maicon's like a tractor while every time Robinho attacks with the ball at his feet he's looking to score. They're a very tough team. They've got great centre-backs and the best keeper in the world, in my humble opinion.

Gone are the days when Brazilian keepers would let in shots that weren't even on target. In Julio Cesar they've got the best around, who's proven that at Inter and with the national team. It's a solid side though you can get at them. But let me make it clear: we're going to go for the win.

If you could have one of the Brazilians in your team, which would you choose?
From this national side? I'd like to have Kaka. He can turn a game for you.

And which Argentinian do you think the Brazilians would like?
They'd love to have [Lionel] Messi, I'm sure of it.

How did you normally do against Dunga as a player?
I did well. The thing is that Dunga, when he was a player, wanted to be the Sheriff of the pitch. There he was with those huge legs and he wanted to hog half the pitch. And if you didn't close him down then he'd want to take over, he wanted to boss the midfield. That's why I mention that Caniggia goal in Italy, because he stuck out a leg to try and bring me down but I saw him coming. He didn't get the ball or me. But to be honest we've been getting on well recently.

And finally, would you care to predict the result of 5 September's game?
No, I'm not one for guessing results. But what I will say is that this game is vital for our qualifying hopes.

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