|Warped genius: Maradona handballs past Peter Shilton to score as Argentina controversially knock out England on the way to victory in the 1986 finals [GALLO/GETTY]|
When Argentina were struggling to qualify for the finals last year, Brazilian rival Kaka said the tournament needed Diego Maradona’s team.
Love him (Argentines, during his playing days at least) or hate him (England fans with long memories), life is never boring around the man who was once the greatest footballer on the planet.
But with his coaching skills in some doubt even among Argentines, the performances of La Albiceleste against the well-drilled Greeks and South Koreans will be under intense scrutiny.
It is 24 years since midfielder Diego Maradona won the World Cup for Argentina – and the Hand of God will be hoping to grasp the trophy again.
Maradona is now coach of his country and narrowly qualified after a near-disastrous South American campaign.
|Group B fixtures|
Saturday June 12
Argentina v Nigeria
Thursday June 17
Greece v Nigeria
Nigeria v South Korea
With Lionel Messi – Maradona’s successor as undisputed genius of world football – backed up by players of the calibre of Gonzalo Higuain, Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez, Argentina are eyeing a return to the glory years in South Africa.
Olympic champions in 1996, the Super Eagles looked to be soaring to the top with impressive World Cup showings in 1994 and 1998.
But they have not looked the same side since, and sacked coach Christian Amodu after finishing third in a drab Africa Cup of Nations campaign in Angola this year.
Nigeria go into their fourth World Cup with a new coach in former Sweden stalwart Lars Lagerback, who will need to get the best out of players like Everton’s Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Wolfsburg’s Obafemi Martins.
The Red Devils became the first Asian country to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2002, before losing 1-0 to Germany, sparking interest from top leagues in players such as Park Ji-Sung and Seol Ki-Hyeon.
Coach Huh Jung-Moo has World Cup experience as a player, having scored against Italy at Mexico 1986.
The Koreans go into this competition ranked just 47th in the world and will be desperate to at least outdo their neighbours from the North, who qualified for the first time since reaching the semi-finals in 1966.
Proof that anything in football is possible after winning Euro 2004 with a squad bereft of stars, Greece have kept faith with coach Otto Rehhagel to reach their first World Cup since USA 1994.
Ranked 13th in the Fifa table, the Greeks boast European qualifying top-scorer Theofanis Gekas and a host of stars from top continental teams in their ranks.
With the nation back home enveloped in economic gloom, the Greeks will hope their team of experienced grafters can be dark horses in yet another major tournament.