HERZOGENAURACH: Argentina will have a 12th man in the dressing room again: Diego Maradona.
Argentina's legendary No. 10 was a cheerleader in the opening 2-1 victory over Ivory Coast, and he's promised to return for Friday's Group C game against Serbia-Montenegro in Gelsenkirchen.
``He told us many of his anecdotes, and we were astonished watching him,'' defender Roberto Ayala said ahead of Wednesday's practice.
``He makes me feel a lot of things,'' Ayala added. ``Imagine being with him before a game, in the dressing room, giving the pep talk. You go on the field feeling different when you hear the words and get support from the best player in the world.''
Maradona made a surprise visit to Argentina's training camp earlier in the week, accompanied by his ex-wife Claudia and their daughter.
A white car, which frequently shows up at Argentina practices in northern Bavaria, spells out the kind of edge Maradona can give. Scribbled on the side is the message: ``The Pope is German. God is Argentine Diego X.''
A victory on Friday over Serbia-Montenegro coupled with a Dutch win over the Ivory Coast the same day would qualify two-time champion Argentina for the second round. That would set up the showdown on June 21 in Frankfurt the Netherlands vs. Argentina to decide the top place in the group.
The two Group C qualifiers face the survivors from Group D likely to be Portugal and Mexico. ``It was a beautiful moment. I felt like a player again in the dressing room,'' Maradona said after his visit to the team hotel this week. ``It was great, and I'm going to repeat it against Serbia and the Netherlands and let's hope I can repeat it in the final.''
Maradona brought Argentina its last World Cup title 20 years ago, and his last World Cup was in 1994 in the United States.
With only four players returning from the disappointing 2002 World Cup team, few are looking far ahead. Argentina coach Jose Pekerman is expected to start the same 11 that beat Ivory Coast, with Hernan Crespo and Javier Saviola up front. AP