South Africa 2010.
It’s not just on their famous striped shirts however that the blue will be found but also coming from the mouth of Diego Maradona if his latest press conference is anything to go by.
El Diego rounded on his critics from Argentina’s press pack after his side’s hard fought 1-0 victory over Uruguay in Montevideo.
Anybody not wishing to see the result should look away now.
After joyful scenes on the pitch at the final whistle Maradona cut a very different figure when he emerged for his press conference in the bowels of the Estadio Centenario.
“To those who did not believe in us,” Maradona said before apologising to the women present for what he was about to say, “they can suck my d***, and keep on sucking it.”
Maradona had not even been overly lambasted in the Argentine press for his management record in World Cup qualifiers. Before narrow wins over Peru and Uruguay this week he had only secured six points in six games.
“You lot take it up the a***,” Maradona further taunted the press, “This victory is for all Argentines, except for the journalists.”
Last week it was reported that Maradona was due to quit his post and had fallen out with several members of his backroom staff. The manager was clearly angered at these stories and did not pull any punches with the assembled journalists.
“For those who did not believe in the team and treated me like dirt,” Maradona said in launching yet another verbal broadside. “They will now have to accept this. I want to thank the players and the fans, no one but them.”
José Mourinho is often lauded for using his press conferences to divert attention away from his players but El Diego took things a good hop, step and jump away from anything the Special One has ever come out with.
“So I repeat, to all those that said anything against me, keep eating your words.” Maradona concluded. “I am very proud of my players. They made me feel like a real coach because all of what we had planned in the dressing room, they did it on the pitch.”
The comments have, perhaps unsurprisingly, not gone down too well with Argentina's daily newspapers. Top selling rag Clarin dubbed Maradona's comments “scandalous” while football daily Olé slammed the manager as being “absolutely out of place.”
The game itself was played out with a caginess at odds with Maradona's press conference. After all not was this a derby match but also a cup final for both sides.
Argentina went into the game needing only a draw to secure the fourth and last automatic qualifying spot for the World Cup and they set themselves up accordingly.
Last gasp goal hero from Saturday’s 2-1 win over Peru, Martin Palermo was left on the bench along with Carlos Tevez.
Instead Maradona paired Lionel Messi with his new favourite Gonzalo Higuain of Real Madrid. Juan Veron was recalled in midfield after serving a suspension against Peru and captain Javier Mascherano also added bite in the middle of the park.
The first half saw yet another ineffective performance from Messi in the number 10 shirt for Argentina and it was at the other that Diego Forlan and in particularly Luis Suarez of Ajax looked far more likely to break the deadlock.
Argentine ‘keeper Sergio Romero dealt with everything that made its way through however and he was ably assisted by his backline which included veterans Martin Demichelis and Gabriel Heinze.
With Paraguayan referee Carlos Amarilla dishing out four yellow cards early on it was clear that he was looking to crackdown on any gamesmanship between the two sides.
The eighth yellow card of the game turned out to be the second for Uruguayan defender Martin Caceres and Amarilla duly sent him packing for an early bath.
From the resulting free kick on the right-hand angle of Uruguay’s penalty area second half substitute Mario Bolatti found himself in space and stoked home from eight yards out to give Argentina a precious lead.
With news of Chile's 1-0 lead over Ecuador also reverberating around the stadium it was clear that Uruguay were still heading for fifth spot in the qualifying group and another chance to reach South Africa via a playoff.
At the close of play Argentina celebrated on the pitch in much the same way Brazil had done on in Rosario last month. The night's hosts were left to contemplate two games against Costa Rica next month.
It will be the third consecutive time Uruguay have gone into a playoff to determine whether or not they will get the chance to perform on the biggest stage.
Their passage to South Korea and Japan in 2002 was secured by a two legged victory over Australia while the same opponents prevented them from attending Germany 2006.
“We can do it,” Was Diego Forlan’s optimistic assessment of the upcoming games with Costa Rica. “Nobody likes being in this position but we've been there before and know how to approach it.”
The night's big losers were Ecuador who could not spoil the celebrations in Chile and nick a result. A win would have seen them leapfrog Uruguay but a second half strike from Chile's leading marksman Humberto Suazo saw the Ecuadorans go down to a 1-0 defeat in Santiago.
Elsewhere on the continent Brazil and Paraguay, both already scouting hotels in South Africa, fielded experimental line-ups against Venezuela and Colombia respectively.
Colombia managed to finish their campaign on a high with 2-0 win in Asuncion. Second half efforts from Gustavo Ramos and Hugo Rodallega of Wigan gave fans of the Cafeteros a taste of what might have been.
Brazil maintained their unbeaten home record in qualifying and Dunga blooded more of the impressive domestic based talent he has at his disposal. Despite the 0-0 draw the coach will have been happy with what he saw from the likes of Nilmar and Ramires operating alongside established stars such as Kaká and Luis Fabiano.
In the basement battle a single goal handed Peru victory over Bolivia. The Incas still finish bottom of the group however despite Johan Fano's strike handing them all three points. Peru's entire campaign seemed personified by Fano getting himself sent off just two minutes after his good work had given his team the lead.
© Tim Sturtridge & Soccerphile.com