Batista’s bid to fill Maradona’s boots begins

LIKE a glitzy film premiere where the lead fails to show, Diego Maradona’s absence from the Aviva Stadium tonight has stripped the event of some of its star quality.

On the pitch, however, the outspoken legend’s departure as Argentina manager may just make proceedings somewhat spicier.

For interim boss Sergio Batista, it represents the first of two auditions for the hotseat and yesterday at Carton House he appeared to be more than comfortable in his surroundings as he spoke about his 2014 project.

The only problem with the implementation of that plan for Maradona’s old teammate from the 1986 World Cup win, is that he won’t know until December whether he will get the job on a long-term basis.

With Robbie Keane set to win his 100th cap and the match being the first international at the new stadium there is plenty of motivation for the home side to perform.

And Batista reckons that the clash will prove a sterner test than most friendlies.

“It’s always a challenge,” he said. “Whether it’s a friendly or competitive, against Ireland it is always tough.

“It is a great occasion for Robbie Keane, we know he’s a top player. 100 caps for anyone is a big thing in football, but hopefully he won’t be celebrating too much.

“We’re hoping this will be a serious game, a competitive clash.

“We know you (Ireland) missed out on World Cup qualification because of those things that can happen sometimes in football. But we respect Irish football.

“In spite of all that, we are going to go out and impose our own style of play. We will look to put on a real show and I’m sure both teams will. I think the fans will be in for a real treat.”

Carlos Tevez is unlikely to play while Sergio Aguero is a doubt but otherwise Batista is expected to name a side along similar lines to the one that competed in South Africa with Lionel Messi set to start despite a marathon trek from Barcelona’s pre-season tour of China.

“We are starting a brand new era,” he said. “Up to now, the lads have made it very easy for me. They are keen to do well. I have been having lots of little chats with individuals and small groups of players.

“He (Messi) is tired, but certainly he arrived with a smile on his face, which is good considering he has come halfway around the world from Beijing via Barcelona.

“It would have been dead easy for him to say, ‘I can’t be arsed, I don’t really want to come play this game, it’s a dead awkward time and I’m going to be injured or something’.

“However that shows a lot about his character and that of the other players, that they haven’t said that. They all want to come here and play for me, and play for Argentina.”

Argentina’s exit at the hands of a rampant Germany at the World Cup caused much soul searching and while Batista was keen not to make any disparaging comments about his former teammate, he believes the team want to put that result right this evening.

“We have spoken about it privately, that we want to get that game out of our system against Germany,” he admitted. “They are still smarting, that really hurt but you’re not a real footballer if something like that doesn’t still hurt you after a few months.

“He (Maradona) got the team to World Cup and did a good job. You cannot dismiss a person for a lack of tactical nous on the basis of one result.

“I am trying to emphasise that it’s a new start. It’s a case of putting my arm around players and saying one defeat doesn’t make you a rubbish player.

“It’s up to me to convince them that they’re still a good side.

“The thing I am worried about is what physical state we are in. Some of the players are three and four days into pre-season so I know that nobody is really match fit, with the exception of Gabriel Heinze.”

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