Argentina coach under fire after loss to Nigeria

Julio Grondona, the powerful president of the Argentine Football
Association, turned up the heat on coach Sergio Batista on Thursday
following a humiliating 4-1 loss to Nigeria.

Grondona, who hired Batista last year after firing Diego
Maradona, accused Batista of gambling with ”the prestige of the
national team.” He also blamed him for scheduling Wednesday’s
friendly against Nigeria and fielding a reserve lineup without
stars like Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez.

Argentina plays Poland on Sunday with the same backup team. The
matches come a month before Argentina opens the Copa America – the
South American championship. Expectations run high in Argentina,
which won its last World Cups 25 years ago. Argentina has not won a
major title since the Copa America 18 years ago.

”Mourning for the national team shirt,” read a headline in
Thursday’s edition of the sports daily Ole.

”The team was not only thumped,” added the daily Clarin. ”It
waltzed through the match. No matter what players are playing, it’s
not normal to see an Argentine team go down like this.”

Argentina played the match with only two players who were named
earlier in the week in the preliminary squad for the Copa America:
defender Pablo Zabaleta of Manchester City and Ezequiel Garay of
Real Madrid.

”Both displayed alarming play,” the newspaper Diario Popular
said. ”None of the 15 players on the field yesterday, if one
judges for what they did in this match, merits being called up
again.”

Grondona went out of his way to criticize Batista in a telephone
interview Thursday from Zurich.

”One can’t raffle off the prestige of the national team,”
Grondona told Mitre radio station. ”These games are not to make
money, and Batista asked for these matches. … At times it’s good
to see if it serves us to have these matches. But the national team
must have its standards.”

Grondona is likely to have approved the Nigeria match, and
newspapers have suggested friendly matches like this generate about
$1 million for the AFA.

Batista acknowledged he took a chance.

”We know we risked prestige with what happened,” Batista told
reporters. ”But if we don’t play, we don’t know what players we
have for the future.”

Zabaleta said the match in Abuja, Nigeria, was a waste of
time.

”We were shown up throughout the game,” Zabelata told the
Argentine news agency Telam. ”It was hot, the pitch was bad, the
grass was long – an uneven surface. Don’t even mention the
referee.”