Argentina gets manageable World Cup draw

Argentina got a manageable draw for next year’s World Cup in South Africa. The unknown, of course, is whether the talent-rich team will struggle as it did in World Cup qualifying.

The two-time World Cup champion was drawn Friday with South Korea, Nigeria and Greece. Of the eight groups, Argentina’s Group B doesn’t look to be among the most difficult – or easiest.

“You have to be prepared for every match – there could be seven – as if they were World Cup finals,” said Carlos Bilardo, the technical secretary of the Argentine Football Association.

In the absence of coach Diego Maradona, who was barred from attending the draw ceremony in Cape Town, Bilardo was the most experienced on-the-field official attending the draw for Argentina.

Bilardo coached Argentina’s 1986 World Cup-winning squad in Mexico and is trying to lend behind-the-scenes help to Maradona, who is banned from all football-related activities for two months for his foul-mouthed tirade after a qualifying match.

“Greece is a former European champion,” Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain said, speaking from his Real Madrid club headquarters in Spain. “We won’t expect an easy opening round.”

The consensus on the streets in Buenos Aires was that if the Gauchos play up to their potential, Argentina should advance to the 16-team knockout stage.

“If we play halfway decent, we can do it,” said 27-year-old Fernando Rinamado. “From what I can remember, the other teams in the group aren’t that great.”

Added Rodrigo Suarez, a 23-year-old salesman: “It depends how we play. If we play like we should, we win. If we keep playing like we have, they will be three difficult games.”

Five-time champion Brazil, Argentina’s biggest rival, received a tougher draw in Group G, facing Portugal, Ivory Coast and North Korea.