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.''