ALEXANDRIA, Egypt: Diego Maradona s struggle to get Argentina to next year s World Cup and the failure of the nation s under-20 team to reach its version could signal a crisis in Argentine football, according to FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
Argentina won the past two Under-20 World Cups, and three of the last four, by playing attractive football and producing stars like Lionel Messi, Javier Saviola and Sergio Aguero. But it has failed to reach this year s tournament in Egypt.
Maradona s team, meanwhile, is also is in danger of missing out on the World Cup in South Africa.
When they played the qualification in South America, they were not up to qualify among the four best teams. That s the case, Blatter said Thursday of the under-20 team. They are also struggling a lot to be in South Africa next year. Perhaps it s an indication that this so-called dominating nation in youth football, and also in senior football, is a little bit in a crisis.
The top four teams in South American qualifying go to the 2010 World Cup, and the fifth-place team – currently Argentina – enters a playoff with the fourth-place team from North, Central America and Caribbean qualifying.
Brazil and Paraguay have already qualified, but Argentina is behind Chile and Ecuador with two rounds remaining. This raises the possibility that football s showpiece event could be held without Messi, one of the world s best players.
Argentina s fate will be decided at home to Peru and then away to Uruguay next month.
Blatter was speaking ahead of the opening match of the Under-20 World Cup between host Egypt and Trinidad and Tobago, and he took the opportunity to take a swipe at the countries who left their best young talent at home.
This tournament has a history of affording a first glimpse at future stars, with the likes of Maradona, Kaka, Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos, Thierry Henry, Xavi Hernandez, Michael Owen and Michael Essien all making a name for themselves.
But Italy is competing without 18-year-old Inter Milan defender Davide Santon and 19-year-old Inter striker Mario Balotelli, Spain does not have Barca striker Bojan Krcic and England is missing Manchester United forward Danny Welbeck and promising young Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere.
I think it is not correct from the big teams in the world of football to not let the young players play, even if it is not compulsory, Blatter said. It is not correct. These players, with one or two exceptions, are not in the lineup of their first team. The experience they can get (playing in Egypt) is bigger than sitting on a bench at home.
A full house of 80,000 watched the opening match at Egyptian Army Stadium on the outskirts of Alexandria, where Blatter was joined by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
I am proud to see such a wonderful stadium, the enthusiasm of the people coming to the stadium, the enthusiasm in the whole country, Blatter said. Football is the No. 1 sport in this country, and I am sure this will be an incentive to the national team.
With the under-17 s event coming up in Nigeria, Blatter backed organizers in Egypt to put Africa off to a good start in the build up to the 2010 World Cup.
The Under-20 Word Cup is the No. 2 of the FIFA competitions, these are the stars of tomorrow, Blatter said. This is a high-level technical competition and a high level of organization. I m sure Egypt will do it.