Maradona dangles semi-final carrot

Diego Maradona, cheering from the stands, later visited Argentina's changing room and told the players that the country is behind them.
Diego Maradona, cheering from the stands, later visited Argentina's changing room and told the players that the country is behind them. PHOTO: REUTERS

LEICESTER (Britain) • Diego Maradona has set the bar high for Argentina at the Rugby World Cup after watching a 45-16 Pool C victory over Tonga that puts them within sight of the quarter-finals.

The Argentinian football great went to the changing room after the match at the home of English Premier League side Leicester City to congratulate the Pumas and tell them that all of Argentina is following their progress.

"He told us that if we get to the semi-finals, he will come (to see us again)," grinning Argentina captain Agustin Creevy said.

The team need only avoid defeat against Namibia on Sunday to make sure of their quarter-final place.

The Pumas are second in Pool C, four points behind leaders and reigning world champions New Zealand, who have qualified.

Tries by Joaquin Tuculet, Juan Imhoff, Nicolas Sanchez, Julian Montoya and Santiago Cordero - often with brilliant darting runs - sealed Sunday's result to Maradona's joy.

He leapt to his feet with each score, arms flailing and embracing other spectators as the points mounted and Argentina sealed a bonus-point win.

"He took the number nine, 10 and two (Pumas) jerseys and gave us one of his. He told us that all of Argentina was dreaming with us, which is why he was here, why he wanted to be here.

"I never imagined he'd come to see us. For me, he has always been the best of all; it was a very nice surprise," added Creevy of the 54-year-old legend.

The jersey No. 10, worn by Maradona during his brilliant career with Boca Juniors, Barcelona, Napoli and Argentina, was also worn with distinction on Sunday, as fly-half Sanchez turned in a Man-of-the-Match performance.

The playmaker scored a try and kicked 20 points to take his top scorer's tally for the tournament to 51, six more than Japan full-back Ayumu Goromaru.

"Nico has a good foot, plays a good game," coach Daniel Hourcade said.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2015, with the headline 'Maradona dangles semi-final carrot'. Print Edition | Subscribe