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Maradona's World Cup quest begins another chapter

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Diego Maradona

Though they don't take the field or even kick a ball, the coach is an important part of a football team. Strategies, counter-strategies, team formations, game plans and mostly everything concerned with a game rests solely in the hands of the coaches. takes a look at the men in charge of the 32 teams at the 2010 football World Cup, beginning in South Africa, on Friday.

Diego Maradona's World Cup career has been marked above all else by Argentina's 1986 victory in Mexico and his expulsion for doping from the 1994 finals in the United States.

In between, there were tears of frustration and despair in Rome after Argentina's defeat in the 1990 final.

Maradona has pursued the World Cup since he told an interviewer as a 10-year-old that it was his dream to win the trophy.

He goes to South Africa with that goal in mind once again, hoping to emulate Germany's Franz Beckenbauer by winning the trophy as coach having done so as captain.

It is remarkable to see the sprightly 49-year-old, keen to get on with the job and impervious to criticism of his selection choices and tactics, compared with the bloated beast who almost died of heart failure due to drug abuse six years ago.

Maradona is the arch survivor who also believes he is the man for the job, saying: "I know how to win the World Cup."

No one doubts his experience as a player but few have faith in his ability, with minimal coaching experience, to get a talented squad of players to act as a coherent unit, something that was lacking during the qualifiers.

He is criticised for believing that winning the World Cup is all about spirit. "You have to put all your heart (in it), you've got to give your life," he said on a recent television chat show.

When Maradona was appointed to succeed the ageing Alfio Basile, who quit, in late 2008, many Argentines believed, once the shock of the decision had passed, that he had the charisma to imbue his team with a winning spirit.

Argentine Football Association president Julio Grondona also named the 1986 World Cup-winning coach Carlos Bilardo as technical director of national teams in a move seen as giving the inexperienced Maradona coaching back-up.

However, the proud Maradona likes to do things his way and has not wanted to take advice or help from Bilardo, preferring as he has done all his life to surround himself with yes-men.

Argentina could go all the way, or a well-drilled team with the right tactics could dump Maradona's side out early on.

Maradona's reaction to such an outcome is anybody's guess but he has the safety net of having signed up until next year's Copa America, the South American championship, in Argentina.

Photographs: Reuters


Italian Capello leads England's renaissance

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Fabio Capello

England's transformation in just over two years from a side going nowhere to one counted among the World Cup favourites is largely down to Fabio Capello.

The 63-year-old Italian art lover and opera fan has overseen a renaissance in the national side, restoring a sense of pride, discipline and self-belief that has been lacking for too long.

Capello was appointed after England's failure to qualify for Euro 2008, the lowest point in their fortunes since their absence from the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

From the first day he met the players, they knew the easy affability of the Steve McClaren era was over.

Capello did not refer to his players as "JT" (John Terry) or "Becks" (David Beckham) in news conferences and his message was crystal clear: "We need to improve, the players know it, I know it...and we will."

Capello was one of Europe's most successful coaches, winning four Italian titles with AC Milan, one with AS Roma and two with Juventus, plus two Spanish titles with Real Madrid. He also won the Champions League with Milan in 1994.

He had been successful as a player, winning four titles with Milan and Juventus and playing 32 times for Italy, and he has brought that winning mentality to England, paying as much attention to off-field details as to what happens on the pitch.

"Respect is everything," he told reporters. "And attention to detail is everything too. We can leave nothing to chance."

While on England duty, the players eat together, arriving and departing at the same time. Mobile phones are banned and casual clothes have been replaced by team blazers.

Although the nucleus of the squad is much the same as it was when he took over, he has got England to play as a tighter unit when they are without the ball, closing down the opposition quicker and defending in greater depth.

As a consequence results have improved. Nine wins out of 10 qualifiers prove that, and they included 4-1 and 5-1 defeats of Croatia who ended McClaren's reign with a 3-2 win at Wembley.

In hindsight, that defeat could be regarded as a blessing in disguise for, without it, McClaren would probably have stayed. Without Capello, England's chances of success in South Africa would be far lower than they are.

Domenech has everything to prove

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Raymond Domenech

Raymond Domenech is the first coach to have qualified France for three successive major tournaments and is about to match Michel Hidalgo's record of 75 games in charge -- but his legacy is yet to be written.

The stubborn 58-year-old, who was surprisingly left in charge after his side's Euro 2008 flop and has done nothing since to make fans warm to him, will join Hidalgo in the record books with a World Cup warm-up against Tunisia on Sunday.

The man with the bushy eyebrows and dry humour has a long way to go to become as popular as Hidalgo, who guided France to the 1984 European championship title, or 1998 World Cup-winning coach Aime Jacquet.

"Records are there to be broken but it's an honour to catch up somebody like Michel Hidalgo, who's had such a great run for France," Domenech told reporters at France's training camp in Tunisia on Saturday.

"Normally, such a record is a sign for stability but maybe I'm an exception," added the coach, who has been under fire for years and has been booed by France fans in recent, uninspired outings from the former world and European champions.

Domenech, often criticised in France for never having won anything as a coach, has very little time to polish his image as he will be replaced after the World Cup by former France defender Laurent Blanc.

He has a few trump cards, however, and is not under that much pressure with many fans and media predicting an early exit after France needed a controversial playoff win over Ireland to qualify for the June 11-July 11 finals in South Africa.

A ray of hope returned when Domenech named his 23-man squad, carefully leaving out Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri, who were among those blamed for creating a rift between the youngsters and the more experienced players at Euro 2008.

The atmosphere in the team, so miserable in 2008, is spectacularly better this time and the coach has even allowed himself to make a few bold moves.

Leaving captain Thierry Henry out of his starting line-up in a 2-1 warm-up win over Costa Rica on Wednesday and opting for a 4-3-3 formation instead of his preferred, more defensive 4-2-3-1 system were two indications Domenech is in the mood for experiments.

"I don't see any first-choice players or substitutes," Domenech said of his decision to leave Henry, who has had a difficult season with Barcelona, on the bench.

"We're a group. Everybody must remain under pressure and available to help," he added.

It will take more than all this for France to repeat their run to the 2006 World Cup final, Domenech's greatest feat to this day, but there are at least positive signs.

Dunga makes no concessions to the Beautiful Game

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST

Brazil and the Beautiful Games are often spoken of in the same breath but, in the eyes of coach Dunga, nothing matters but the result.

The man who once described Brazil's widely acclaimed but ultimately unsuccessful 1982 World Cup team as "specialists in losing" has little time for the finer arts of the game with which the five-times champions are associated.

In just under four years at the helm, Dunga has turned Brazil into a brutally efficient outfit with a nearly impenetrable defence who score most of their goals from set pieces and counter-attacks.

The team reflects his own personality: hard-working, down-to-earth and with no time for niceties.

"If we're going to start up that debate again over playing pretty football, we'll probably go another 24 years without winning (the World Cup) which is what the others want," he said during the 2007 Copa America.

"The Europeans will be having a party and we will end up suffering."

Dunga, who snarled his way through three World Cups as a player and captained the 1994 team which won Brazil's fourth title, took over following Brazil's quarter-final exit in 2006.

His brief was to instil discipline into a team after perceived vanity and lack of commitment were blamed for the failure in Germany.

He quickly clamped down on players giving live television interviews when they should be training and ended the practice of celebrities descending unannounced on the team camp by helicopter to have their photographs taken with the team.

Yet he was pragmatic, taking no action against Kaka after the playmaker announced that he would skip the 2007 Copa America in Venezuela and have a rest instead.

He rarely has a kind word to say about opponents or referees and during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing -- he also coached the under-23 team -- repeatedly griped about the food, training arrangements, pitch and even the number of volunteers.

Dunga comes from the south of Brazil where the people are known for their straight-talking, hard-working mentality, and his team knuckled down to win the Copa America, despite Kaka's absence, with a 3-0 demolition of Argentina in the final.

It could have been different had Brazil not beaten Uruguay on penalties in the semi-final. Dunga also wobbled in 2008 when his Olympic adventure ended in a 3-0 semi-final defeat by Argentina.

But a typically ruthless 3-0 win in Chile in Brazil's following World Cup qualifier quickly put him back in command. They went on to qualify with three matches to spare and also found time to win last year's Confederations Cup.

Dunga professes not to care what people think of his methods. "We've created a winning philosophy in the Brazilian team," he told reporters this month. "I ask the Brazilian fans to support us. It doesn't matter if they don't like me, but I ask them to support the team and be patriotic."

Modest Del Bosque leads Spain to new heights

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Vicente del Bosque

Vicente del Bosque promised continuity when he succeeded Luis Aragones as Spain coach after the triumph of Euro 2008 and the mild-mannered 59-year-old has more than delivered on that pledge in terms of results.

Under Del Bosque, the European champions have swept to 22 wins in 23 matches, including a perfect 10 victories in World Cup qualifiers.

While Aragones favoured a brash management style and tried to provoke his players to inspire them, Del Bosque is more of a father figure, coaxing the best out of his talented squad.

The only blot on the 59-year-old's record is a 2-0 defeat by the United States at last year's Confederations Cup but few would bet against the European champions making a run to the last four, or further, in South Africa.

"He has known how to prudently manage the legacy of his predecessor," Spanish soccer magazine Don Balon wrote of the former Real Madrid player and coach in September.

"Honesty, discipline, a strong work ethic and serenity" are rated his strengths by Marca. Del Bosque learned an important lesson from his railway worker father, the sports daily said: "Modesty in both victory and defeat".

A Real Madrid man through and through, Del Bosque has not let allegiance to his former club, whom he coached to two Champions League and two league titles, colour his attitude to the national side.

He has proved equally capable of getting the best from Real players such as captain Iker Casillas and right back Sergio Ramos as from key squad members like Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Carles Puyol, who play for Real's arch rivals Barcelona.


Loew may go out on a high

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Joachim Loew

Joachim Loew is the opposite of his predecessor and former boss, Juergen Klinsmann.

Less flamboyant and less spontaneous than the former striker and World Cup winner, Loew spent most of his playing career in the second division.

As coach he won the German Cup with VfB Stuttgart and an Austrian championship with FC Tirol before joining the Germany set-up in mid-2004 as assistant coach, a surprise choice by Klinsmann.

After Klinsmann's departure following the World Cup, Loew took Germany to the Euro 2008 final, where they lost to Spain, and a contract extension appeared a formality when he steered Germany comfortably through World Cup qualification last year.

German soccer federation chief Theo Zwanziger even announced a handshake had sealed a new deal with the coach. Loew then surprised officials only two months later by denying a new contract had been verbally agreed.

Any contract talks have now been postponed until after the World Cup, with the 50-year-old now looking more likely to leave the team after being linked to several Bundesliga clubs.

A shrewd tactician, at times obsessed with statistics, Loew keeps his cards close to his chest and appears sometimes not even to let his players know his plans. His spell as Germany coach has not always been smooth.

His public rows with now-injured captain Michael Ballack and Torsten Frings in 2008 after the Euro final kept both players out of the side, and Frings has never managed to work his way back into Loew's favour.

Loew also banned Schalke 04's top scorer Kevin Kuranyi for storming out of the team after being left out of a World Cup qualifier in October 2008.

Loew has stuck to his guns over the in-form striker which could rebound on him if Germany fail to score goals in South Africa.

Lippi struggles to find right blend

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Marcello Lippi

Italy coach Marcello Lippi has lost some of the kudos which followed his 2006 triumph, with critics saying he is relying too heavily on older players for this World Cup.

Lippi was hailed as a national hero after beating the odds and leading the Azzurri to glory four years ago but, after stepping down and then reassuming control in 2008, his popularity has taken a hit.

World Cup winners such as Fabio Cannavaro and Mauro Camoranesi have stayed central to his plans despite being out of form and the wrong side of 30 while only a few young players have been given their chance, some for just a friendly.

However, the 62-year-old coach, who has said he made a mistake in resigning in 2006, makes no apologies for his choices.

"Others say we are not in form but let's wait for the competition," Lippi said recently.

Lippi's future after the World Cup is under the microscope and he has appeared at odds with Italian federation president Giancarlo Abete.

The president wants to know before the World Cup who will be the coach afterwards but Lippi prefers to wait to see how his side progress and how he feels after South Africa.

Recent talks suggest Abete has got his way and media have speculated that Lippi will announce before the June 11-July 11 tournament that he will step down when Italy's campaign ends.

The confusion over his future, a lacklustre if unbeaten qualification campaign and uncertainty over his preferred starting 11 mean he is not the darling of the fans that he used to be.

However, all that could change if his strong will, technical acumen and expert man-management skills help Italy to prosper.

Eriksson has the ammunition to silence detractors

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Sven-Goran Eriksson

Sven-Goran Eriksson brought all too much colour to his tenures with England and Mexico; now the affable Swede has the chance as coach of the Ivory Coast to show there is much more to him than mere newspaper gossip fodder.

Lampooned at the end of his spell as England coach, decried in Latin America for not recognising the idiosyncrasies of Mexican football, Eriksson has all the raw materials in the current crop of Ivorians to prove his detractors wrong.

His shock appointment as coach of the Ivory Coast came just three months before the start of the tournament in South Africa and represents an emergency stop-gap for the Ivorian federation and an unexpected bonus for the Swede.

Eriksson, 62, coached England at the last two World Cup finals, but was unable to fulfil the potential of the team or satisfy the unquenchable expectations of the British press.

The Ivory Coast job is a sharp contrast to his England assignments with Eriksson needed to galvanise a disparate group but, with only weeks to do the job, having little real pressure to succeed in the mission.

His agreement to take the job came weeks after he departed a controversy-clouded post at Notts County, where he had been embroiled in an improbable, and opaquely financed, project to lift the League Two club to Premier League status in as short a time as possible.

Eriksson's reputation had already been bruised by tenures at both Manchester City and Mexico, his two other jobs since departing England after the last World Cup.

He spent a single season at City and was fired by the Mexicans after nine months, having made a dreadful start to their 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign.

Eriksson was a stunning appointment as England's manager in 2001, the first foreigner given one of world football's most prestigious posts.

As such, he was a constant target and fed his detractors with several off-field indiscretions, including affairs with a television celebrity and a secretary at the Football Association.

England was Eriksson's first national team appointment but he had worked at top clubs in Italy and Portugal for decades before that.

His successes included a European Cup Winners' Cup with Lazio in 1999 and the Serie A title the year after. He was also Portuguese champion with Benfica.

Rehhagel is World Cup rookie at 71

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Otto Rehhagel

His Greek experience is one of those feel-good stories that are made into blockbuster movies.

Otto Rehhagel's term as coach of Greece has brought both him and the team more success than anyone could possibly have imagined, raising him to the status of national hero.

Rehhagel guided Greece to one of the sport's biggest upsets when the rank outsiders won the 2004 European Championship, and he has now steered the national team to more major tournaments than all of his predecessors combined.

Yet, with his contract up after the tournament, it looks highly unlikely that the 71-year-old German will stay on after his World Cup debut.

In his nine years in charge he has nurtured a new generation of players who share his thirst for success instead of resting on their domestic laurels as previous generations had done.

Rehhagel had enjoyed considerable club success with Werder Bremen, Bayern Munich and Kaiserslautern before taking over Greece in 2001.

Against all the odds they won Euro 2004 but then failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup.

A dismal defence of their Euro title in 2008 led to their exit in the group stage and critics dismissed Rehhagel's coaching style as outdated and called for him to resign.

The former tough-tackling Bundesliga defender defied his critics and stayed on to see Greece qualify for their second World Cup.

"I am not thinking about my first time at the World Cup," Rehhagel said after his team qualified by beating Ukraine in the playoffs. "This is not an issue for me, not in my mind."

However, after almost 40 years in the coaching business, Rehhagel could be excused for cracking a big smile on June 12 when he enters Nelson Mandela Bay stadium for Greece's first Group B match against South Korea.

Professor Queiroz wants to improve Portugal's grade

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Carlos Queiroz

Having already won two World Youth Cup winners' medals, Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz hopes to apply the lessons he learned to the big boys' tournament.

Known as "The Professor" for his past as a university sports lecturer, Queiroz led Portugal's under-20s to success in 1989 and 1991, and is now in his second spell as coach of Portugal's national side.

"I've won (the World Cup) at another level...I've had the taste of success and I've been waiting for years for more," he told reporters. The under-20 side he coached included Luis Figo and Rui Costa.

The 57-year-old will want to make amends for his failure to qualify for the 1994 finals with Portugal, and for his disappointment in 2002 when he guided South Africa to a berth in the finals in Asia before being sacked months before they began.

Mozambique-born Queiroz, who speaks five languages, has also had stints in the United States, the Gulf and Japan but his most recent highs and lows came at two of Europe's top clubs.

Two successful spells as Alex Ferguson's assistant at Manchester United came either side of another setback as head coach in a miserable season at Real Madrid.

At United, Queiroz was praised for his scouting and guidance of young talents such as compatriots Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani, and his tactical knowledge and innovative coaching methods.

"I think it was one of my best ever decisions, bringing him to the club," Ferguson said when Queiroz left for Spain.

Queiroz's second stint for Portugal started in July 2008 and has not been smooth sailing. His side had to produce a late surge to qualify for the World Cup and this, coupled with his combative personality, has resulted in a tense relationship with the media and Portuguese fans.

Calm Van Marwijk maintains the Dutch status quo

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Bert van Marwijk

From a modest start, as player and coach, Bert van Marwijk built success with Feyenoord before taking over the Netherlands team after they failed to go beyond the quarter-finals of Euro 2008.

A calm, conservative figure, the 58-year-old Van Marwijk has kept faith with experienced players and with the formation and tactics that his predecessor, Marco van Basten, drew up.

Van Marwijk was a conventional winger during his 19-year playing career and won only one international cap, in 1975.

After seven years of coaching amateur teams, Van Marwijk joined top-flight Fortuna Sittard, taking them to the 1999 Dutch Cup final where they lost to Ajax Amsterdam.

His greatest successes came with Feyenoord and he led the side to the UEFA Cup trophy in 2002 before taking the Dutch Cup on his return to Rotterdam after a two-year stint with Borussia Dortmund in Germany.

When he took over the national side, Van Marwijk asked former internationals Frank de Boer and Phillip Cocu, who between them have more than 200 caps, to assist him.

He has kept on players who have served their country well in the past, such as defenders Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Andre Ooijer, despite their modest recent performances in the league.

Van Marwijk, whose contract has already been extended until mid-2012, steered the Netherlands smoothly through qualifying with eight wins out of eight, though a group containing Macedonia, Scotland, Iceland and Norway provided little chance to see his players fully tested.

Regarded as approachable by his players, Van Marwijk should be able to boast a good relationship with influential midfielder Mark van Bommel as the player is married to his daughter, Andra.

Coach Huh proves the critics wrong

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Huh Jung-moo

After two World Cups under the guidance of Dutch coaches, South Korea go to South Africa under the leadership of one of their own -- Huh Jung-moo.

In his second spell as national team head coach, many believed Huh's appointment reflected a lack of vision on the part of the Korea Football Association (KFA) and would set the side back years in terms of tactics and team culture.

However, Huh has confounded his critics by embracing the youth and dynamism currently found in South Korean soccer and the superb form of his Europe-based players has given the side an attacking edge they have lacked for years.

The South Koreans flourished under Dutch coaches Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat but Huh has won over his sceptics by leading the team through qualifying with an unbeaten record.

The 2010 World Cup finals will be an opportunity for Huh to reacquaint himself with Argentina coach Diego Maradona.

Huh was assigned to mark Maradona during the 1986 finals in Mexico, a bruising encounter the Argentine recalls none too fondly.

"I remember Huh very well, of course," Maradona said. "In 1986 the Koreans played taekwondo, not football, against us."

Huh scored a goal against Italy at the 1986 finals and went to the following two editions of the World Cup, first as the team's fitness trainer and then as assistant coach.

Nomad Parreira hopes to make South Africa proud

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Carlos Alberto Parreira

South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira can proudly boast of being the most experienced World Cup campaigner ever.

Parreira, who will be making his sixth visit to the World Cup as a coach, started four decades ago as a 27-year-old when he was the physical trainer for his native Brazil at the 1970 finals in Mexico.

He went on to win the World Cup with Brazil in 1994 and reach the quarter-finals with the side in Germany four years ago.

He was at the helm of Kuwait in 1982 and was coach of the United Arab Emirates in 1990, and of Saudi Arabia, who fired him after two matches of the 1998 tournament.

South Africa is the fifth country he has led to the finals, which means he equals the record held by Serbian Bora Milutinovic.

Parreira, now 67, has said that South Africa is the last job in a nomadic career that began in Africa 42 years ago. His first job, in 1968, was in Ghana where he was sent to teach Brazilian football philosophy and quickly found himself acting as coach to the country's national team and top club in leading African competitions.

He has since worked across the Middle East, Spain, Turkey, the United States and at top Brazilian clubs such as Flamengo, Fluminense and Corinthians.

Parreira was first signed by South Africa in 2006 but quit after 18 months when his wife fell ill. He returned last November after the man he had recommended to succeed him, Joel Santana, was fired following a run of poor results.

The chance to coach the home team at another World Cup was ample motivation to return, said Parreira, who has taken his team on training camps in Brazil and Germany this year.

"Every time I walk the street, or I go to the shops, or even out for dinner, people are saying to me: 'Coach make us proud'. This is very strong for me; this is very meaningful," he said.

Aguirre eager to begin second World Cup challenge

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Javier Aguirre

Javier Aguirre, twice Mexico's saviour during qualifying campaigns, is itching to lead the 'Tricolor' in his second World Cup as their coach.

Aguirre arrived in the nick of time in April 2009 to resuscitate Mexico's stumbling campaign after Swede Sven-Goran Eriksson had left the team's participation in South Africa at risk following their loss to Honduras.

Now the 51-year-old, nicknamed 'The Basque', wants to take Mexico to the quarter-finals for only the second time since 1986.

"At the last four World Cups we've been on the cusp of the quarter-finals and reaching the last eight has now become more of an obsession than a goal," Aguirre told a Spanish magazine recently.

"I have the best ever young generation of footballers, they won the under-17 World Cup. Add that to our experienced players and I feel this team is ready to make history," he added at a news conference.

Mexico have appeared at 13 World Cups and they will open the first to be played on African soil on June 11 against hosts South Africa in Group A, which also includes Uruguay and France.

Aguirre, a charismatic coach and the son of Spanish immigrants, started in management at the 1994 World Cup in the United States where he was assistant to Mexico coach Miguel Mejia Baron.

He moved on to Mexican clubs Atlante and Pachuca before his first stint as the national team's coach where he averted another qualifying catastrophe to take the side to the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, an experience which ended in the first knockout round after a loss to the United States.

Aguirre's next stop was Spain, where he spent several years at Spanish clubs Osasuna and Atletico Madrid, helping the latter to qualify in 2008 for the Champions League.

His playing days took him to Mexican clubs America, Guadalajara and Atlante and the 1986 World Cup in his country.

New experience for old hand Lagerback

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Lars Lagerback

Lars Lagerback beat off competition from Glenn Hoddle to win the nod as Nigeria's hastily appointed coach for the World Cup in South Africa.

Parachuted in after Nigeria fired his predecessor Shaibu Amodu in early February, Lagerback will be coaching at his third successive World Cup, but in circumstances far removed from his previous two assignments.

His Scandinavian sensibilities are sure to be tested in the hurly burly of the animated Nigerian camp. Already since he took charge there has been a mini crisis over where the team would be based for the finals and he has had a government commission poring over the preparations.

It is the first overseas job for Lagerback, who came through the ranks of the Swedish football association, coaching first the junior teams and then the national B side.

Former Sweden coach Tommy Soderberg took him on as his assistant at the national team in 1998 and the pair began a joint coaching arrangement the following year.

After a miserable Euro 2000, where Sweden failed to survive the group stage, they qualified for the 2002 World Cup in Asia.

In Japan, Sweden topped a group featuring England, Nigeria and Argentina, only to exit in the second round after losing to upstarts Senegal on a golden goal.

The pattern repeated itself two years later at the European Championship in Portugal where Sweden again headed a tough group, which included Italy, then went out on penalties in the quarter-finals against the Netherlands.

Soderberg stepped down from the dual role to take over the under-21 side, leaving Lagerback to successfully take Sweden into the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany, where they again made the knockout round but got beaten by the hosts.

That was followed by qualification for Euro 2008 but elimination in the group phase.

When Sweden failed to reach this year's World Cup finals, Lagerback resigned, leaving him free to take up a five-month contract with Nigeria.

Though he was given only weeks to get to know his new squad, the 61-year-old Lagerback is confident, saying last month: "In three weeks you can do a lot."

Tabarez is the Master of Uruguay's new dreams

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Oscar Washington Tabarez

Twenty years after steering Uruguay into the second round in Italy, coach Oscar Washington Tabarez is going to his second World Cup finals.

With that experience under his belt, and a promising team, the former schoolteacher and avid student of the game who has earned the nickname "Maestro" hopes to take Uruguay further in South Africa.

The reserved 63-year-old returned to the helm of the national team four years ago after a roller-coaster career as a club coach in Uruguay, Colombia, Italy, Spain and Argentina.

It will be no easy task for Tabarez to give the country that won the 1930 and 1950 World Cups back the prestige they enjoyed many decades ago.

After an erratic qualifying campaign in which Uruguay slipped in by the back door with a playoff win against Costa Rica, the team face hosts South Africa, France and Mexico in Group A which Tabarez sees as the most even of the finals.

He dreams of going far, as he did when he began a coaching course in Uruguay looking for extra income.

"One day in 1979 I said: 'I'm not playing football any more' and my wife asked me: 'What are we going to live on?'," Tabarez recounted last year on a television programme.

"So I did the coaching course with the aim of getting a second salary...In 1980 I didn't have money to go the stadium (to watch matches)."

His unremarkable playing career as a defender having ended, he was making ends meet as a teacher, a parallel career for 15 years until 1985.

After several years at the helm of small club sides and the Uruguay under-20 team, Tabarez tasted glory steering Montevideo giants Penarol to victory in the South American Libertadores Cup in 1987.

His first Uruguay side, including brilliant midfielder Enzo Francescoli, reached the World Cup second round in 1990 but were eliminated by hosts Italy.

Tabarez also enjoyed success with Boca Juniors in Argentina and good work at Cagliari earned him the chance to coach AC Milan, but it was a short, unhappy spell.

Having enjoyed four uninterrupted years coaching Uruguay, Tabarez hopes to cause a surprise in South Africa.

Kek contract proves masterstroke by Slovenia

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Matjaz Kek

After Slovenia's failure to reach Euro 2004 or the 2006 World Cup, Matjaz Kek was appointed during the equally unsuccessful Euro 2008 qualifying campaign.

Taking over from Branko Oblak, Kek used the qualifiers to inject fresh blood into a side that was past its peak.

Slovenia finished sixth in a group of seven, behind Belarus and Albania, but Kek held on to his job and this decision by the Slovenian Football Association proved to be a masterstroke.

Kek restored the kind of discipline and hard work that had led Slovenia to Euro 2000 and the 2002 World Cup. They finished second in their 2010 World Cup qualifying group ahead of the more fancied Czechs and Poland.

Slovakia, the group's other surprise package, were automatic qualifiers and the Slovenians were given little chance of getting past Russia in their playoff.

Zlatko Dedic, recalled to the team by Kek in 2007 after being dropped by Oblak three years earlier, scored the goal which gave Slovenia a shock victory on away goals.

Kek was never a household name in his playing days but the former centre back won three league titles in his last four seasons with Maribor before retiring in 1999.

Kek had started at Maribor in 1979 while Slovenia was still a part of the former Yugoslavia. In 1985 he moved to Austria where he spent a decade with Spittau and GAK Graz.

Now 48, he was an assistant coach in Maribor before he was named manager in 2000, winning the league title in his first season in charge. In 2003, Kek was named manager of Slovenia's under-15 and under-16 sides.

Rajevac continues Serbian influence in Ghana

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Milovan Rajevac

Milovan Rajevac has made a rapid ascent from the obscurity of the Serbian provinces to lining up among the 32 coaches at the World Cup.

His success in leading two unfashionable clubs into the UEFA Cup earned him a glowing reputation in his home country and a recommendation to Ghana when they sought a new coach two years ago.

The 56-year-old also benefited from the success of the last man to take Ghana to the World Cup, compatriot Ratomir Dujkovic. Ghana football leaders sought another Serbian for the 2010 qualifying campaign, hoping to emulate the success they had in reaching the 2006 tournament in Germany.

"I have to thank Dujkovic because the Ghanaians were specifically looking for a Serbian coach," said Rajevac in a recent interview.

As a player, Rajevac reached the UEFA Cup final with Red Star Belgrade in 1979. He started as a coach at his home club FC Borak in 1989, and went on to spells in Sweden, Germany and China.

In 2004 he was assistant to World Cup veteran Bora Milutinovic at Al Saad in Qatar before taking over at Novi Sad club Vojvodina.

He led both Borak and Vojvodina into the UEFA Cup competition and when the latter finished an unexpected third in the Serbia Super League in 2007, Rajevac's contemporaries and the sporting press in the country named him best coach.

There was much scepticism in Ghana when he took over in late 2008 as he was far less known than his predecessor.

Rajevac, who described the job as "an adventure", got off to a winning start, leading Ghana through a surprisingly one-sided qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup preliminaries.

Ghana were the first of the African sides to come through the qualifiers and Rajevac's reward is to face his Serbian homeland in Group D, along with Germany and Australia.

His reputation was greatly enhanced when Ghana, with a side weakened by injury to several key players, finished runners-up to Egypt at January's African Nations Cup finals in Angola.

Antic has seen it all on rollercoaster ride

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Radomir Antic

Although a relative novice at international management, Serbia coach Radomir Antic has pretty much seen it all in a colourful 22 years of mixed fortunes on soccer's touchline.

He has tasted the highs and lows in Spain's La Liga and is the only coach who has been in charge of three of the country's giant clubs in Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.

The former Partizan Belgrade defender, who also had spells with Fenerbahce, Real Zaragoza and Luton Town as a player, got his first job as a manager in Zaragoza in 1988 and qualified for the former UEFA Cup after finishing fifth in his second season with the club.

He was rewarded with a move to Real Madrid in 1991 and having steered them to third place from mid-table in the league, he got off to the brightest possible start the following season.

But he was sacked in 1992 with Real seven points clear at the top of the league to make way for Dutchman Leo Beenhakker, who lost the title to Barcelona on the last day of the season.

Antic exceeded expectations with a modest squad to choose from during the subsequent three-year stint at Oviedo, followed by the highlight of his career as manager when he won the Spanish league and cup double with Atletico Madrid in 1996.

That success was followed by two far more difficult stints at Atletico in 1999 and 2000, the latter ending in complete acrimony for Antic after the club were relegated with one match remaining and he was sacked before the final game of the season.

Antic had an equally difficult time in his second spell at Oviedo, with the club relegated from the top flight in 2001 before he rescued one of Barcelona's most embarrassing seasons in 2003, guiding them to a UEFA Cup spot after taking over when the Catalans were languishing in 15th place in the league.

Having enhanced his reputation as a crisis management coach with his success at Barcelona, Antic took over Celta Vigo in 2004 but failed to save them from relegation and resigned after winning only seven points in nine games with the club.

Antic was in the wilderness for four years after the Celta fiasco before he took over Serbia in August 2008, after the team's failure to qualify for the Euro 2008 finals under Spaniard Javier Clemente was followed by a brief unsuccessful spell under Miroslav Djukic.

Antic's iron-fisted approach quickly paid dividends as he restored flagging discipline in the squad and steered Serbia to their first major tournament as an independent nation, having finished ahead of 2006 finalists France in Europe's qualifying Group Seven.

The 61-year-old Antic, who enjoys holidaying at Mount Zlatibor near his hometown Uzice in central Serbia, won the players' respect and unanimous praise from the media for his ability to turn Serbia's fortunes.

Herbert masterminds New Zealand's return

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Ricki Herbert

Ricki Herbert's stoic and unemotional public facade slipped slightly after his New Zealand team reached the World Cup finals with victory over Bahrain in the Asia/Oceania qualifier last November.

The coach, engulfed in the pandemonium of 35,194 delirious fans shaking the foundations of Westpac Stadium, stood with both arms raised and joined them with a roar of exultation.

The outburst was merely an expression of the steely resolve, burning passion and desire which characterised Herbert's no-nonsense, nine-year, 61-cap international career as a central defender.

Herbert was a tough 21-year-old with permed hair during the All Whites' 1982 World Cup campaign, playing all 15 qualifiers and starting two matches at the finals in Spain.

On several occasions throughout his four-year campaign to get the All Whites back to the World Cup, he exhibited his inner steel, stating that the players needed to show real desire to play international soccer if they wanted to make his team.

Critics have suggested he is conservative and defensively minded, though he changed tactics and incorporated two wingbacks against Bahrain and he said he was willing to give the team the licence to attack at the World Cup.

"I think right throughout the side now we have developed and got quite a lot of depth there," Herbert told Reuters.

"We have the respect of the country. We have to give the players the best opportunity to win a game."

After a playing career that took him around New Zealand, to Sydney and to England with Wolverhampton Wanderers from 1984-86, Herbert moved into coaching a year after he retired in 1989.

He spent 10 years in the New Zealand domestic league before he was appointed coach of the under-23 side trying to qualify for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

He quickly moved into the national set-up as director of technical development and was made an assistant in 2003 before taking the top job in 2005.

Having experienced the marathon qualifying campaign as players, Herbert and fellow 1982 team member Brian Turner set about adopting a longer-term view, building a core squad which they try to bring together at every opportunity.

Herbert, also the coach of the A-League's Wellington Phoenix, said that strategic view had paid dividends.

"We have got a lot of depth there," he said. "You could say that 90-95 percent of this team would probably go through to another World Cup."

Okada's bold prediction piles pressure on Japan

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Takeshi Okada

Japan coach Takeshi Okada may have handed his employers a length of rope to hang him with by declaring that his target was a place in the World Cup semi-finals.

The 53-year-old has subsequently said South Africa will be his swansong as coach, relieving his paymasters of the task of tightening the noose should his bold prediction falter but the pressure remains on his players.

Okada's refusal to back-track on his semi-final goal has taken a toll on his players with the team's form suffering in the build-up to South Africa.

"South Korea did it (in 2002) so why can't we?" he snapped when asked by reporters if he was being serious with Japan drawn alongside the Netherlands, Cameroon and Denmark in Group E.

Okada's logic ignored the fact that the Koreans were far stronger in all departments and were coach by a tactical master in Dutchman Guus Hiddink.

Japan have never won a World Cup game on foreign soil and their best showing was a place in the last 16 as 2002 co-hosts with South Korea.

Okada guided Japan to their first World Cup appearance in 1998 but they lost all three of their games in France and took charge for a second time in December 2007.

The Blue Samurai have rarely impressed since Frenchman Philippe Troussier left after the 2002 World Cup and they exited the 2006 tournament with barely a whimper under Brazilian Zico.

Okada has done little to improve Japan's fortunes and his side have frequently been booed from the pitch after a string of abject performances this year.

Looking ill at ease dressed in Japan's "007"-style official World Cup suit, the bespectacled Okada made a formal apology for his side's 3-0 home defeat by Serbia on April 7.

Okada's teams have looked shaky defensively and he may sacrifice creativity in favour of a solid holding midfielder such as Junichi Inamoto.

Even if Okada errs on the side of caution, his side are likely to struggle to contain the likes of the Dutch and Cameroon and a place in the last 16 looks a formidable task.

Olsen is Mr Denmark after 10 years in charge

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Morten Olsen

The World Cup finals mark a decade at the helm for Denmark coach Morten Olsen and, regardless of what happens against the Netherlands, Cameroon and Japan, he is likely to be around for a few years yet.

Despite expressing a wish to return to club management, the 60-year-old signed an extension to his contract in January that means he will lead the qualification campaign for Euro 2012.

Having amassed more than 100 games as both a player and a coach, Olsen is one of the most respected figures in Danish football. It is a mark of the esteem in which he is held that he remains head coach despite Denmark not qualifying for the World Cup in 2006 and the 2008 European Championship.

Olsen enjoyed a successful career as a central midfielder and libero, and under his captaincy Denmark enjoyed an excellent run of qualification for major tournaments during the 1980s.

He went into management at Copenhagen club Brondby, where he won two Danish championships before moving to Cologne. From there he took over Ajax Amsterdam and led them to a league and cup double in the 1997/98 season.

His authority was undermined when brothers Frank and Ronald de Boer refused to train as they agitated for a move to Barcelona, and he was sacked in December 1998. He took over the Danish national team from Swede Bo Johansson in 2000, choosing Michael Laudrup as his assistant.

Olsen's Danish teams have been consistent without ever threatening to repeat the country's greatest success when they won the European Championship in 1992.

Home draws against group rivals Turkey and Ukraine put an end to Danish hopes of qualifying for Germany 2006, and the Danes were not helped by a drunken fan invading the pitch in a home qualifier for Euro 2008 against Sweden.

In the subsequent UEFA disciplinary hearing, the game was recorded as a 3-0 victory for the Swedes. Denmark eventually finished fourth behind Spain, Sweden and Northern Ireland.

The coach's teams have always played a technical passing game and again he will depend heavily on the experience of seasoned campaigners such as Jon Dahl Tomasson.

With young Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner and Liverpool defender Daniel Agger in the squad, a place in the second round should not be beyond Olsen's team.

No frills Verbeek has few friends on Cup debut

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Pim Verbeek

Few other national coaches have inspired so little enthusiasm after guiding their teams to the World Cup finals as Australia's Pim Verbeek.

Since taking over in 2008, the dour Dutchman has steered the Socceroos to 15 wins, eight draws and four losses.

The team won their World Cup qualifying group and also booked their tickets to the 2011 Asian Cup finals. Verbeek even sang the Australian national anthem live on television after their qualification for South Africa.

His reward? Scathing reviews from local fans for turning Australia into purveyors of 'ugly' results-driven football.

"Pim Verbeek has single-handedly lowered the quality of football played by our Socceroos, used players who shouldn't be allowed within 20 yards of the Green and Gold, and broken down Australia's sporting culture," wrote one commentator on local sports opinion website

The 54-year-old's drilling of Australia into one of the world's meanest defensive units led to seven clean sheets and a solitary goal in their final eight qualifiers.

The team also produced an average of 1.5 goals a game. The fear is that against quality opposition, the goals will dry up.

Australia miss retired forward Mark Viduka and Verbeek has failed to unearth a replacement for the burly goal-scorer, who was used by former coach Guus Hiddink as a sole striker.

Verbeek has offended Australian sensibilities by trashing the domestic league and giving blunt assessments of players' performances.

Cagey at press conferences, Verbeek heads to South Africa for his World Cup debut as head coach with little of the fanfare that "golden Guus" enjoyed in the lead-up to Germany in 2006.

He does, however, rely largely on the same squad, albeit four years older and with a raft of players nursing injuries.

He also carries a huge weight of expectation after Australia's surprise appearance in the knock-out round in Germany. Having fixed his next post as technical director for Morocco's youth squads, Verbeek has arranged a parachute if those expectations are dashed.

Hitzfeld hopes own success will rub off on Swiss

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Ottmar Hitzfeld

Ottmar Hitzfeld, one of Europe's most successful coaches at club level, may have to set his sights a little lower when he makes his debut on the World Cup stage.

The 61-year-old German won seven Bundesliga titles with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich and the Champions League once with each, becoming only one of two coaches to win Europe's top club trophy with two teams.

Switzerland, on the other hand, have never been beyond the quarter-finals at the World Cup, and that was back in 1954 when they hosted the tournament.

Yet the former maths teacher vehemently refutes the suggestion that his team are underdogs and hopes his personal success can rub off on them.

"I am still hungry, I still hate defeats, I still long for wins, there is no substitute for victories," he told Reuters in a recent interview. "The expectations in Switzerland for the 2010 World Cup are very, very high."

Hitzfeld has long had connections with Switzerland. He was born near Basel, on the German side of the border, and speaks the local Swiss dialect. He spent a considerable part of his playing career in the country and also began his coaching career there, back in 1983.

Perhaps not surprisingly for a maths teacher, Hitzfeld prepares for matches with geometric precision although he can also think on his feet and find a quick solution when things do not go according to his plans.

He does not tolerate indiscipline and during his early days at Bayern showed Mario Basler the door following a nocturnal escapade and also fined a number of top players for various misdemeanours.

However, he is not just a disciplinarian. His management of the players is generally considered excellent, so much so that former Daimler-Chrysler chief Juergen Schrempp once described him as a role model for German business leaders.

For all his success, Hitzfeld's career has been marked by two spectacular defeats -- the 2-1 loss to Manchester United in the 1999 Champions League final, when his team dominated the game but lost to two goals in the closing minutes, and a 2-1 World Cup qualifying defeat at home to Luxembourg.

Yet his team bounced back from the latter and won their next five qualifiers, scoring two goals in each.

Hitzfeld could not have planned it more meticulously.

Philosopher Bielsa is Chile's unlikely hero

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Marcelo Bielsa

Marcelo Bielsa has performed something close to a miracle by guiding Chile to the World Cup finals and Chilean fans have responded by holding candle-lit vigils in his honour.

Bielsa was just about the most despised man in Buenos Aires in 2002 when his Argentina side were dumped out of the World Cup in the first round. He quit two years later and disappeared from view, reportedly retiring to his farm to read books and watch his vast collection of soccer videos.

The 54-year-old, one of football's great eccentrics, re-emerged in 2007 to take the reins of a Chile team badly in need of renewal.

Chile had not qualified for a World Cup since 1998 and had performed poorly at the Copa America where they were hammered 6-1 by Brazil in their final match.

Bielsa has turned this young, unruly bunch of players into one of the most refreshing sides on the continent.

Chile finished second in the South American qualifying campaign, a point behind Brazil and -- to the delight of an entire nation -- five points ahead of Argentina.

All of which has turned Bielsa, known as "El Loco" (The Madman), into an unlikely Chilean hero. As well as the vigils, politicians have urged the government to grant him citizenship.

"We Argentines don't know anything about tolerance and that's why we don't grow up," he once said. "In Chile I've learned about tolerance and coherence."

Bielsa was an unremarkable defender for local club Newell's Old Boys from 1967 to 1978 until injury cut short his career.

As a coach, he guided Newell's to two league titles and to the final of the region's flagship club competition, the Copa Libertadores in 1992. He then coached in Mexico and at Spain's Espanyol before his bitter-sweet spell with Argentina.

Once described by a local newspaper as "a man inside his own labyrinth", Bielsa is known for his long-winded news conferences and tortured syntax.

"Human beings need to know that there's someone, the more the better, that loves them unconditionally, whatever happens," he said in one of his more philosophical moments.

"That's why footballers are so distrustful, because people love them one week and then stop loving them the next."

Bradley proves safe and successful pair of hands

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Bob Bradley

When Bruce Arena quit after a disappointing United States campaign at the 2006 World Cup, Fabio Capello and Juergen Klinsmann were mentioned as possible replacements.

In the end, the US went for the familiar -- the tried and tested Bob Bradley.

Bradley, a studious man with a background in college soccer, was never going to generate the buzz of a big-name foreign coach but he knew the player pool well, knew the US system and has now proved he knows how to get the best out of both.

Qualifying for the World Cup is expected these days for the US but beating European champions Spain on the way to the final of the Confederations Cup in South Africa last year was a pleasant surprise to even the country's most optimistic fans.

Bradley, 52, already has 30 years of coaching experience, having started at Ohio University at the age of 22.

In the era after the demise of the North American Soccer League, and before the advent of Major League Soccer (MLS), Bradley chose the wisest path for a young coach in a country without a top-level professional league -- college soccer.

Between 1984 and 1995, Bradley worked at the university where he had gained his degree, Princeton, before he moved into the professional game as an assistant at DC United in 1996.

Two years later he had his own job at the newly formed Chicago Fire where he led the team to a rare MLS title and US Open Cup double, and was named MLS Coach of the Year.

Spells with the New York/New Jersey Metrostars and Chivas USA followed before Bradley left MLS to being working with the US under-23 team and then the full national side.

Saadane back at World Cup after 24 years

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Rabah Saadane

Algerian coach Rabah Saadane has the remarkable distinction of returning to the World Cup at the helm of his country's team almost a quarter of a century after his previous appearance.

The 64-year-old was in charge when Algeria last competed at the finals in Mexico in 1986 and returns with them for the South Africa finals after upsetting African champions Egypt in the qualifiers.

Saadane is in his fifth stint as national team coach, having originally been brought back into the job some two-and-a-half years ago as a stop-gap measure but then given the task of trying to qualify for the 2010 World Cup.

After several disappointing tenures with foreign coaches -- Saadane's predecessor being Frenchman Jean-Michel Cavalli -- Algeria's football federation decided to trim their budget and go for a cheaper, local option by appointing Saadane.

The grandfatherly figure slowly proved a galvanising force for the team and pushed them through the early stages of the World Cup qualifiers into the final-round group, where they were seen as lesser contenders to arch-rivals Egypt and up-and-coming Zambia.

Steady performances from the Algerians, combined with their more fancied opponents dropping needless points, allowed Saadane's side to emerge as legitimate occupants of a World Cup berth.

In between his two World Cup assignments, Saadane has worked the coaching circuit in his own country, as well as at major clubs in neighbouring Morocco and Tunisia and a short stint as national coach of Yemen in 2004.

As a player he was on the books of Stade Rennes in France and he began his coaching career in 1979 at the helm of Algeria's junior national sides.

Coach Rueda is a force for change in Honduras

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Reinaldo Rueda

The name Reinaldo Rueda rings fewer bells than Marcelo Bielsa's though his work with Honduras bears some of the hallmarks of the Argentine coach with Chile.

Colombian Rueda was granted Honduran citizenship by the country's congress in an unanimous vote in the capital Tegucigalpa in April, having steered the Central American country to their second World Cup.

Like Bielsa, whom Chileans would like to see naturalised, Rueda has made an impression on Honduran society beyond the confines of his sport, giving them a focus with his team amid last year's presidential crisis.

Honduras, who played at the 1982 finals in Spain for the first time, had a fine campaign in the difficult three-stage CONCACAF qualifiers in which big teams Mexico and United States generally dictate the terms.

They were indebted to the U.S., whose draw at home in their final qualifier against Costa Rica put Honduras through at the expense of their neighbours.

Rueda came to Honduras via the national team of his native Colombia.

Having worked with several club sides he joined the Colombian federation as coach of the country's junior teams and was promoted to the seniors during the qualifiers for the 2006 World Cup.

Colombia had begun the campaign badly, taking one point from their first four matches, and sacked coach "Pacho" Maturana. They improved under Rueda to the point that they only just missed out on snatching fifth place which would have put them in a playoff with Australia.

The federation opted for new blood, however, and Rueda was not retained, freeing him to accept the Honduran position.

"I was captivated by the characteristics of the Honduran player but when you're here you realise there are other realities," Rueda told Reuters.

He pointed to tactical naivety and poor training methods among other issues, saying: "We're in the process, we've come a long way and we've achieved important things but there is still a lot to do."

The players believe they have benefited.

"He's like a father figure for us, he gives us a lot of advice, he tells us which is the right path. For us, his arrival in our country was fundamental," striker Carlos Pavon told Reuters.

"What stands out about him is that he is a direct and honest person and we've seen the results of his work on the pitch."

Argentine Martino finds his niche with Paraguay

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Gerardo Martino (top) and Vladimir Weiss

Gerardo Martino, a product of the Newell's Old Boys school of soccer, can make a name for himself in South Africa with a team shaping up to be the best to come out of Paraguay.

The Argentine coach, who played under and was strongly influenced by Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa, has the backing of Paraguayans having carved a niche with local sides Libertad and Cerro Porteno before leading the national team on their best World Cup qualifying campaign.

The 47-year-old has shown he can live in exalted company after locking horns with men such as compatriot Bielsa, Uruguay's Oscar Washington Tabarez and Brazilian Dunga over the two years of the qualifiers.

His team, which led the campaign throughout 2008, finished third behind Brazil and Chile and ahead of Argentina, securing their place at the finals with a memorable 1-0 home win over Diego Maradona's side in September with two games to spare.

"We have a very good squad of players who are in good form. We believe the organisational aspects are all in accordance with our plans so we're left with the easiest bit: build the team, prepare it and win," Martino told a recent news conference.

Born in Rosario, Martino joined local club Newell's as a boy and played first-division football for them for 15 years as a central midfielder. He was nicknamed "Tata" (granddad), an affectionate term for an older member of a group.

When the club's ground was renamed after Bielsa last year, one of the stands was given Martino's name.

Four years into his coaching career in Argentina, he moved to Paraguay where he won four league titles, three with Libertad and one with Cerro Porteno, between 2002 and 2006.

His arrival at the helm of the national team was part of a revamp at the Paraguayan Football Association following the team's poor performance in Germany in 2006.

With former Newells' team mate Jorge Pautasso as his right-hand man, Martino put the emphasis on attack, breaking with the Paraguayan tradition of a solid defence and aerial power that helped the side captained by goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert to reach the second round at France 98 and South Korea/Japan 2002.

One of the few criticisms levelled at Martino has concerned his decision to include naturalised Argentine-born players in his team. The latest was striker Lucas Barrios whose papers came through in April.

Tale of three Vladimirs makes family proud

Confusingly, Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss is the son of former Czechoslovakia defender Vladimir Weiss and the father of 20-year-old international winger Vladimir Weiss.

The middle Weiss has covered his family name in glory by taking Slovakia to their first major tournament as an independent nation.

The coach used to be a central midfielder, playing 12 times for Slovakia in the twilight of his career. He also made 19 appearances for Czechoslovakia, including at the 1990 World Cup, before the Slovaks parted company with the Czechs in 1993.

Now 45, he spent his entire club career in the two domestic leagues, having started in 1984 at unfancied Slovakian outfit Agro Hurbanovo.

Weiss scored 28 goals in 126 games for Inter Bratislava from 1986 to 1993 before a brief stint with Czech giants Sparta Prague, followed by quiet spells at Petra Drnovice and DAC Dunasjka Streda.

He played at FC Kosice for one season before joining Artmedia Petrzalka in 1996, where he spent the last four years of his playing career.

In three coaching spells at Artmedia, Weiss won two Slovakian league titles and two national Cups before he took over the national team ahead of the 2010 World Cup qualifiers.

Slovakia's unsuccessful Euro 2008 campaign did not suggest they could win automatic qualification for South Africa but Weiss imbedded much-needed steel at the back, enabling Slovakia to score 22 and let in just 10 goals in 10 World Cup qualifiers and seal their progress.

With his son selected to carry on the family name, coach Weiss is careful to deflect any suggestions of favouritism.

"I expected some to say he was receiving preferential treatment but it's not an issue now," he said of the most junior Vladimir. "It was soon obvious to everyone that he was in on merit."

Le Guen returns to form with Cameroon

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 08:16 IST
Paul Le Guen (top) and Kim Jong-hun

Paul Le Guen inspired a renaissance during Cameroon's World Cup qualifying campaign last year, and at the same time restored his own coaching reputation.

The Frenchman's career had been in freefall but the turnaround in Cameroon's fortunes gives the 46-year-old a chance of further redemption on football's biggest stage.

Le Guen is a former French international midfielder who ended his playing days competing for Brittany's regional side in a friendly against Cameroon in 1998.

His started his coaching career at Stade Rennes, quickly establishing himself as a coach with an eye for talent.

Olympique Lyon signed him as the successor to Jacques Santini when he was appointed France's manager in 2002. Lyon had won their first Ligue 1 title under Santini but Le Guen took them to three more championships, continuing a run eventually ended after a seventh successive title in 2008.

By that time Le Guen's career had stagnated. At Rangers, he lasted just over six months after falling out with his captain and sparking protests by fans outside the ground.

Before his arrival in Scotland he had been hailed as 'the new Arsene Wenger' but he left an object of derision.

Within weeks of his Scottish exit, Le Guen was back working at former club Paris St Germain, helping them to avoid relegation at the end of the 2006/2007 season.

But the club's fortunes did not improve much the season after and Le Guen needed police protection from militant fans angry at PSG's poor results. Despite reaching the French Cup final, and winning the League Cup, under Le Guen, PSG decided in May 2009 to let the coach go.

Le Guen signed a five-month contract with Cameroon in July and was tasked with turning around their stuttering qualifying campaign. He insisted on bringing in support staff and demanded the federation provide the squad with proper facilities, equipment and top-class accommodation.

Most drastically, he stripped long-standing captain Rigobert Song of his post and handed the responsibility to Samuel Eto'o.

It proved an inspired gamble as Eto'o scored vital goals to ensure Cameroon's qualification for the finals.

Le Guen signed a contract extension to see Cameroon through to the World Cup finals but is not sure to stay after the tournament.

Kim Jong-hun vows to 'upset expectations' at World Cup

North Korea are banking on team spirit, surprise and sheer determination to upset expectations and get them through to the knockout stages at the World Cup finals in South Africa. Aware his team are being written off as the weakest at the June 11-July 11 tournament, coach Kim Jong-hun is nevertheless backing them to spring a surprise.

The North caused a major upset the last time they appeared in the World Cup finals, beating Italy to progress to the quarter-finals in 1966. "I believe we will at least pass the first round. I'm aware of the evaluations of our team," Kim told the Yonhap News agency after a training session in Altach, Austria.

"We have the strong spirit of challenge to upset expectations.

"Speaking on behalf of the players, (the team) will seek to do well and make the world see Chosun football in a new perspective and a new eye," he added.

North Korea were the sensation of the 1966 finals in England, beating Italy to reach the last eight where they led Portgual 3-0 before bowing out 5-3.

To finish in the top two of a first round Group G that also features Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast would be an even more impressive feat, said striker Jong Tae-se.

"Brazil will be first and we will win second place," said the Kawasaki Frontale forward, one of the few players in the squad who is a known quantity.

"We are a good team with traits that no other country has. ... No one knows what will happen and we have the possibility."

North Korea, who play fellow qualifiers Greece in a friendly later on Tuesday, open their World Cup campaign against the Brazilians on June 15 in Johannesburg.

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