Argentina striker Palermo thrilled with goal

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Martin Palermo repaid Diego Maradona's faith in him when he came on as a substitute and knocked in the second goal that sealed Argentina's 2-0 World Cup victory over Greece.

The 36-year-old forward was sent on by Maradona despite advice from his assistants to instead bring on Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain, who scored three goals against South Korea in Argentina's 4-1 win last week.

Palermo said Wednesday that his goal was the "biggest satisfaction" soccer has given him, even after scoring nearly 300 goals in his professional career since 1992. The goal helped Argentina to clinch first place in Group B on Tuesday.

"I'd trade in all of the goals and experiences in my career to lift the World Cup on July 11," Palermo said.

The Argentines will face Mexico in the second round on Sunday.

Maradona said he told Palermo to "go and finish off the match for me."

Palermo, who said his goal was a combination of good positioning and intuition, scored in the 89th minute, sending the ball into the far corner of the net after collecting a rebound from Lionel Messi's shot.

Palermo is considered a personal good luck charm by Maradona, especially after the striker scored the winning goal in injury time in a 2-1 win over Peru in a World Cup qualifier last October.

Despite Maradona's faith in "Saint Palermo," as he called him after the Peru match, Palermo also has had some tough luck in matches for Argentina, including the time at the 1999 Copa America in Paraguay when he was unable to convert three penalty kicks in a 3-0 loss to Colombia.

Palermo also played in Spain in 2001-04, but his stint there is remembered mostly for a freak accident. While celebrating a goal he scored for Villarreal, the wall he was standing on collapsed under the weight of the team's fans and Palermo broke two bones in his left leg.

Argentina midfielder Jonas Gutierrez, who spoke to the media along with Palermo after Argentina's practice session at the University of Pretoria, praised Palermo's scoring ability.

"The World Cup was the only tournament in which he had not yet scored," Gutierrez said. Palermo has won more than a dozen titles at club level, including six Argentine titles and two Libertadores Cups with Boca Juniors.

Back for a second stint since 2004 with Boca, Argentina's most popular team, Palermo recently became the club's all-time top scorer with 222 goals.

Palermo, who has yet to sign a new contract with Boca, made it clear that his World Cup success would be part of his negotiating strategy.

"This is not the time to talk about this issue ... but I won't accept the terms of last year's contract," Palermo said. "I want to continue in Boca but I want them to respect my situation."