Argentines are furious. They're blaming their soccer team's most recent World Cup qualifying loss squarely on coach Diego Maradona. Now the two-time world champions are in danger of missing their first World Cup since 1970.
"This Maradona has shown dramatically that he wasn't born to coach, that his glorious image was useful at first, but no more," the Diario Popular newspaper wrote in Thursday's editions.
The sports daily Ole wrote: "We're going nowhere" over a picture of Maradona.
Maradona is regarded by some as the world's greatest player. In a country where soccer is almost everything, Maradona has been a national icon since he led Argentina to the '86 World Cup title _ the country's second.
He's been a survivor, but this may be his toughest test.
He was expelled after the second game of the 1994 World Cup and eventually banned for 15 months for using performance-enhancing drugs. He was near death on a respirator five years ago after a heart attack attributed to a cocaine overdose. And he's had a highly publicized gastric bypass to lose weight.
Still, most Argentines have never fallen completely out of love with this rogue character. But missing the World Cup might end the affair.
"Maradona has to resign," said Juan Rosales, a fan of club River Plate. "I don't respect him now. He was a tremendous player but as a coach he knows nothing. He has to go now because he's taking us down."
That seems to be the consensus. In an Internet poll published Thursday by the newspaper Clarin, 62 percent of 11,288 people responding said Argentina would miss next year's 32-team tournament in South Africa.
Maradona remained defiant after Wednesday's loss, saying he would stay on the job "as long as I have a drop of blood left."
He's also started blaming others.
"Since I was 15 years old I've been fighting with you (reporters) for your criticism," Maradona said. "Now I'm 48 and I'll still keep fighting. And it's possible that I'll also have to confront criticism from some of the players, but I'll do it behind closed doors."
"I won't give in," he added. "I'm going to continue being the coach. I'm not afraid of criticism. I'm not afraid of anybody."
Since Maradona took over the team 10 months ago, Argentina has won only two of six World Cup qualifiers. In that span, he has called up 62 players _ 30 for the first time. He has used three goalkeepers: Juan Pablo Carrizo, Mariano Andujar and Sergio Romero. And he's absorbed one of the worst beatings in Argentina history _ a 6-1 loss at Bolivia.
The team has lost four of its last five, almost unthinkable with some of the best talent in the game _ strikers Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero and veterans like Javier Zanetti, Juan Sebastian Veron and Javier Mascherano.
Several newspapers have ripped Maradona about his handling of players from the bench, and over his lack of tactical acumen. Many have pointed out that Maradona has no formal training as a coach. In short stints coaching two Argentine clubs _ Mandiyu and Racing _ he won only three of 23 games, losing eight and drawing 12.
Maradona was also ridiculed in some circles for taking players to a Roman Catholic mass before the Brazil match last weekend _ a 3-1 loss. He was also widely reported to be relying on some form of witchcraft before the Paraguay game _ another loss.
Much of the blame must fall on the Argentine Football Association and its president, Julio Grondona. It was Grondona's idea to hire Maradona. It was a curious choice, particularly since two neighboring countries _ Paraguay and Chile _ have highly experienced Argentine coaches. Paraguay has already qualified under coach Gerardo Martino and Chile is almost certain to make it behind Marcelo Bielsa.
Despite the losses, Argentina still has a shot to reach the World Cup.
The top four teams in South American qualifying advance automatically to South Africa. Five-time champion Brazil and Paraguay have already advanced. Chile has 27 points followed by Ecuador with 23. Argentina is in fifth place with 22. The fifth-place team faces a playoff with the No. 4 team from North and Central America and the Caribbean _ most likely Honduras or Costa Rica _ for another berth.
Argentina closes qualifying next month with two winnable games. It is home Oct. 10 against Peru _ the last-place team in qualifying _ and then finishes at Uruguay on Oct. 13.
Despite the mathematical possibilities, few seem convinced Maradona can finally come through.
"The national team has to be rebuilt," Ole wrote.
La Nacion left little room for Maradona to stay.
"The cycle of Maradona is eroding at a very fast pace," the paper said. "Maradona is stuck in the eye of the storm and it's difficult to see how he'll emerge OK."