- Associated Press - Thursday, August 5, 2010

BEIJING (AP) - Argentina star Lionel Messi said he didn’t want Diego Maradona to leave and thought the soccer great would be kept as national coach.

Messi backed his former coach Thursday in his first public comments since last week’s announcement that Maradona’s contract would not be renewed.

“I had always thought he would be able to stay,” Messi said before his Spanish club Barcelona plays an exhibition game Sunday. “But there are lots of things in football you can’t predict. Now we’re four years from the next World Cup and we need to do a good job of preparing.”

The Argentine Football Association announced it wouldn’t renew Maradona’s contract, ending his erratic 21-month stint in charge of the national team that had mirrored his own long personal history of unpredictable behavior and defiance.

That move came just three weeks after Argentina lost to Germany 4-0 in the World Cup quarterfinals at South Africa. Maradona responded by saying he hadn’t been given enough time to turn the team around and accused team officials of lying to him.

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said he expected Messi to play in Sunday’s match against Chinese Super League champions Beijing Guoan. Messi made a 17-minute appearance and scored two goals in a 5-2 win Wednesday over a South Korean all-star team.

The Spanish champions are traveling in Asia without Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, David Villa and Carles Puyol.