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   2 June, 2002 | 1255 IST



France get the blues

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Batistuta goal gives Argentina victory

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Mike Collett

Gabriel Batistuta repaid coach Marcelo Bielsa's faith in him when he headed home a 63rd minute goal to give World Cup favourites Argentina a narrow 1-0 win over Nigeria in their opening group F match on Sunday.

Batistuta rose above team mate Mauricio Pochettino as both were looking to get onto the end of a deep corner from Juan Sebastian Veron, but Batistuta's striker's instincts ensured he was in a better position to score.

Gabriel Batistuta (R), Diego Placente (C) and Walter Samuel celebrate after the goal.It ensured him a place in an exclusive club of only 10 players who have scored 10 or more goals in World Cup history.

It was his 56th goal for Argentina in his 76th international but, more importantly, gave them three points from a match they dominated for long periods, but struggled to control.

Batistuta won his place in the side ahead of Hernan Crespo with Bielsa saying there was little to choose between the two. Crespo came on late in the game as Batistuta went off to a standing ovation from the fans.

He had gone close to scoring several times, not least when he headed a similar effort to his goal just wide in the first half. But his perseverance paid off to Argentina's deserved benefit.

Nigeria defended superbly for the first hour as Argentina's famed attacking game kept them on the back foot. When Nigeria did break forward, they either squandered their chances or were denied by some superb goalkeeping from Pablo Cavallero.

The second half was a big improvement on the first, although the clearest scoring chances came before the break.

After a series of half-chances and near-misses Ariel Ortega brought out a superb save from Nigerian goalkeeper Ike Shorunmu after 29 minutes with the goalkeeper moving swiftly to tip the powerful shot over the bar.

Within two minutes Jay Jay Okocha forced Cavallero into an even more athletic dive with a blistering effort from 18 metres at the other end.

A disappointing Nigeria became the first African team to lose at the finals after Senegal's sensational win over France on Friday and Cameroon's draw with Ireland on Saturday.

Argentina coach Bielsa had to change his plans when defender Roberto Ayala was injured in the pre-match warm-up and was replaced by Diego Placente wide on the left.

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