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   30 May, 2002 | 1900 IST



Cup Friendlies

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Argentina face striking dilemma

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Rex Gowar

Argentina's major dilemma before their opening World Cup match against Nigeria is who is going to score their goals.

It might appear a ridiculous question for a squad with two strikers of the calibre of Gabriel Batistuta and Hernan Crespo. But coach Marcelo Bielsa is making room for only one of them in his line-up for Sunday's group F encounter at the Kashima stadium in Ibaraki.

Midfield general Juan Sebastian Veron does not mind which of the two he plays behind.

"They're two great attackers and it's easy to play like that. You just put the ball in front of them and that's it," Veron said. "With Hernan and Bati we know it's always half a goal."

Argentina have a wide range of options from a variety of attacking movements and their goals in three friendlies this year have come from less accustomed if equally valid sources.

Left wing-back Juan Pablo Sorin headed the winner against Germany in April, while Pablo Aimar, who will be on the bench, scored a beauty against Cameroon in March.

Sorin, a mobile player who is really a roaming left-sided midfielder, has often ghosted into scoring positions and has a tally of six in 35 internationals.

Kily Gonzalez, who plays directly in front of Sorin on the left, can also be very dangerous with his diagonal runs towards the near post.

Veterans of the 1998 World Cup Javier Zanetti, as right wing-back, and Ariel Ortega in front of him will be looking to break down the left flank of the opposition defence with a mixture of runs to the goalline or mazy incursions into the box.

Ortega, who has netted 17 goals in 81 internationals, is a scoring option on the right provided he does not get cornered into merry-go-round dribbles that lead nowhere.

Zanetti and Sorin play either side of anchorman Diego Simeone in the second tier of a 3-3-1-3 formation copied by Bielsa from the Dutch Ajax school he admires.


Behind them, captain Roberto Ayala at sweeper is flanked by the solid World Cup newcomer Walter Samuel on the left and Mauricio Pochettino on the right.

Pochettino, who owes his place largely to the injury that put Nelson Vivas out of the tournament, is a weak link but will have support from Zanetti.

The defence have been working hard to counter a weakness of the 1998 side against real pace.

They are competent in the air, especially Ayala whose jumping is good and timing excellent for a small man, when not too close to goal.

But Argentina have been addressing a traditional weakness at dead ball situations around the box from which they gave away two soft headed goals to Cameroon in March.

That weakness in the air may be what has cost German Burgos, a big man with superb reflexes who is hard to beat if the ball comes in low, his place in goal.

Pablo Cavallero has better, less jittery positioning at corners and free kicks and can be relied upon to talk constantly to his defence.

The whole mechanism depends, however, on the inspiration of Veron in the attacking central midfield position behind the forward trio.

The non-stop Veron will constantly push the ball forward, prompting for openings and at times darting down the flanks, especially the right with Ortega drifting across the front of the attack, looking to get the ball in low against tall defenders.

"We're going to take the game to them, to pressure them," he said.

Whoever opens the scoring for Argentina will be notching up his country's 101st goal in the World Cup finals.

Probable team (3-4-3): 12-Pablo Cavallero; 4-Mauricio Pochettino, 2-Roberto Ayala, 6-Walter Samuel; 8-Javier Zanetti, 14-Diego Simeone, 11-Juan Sebastian Veron, 3-Juan Pablo Sorin; 23-Ariel Ortega, 19-Hernan Crespo, 18-Kily Gonzalez.

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