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   31 May, 2002 | 1715 IST
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England match not special: Batistuta

Reuters
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Gabriel Batistuta believes that Argentina's World Cup clash with arch-rivals England next week will only take on a special meaning if the Argentines lose their opening match against Nigeria on Sunday.

"Today (that match) is not special. If we lose on Sunday it will become so," Batistuta said of Argentina's second group F match against England in Sapporo in the north of Japan on June 7.

Argentina and England have a colourful and controversial history of World Cup clashes dating back to the 1960s and exacerbated by the 1982 Falklands (Malvinas) war.

Batistuta spoke to reporters on Friday at Argentina's secluded World Cup base 200 km north of Tokyo where they are preparing to face Nigeria at Kashima on Sunday.

"I have no prejudice nor rancour (concerning England)," added Batistuta, who converted a penalty early in Argentina's memorable second round match against the English in the 1998 World Cup finals in France.

The sides finished 2-2 after extra time but Batistuta did not take part in the decisive penalty shootout won by Argentina as coach Daniel Passarella had controversially substituted him with Hernan Crespo.

Batistuta Batistuta, Argentina's nine-goal record World Cup scorer, is vying with Crespo for the central striker's role in coach Marcelo Bielsa's line-up to play Nigeria. Bielsa will only reveal his decision when he hands in his team sheet an hour before kickoff.

Argentina meet Sweden in Miyagi, 200 km north of the J-Village, in their final group match on June 12.

England look to long-haul fans for support

Meanwhile, Sven-Goran Eriksson says that England's long-haul supporters would definitely be lifting his team when they open their World Cup campaign on Sunday.

The supporters, often key morale boosters during qualifying for the finals co-hosted by South Korea and Japan, are sometimes viewed overseas as violent but are known to the England team for their inspiring songs and staunch support.

"No, I am not worried about that," Eriksson said on Friday when asked if he was concerned that not many of the supporters would be able to make the expensive trip to Japan, where England play Sweden in Saitama just outside Tokyo.

"I think we have a lot of supporters coming over here. Of course, we are in Japan so you cannot expect 50,000 to come out," he told a news conference.

Tournament organisers say they expect about 8,000 English fans to make the trip to catch either the Sweden game or England's other group F games against Argentina and Nigeria.

An official from England's Football Association said England would have more fans at the World Cup than any other European team.

LARGE FOLLOWING

England also have a large following in Japan because of the popularity of captain David Beckham and goalscorer Michael Owen.

"Once we start on Sunday we are going to be very focused on what to do on the pitch. We're going to have support, I am sure about that," Eriksson said.

One of the best examples of the support England have had from their supporters was during the European Championship in 2000, when their cheering and singing of "God Save the Queen" helped carry the team from a lacklustre start to a 1-0 victory over Germany.

That type of support comes in sharp contrast to their image in Japanese newspapers, which have been full of stories of alcohol-fuelled violence in Europe, often carried out by England supporters, at soccer tournaments including the 1998 World Cup in France.

Officials have said they are worried the hype may led to Japanese fans and police overreacting to fan behaviour considered normal in Europe, such as marching bare-chested and chanting.

British police are in Japan to advise their counterparts on what is fans just having fun and what is hooliganism.

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