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Argentina still feeling effects of 2002 debacle

November 17, 2003 10:55 IST

The shadow of last year's World Cup debacle loomed over Argentina's 3-0 win against Bolivia on Saturday night.

The River Plate stadium, usually an intimidating cauldron, was strangely subdued and only half full for the World Cup qualifier while the traditional ticker-tape reception and passion were missing, with the players taking the field almost unheralded.

The 4,000-strong contingent of Bolivia supporters out-shouted the home fans, who once again greeted coach Marcelo Bielsa with a chorus of jeers.

Argentina have been treated with suspicion by the public since the Japan and South Korea tournament last year, when their shock first-round exit included a painful defeat by arch-rivals England.

The eccentric, brooding Bielsa surprisingly kept his job despite the failure but his romance with the Argentine public was abruptly ended.

His team's 3-0 win on a wet, windy night kept the critics off his back on Sunday but he still needs a more convincing performance against tough opposition to win back the public.

Argentina took 57 minutes to break through against a team who packed their defence in the hope of sneaking a rare away point, then struck three times in quick succession through Andres D'Alessandro, Hernan Crespo and Pablo Aimar.

LESSON LEARNED

Although it was not an outstanding team performance, there were enough flashes of individual brilliance -- including Aimar's back-heeled third goal -- to give cause for optimism.

"These boys are paying for last year's failure but they're young and they're showing that they can be great players because they're not afraid of the responsibility," said former Argentine international striker Ramon Diaz.

Oscar Ruggeri, a former defender who played in the 1986, 1990 and 1994 World Cups, agreed that newcomers such as playmaker D'Alessandro, right back Facundo Quiroga and striker Cesar Delgado were paying for the past.

"We have to give them time, these kids are really good," he said.

After seeing his team throw away a 2-0 lead over Chile to draw 2-2 at home in their opening qualifier in September, Bielsa was happy just to get the points.

"I get the impression that we learned our lesson," said Bielsa.

"The positive aspects were that we defended well for the whole game, produced some good moves and won by a fair result."

The media chose Valencia's Aimar as the best player, followed closely by D'Alessandro and the three defenders, Quiroga, Roberto Ayala and Walter Samuel who kept the Bolivian attack at bay.

Crespo, jeered by the crowd who demanded Barcelona's Javier Saviola in his place, was again far from his best despite scoring for the second match in a row.

The win left Argentina with seven points from three games in the South American qualifiers and a trip to Barranquilla to face crisis-hit Colombia -- who have lost all three of their games -- on Wednesday.

"Colombia have got to fight to stay in the race and it won't be easy," said Bielsa. "I don't expect that they're going to want to lose another match."

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