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Argentina cruise past Ivory Coast
Rex Gowar
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June 11, 2006 03:22 IST

Argentina got their quest for a third World Cup off to a good start with a 2-1 victory over determined debutants Ivory Coast in a Group C match of the highest quality on Saturday.

Hernan Crespo [Images], who scored Argentina's last goal of the Asia finals in 2002, got them off the mark with their first of the tournament and his second in World Cups in the 24th minute.

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Several players went up for Juan Roman Riquelme's free kick from the left and the ball fell free in the middle where Crespo used his goal poacher's instincts to poke it home.

Riquelme's superb ball through the centre of the Ivorian defence seven minutes from halftime was brilliantly steered home by Javier Saviola for Argentina's second, justifying coach Jose Pekerman's choice to field the pair up front.

But striker Didier Drogba [Images] gave the Ivory Coast a reward for their efforts when he pulled a goal back in the 82nd minute by turning to tuck home a low cross from the left by Aruna Dindane.

Twice former world champions Argentina could have gone ahead after 15 minutes but a Roberto Ayala header, which TV replays showed may have crossed the line, was not given as a goal.

Ayala rose above the defence to meet Riquelme's corner from the right and Jean Jacques Tizie fumbled his bullet header which hit the post before he caught it possibly behind the line.

Argentina, often in serious trouble from the fast Ivorian breaks, were indebted to Ayala, a veteran of the 1978 tournament who was sorely missed in Japan [Images] four years ago because of injury, for some superb defending.


With inexperienced right back Nicolas Burdisso strugglng, Ayala came to Argentina's rescue several times, not least when he blocked Drogba's close-range shot from the left.

Midfielder Kader Keita had Ivory Coast's best chance of the first half. Drogba, on the right, headed down Kanga Akale's left wing cross and Keita dived to head fro close range only for goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri to save with his legs.

Argentina looked frail at corners where the Ivorian attackers towered over their smaller defenders but the South Americans profited from Ivory Coast's poor defending at set pieces to break the deadlock.

Early in the second half, a free kick from the left by Riqeulme skimmed the far post without anyone making contact in the box. To the beat of drums from thjeir fans and with idol Diego Maradona [Images] watching in the stands, Argentina later seemed to prefer settling into a pattern of defending in depth as Ivory Coast sought to get back into the game.

The danger was always latent from coach Henri Michel's team but substitute Bakary Kone blasted a chance over and then Drogba turned the ball wide of the post after a free kick before he netted to give the score the respectability it deserved.

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