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Rugby World Cup: Argentina upset France

September 08, 2007 16:26 IST
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Argentina gatecrashed France's Rugby World Cup party in style on Friday when they beat the hosts 17-12 at a stunned Stade de France in Paris in a highly entertaining opening match.

Friday's result will have revived painful memories of 2002 ago when their much-fancied soccer team were humbled by Senegal in the opening game of their World Cup defence.

Despite being greeted as a shock by most observers, this latest blow will seem nothing of the sort to a Pumas team who have now beaten France five times in six games.

It also puts the Argentines in pole position in their tough Pool D, where Ireland also await. Another victory there opens a path to a probable quarter-final against Scotland or Italy, with the prize of an unprecedented appearance in the semi-finals awaiting the winners.

France are now in danger of either the humiliation of failing to get out of the pool stage or making the quarter-finals but having to play their game in Cardiff, probably against New Zealand.

However, they could still top the group and stay in Paris should they beat Ireland and the other result goes their way.

A try from fullback Ignacio Corleto and four penalties by centre Felipe Contepomi made the difference for Argentina on Friday.

They led 17-9 at halftime after a remarkably open, and mistake-ridden opening then allowed only one more penalty in the second half as their improved fitness and professionalism, ironically gained from many players playing in the French league, paid off handsomely.

"France have helped us to develop [our game], taking us in as their sons. With a little respect to France we thank them," Pumas captain Agustin Pichot told reporters.

France captain Raphael Ibanez had no excuses.

"We had prepared ourselves well and realised what was expected from us but we were not up to it," he said.

The French will rue two easy penalty misses in the latter stages as they fell to their first defeat in a pool match and became the second host nation, after England against New Zealand in 1991, to lose the opening match.

The All Blacks, even stronger favourites now, are in action in Saturday's first game, against Italy in Marseille.

Australia then play Japan in Lyon before England begin their defence against the United States in Lens.

There are four further pool games on Sunday but for the French rugby public, it will not be the weekend of celebration they had in mind.

Fans around the world will also get to read about the match and see pictures of the celebrating Argentines after talks before the match brought a provisional end to a dispute between organisers and the Media Coalition that had led to a suspension of coverage on Thursday.

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