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Argentina

Population: 37,300,000
Area: 2,766,890 km²
Capital: Buenos Aires
Language: Spanish

 
THE ROAD TO KOREA/JAPAN
Argentina won the two year long CONMEBOL qualification league having spent virtually the whole campaign on top of the table.
Click here for details

 
WORLD CUP HISTORY
Participations: (12) 1930, 1934, 1958, 1962, 1966, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994 and 1998
Best placing: Winners 1978 and 1986
Topscorer: Gabriel Batistuta, 9 goals
More detailed history information

 
FIRST ROUND MATCHES
Jun 02 - ARG v NGR  in Ibaraki
Jun 07 - ARG v ENG  in Sapporo
Jun 12 - ARG v SWE  in Miyagi

 
ONE TO WATCH
Gabriel Batistuta has one last shot at the World Cup. The injury-prone goalscoring hero will be spearheading Argentina's attack this summer for the last time. He will need to produce the form which has made him the most lethal finisher of his generation, but does he still have rounds of ammo left in that machine-gun?

 
WCA VERDICT: Through to KO stage
Argentina are one of the hottest favourites to win the whole tournament and will go through from this group if they reach their normal standard which is required. The "Group of Death" does not allow any stumbling in the early stages, and we believe Bielsa's men are aware of that.



CARRYING THE FAVOURITE'S BURDEN


by Matthew Monk


    Who would be the favourites for the World Cup? Looking back through history, only once since 1974 have the out and out favourites won the World Cup - Brazil in 1994 - and more often than not the pre tournament favourites do not actually get very far. Now this has probably got much more to do with Brazil being perennial favourites and that team not being able to cope with the weight of expectation than any jinx or curse, but most of the European challengers will be sitting back quite happily watching Argentina cope with that tag rather than be them.

    Can Argentina justify being favourites? They have won the World Cup twice in the last 25 years, qualified at a canter from the CONMEBOL group, lie second in the FIFA world rankings behind France, and have a similar climate to East Asia. On top of this they have some amazing players - Batistuta, Ortega, Zanetti, Crespo, Saviola, Veron - all used to competing at the very highest level every week. So real favourites then? Well, not quite.

    First, Argentina have not won the World Cup for 16 years (it really is that long since Maradona's Mexican summer) and it is 12 since they last reached the final or semi final. Second, all this talk about the climate of Yokohama and Seoul being identical to Buenos Aires is nonsense. And while most South American players have been brought up in warm, humid conditions, how hot and humid is Manchester or Milan - lets not forget that is where you are more likely to find a top Argentinean footballer these days.

    Finally to make Argentina out and out favourites we have to forget about a team that has rarely lost in the last four years, has added even better players to the remnants of a superb squad, and has added the European Championship to the World Cup - France.

    OK then, joint favourites? But before we can put Argentina alongside the World Champions, we have to remember that they are drawn in the toughest group since 1982, and the immortal Italy, Argentina, Brazil battles. Just how so many commentators are suggesting Argentina are going to stroll to victory this summer when they have to beat England, Sweden and Nigeria just to make the Second Round is extraordinary. In the end Argentina may well win a third World Cup in Japan, but it is not going to be the easy exercise so many are predicting.

    Group F is not so much a hard group to predict, it is an impossible group to predict. The first game should be Argentina's 'easiest' against an ageing Nigeria. One or two Nigerians are still in the squad from the last time these two met in the World Cup, in 1994. Then Argentina ran out 2:1 winners, inspired by Maradona, Caniggia and Batistuta. A similar result can be expected this year, but how well they will do against Sweden and England is much more unpredictable.

    Which Sweden will they face? Sweden are historically a hit or miss team at the World Cup. In 1958 they almost won the competition at home but then did nothing until they very nearly eliminated West Germany in 1974. Much more recently they came closer than any other team to beating Brazil at USA 94, finishing a creditable third. So how can this be the same country that lost to Scotland and Costa Rica in 1990, and didn't even qualify in 1982, 1986 or 1998? Argentina should be good enough to beat the current Swedish team, but what will happen if Patrik Andersson and Henrik Larsson hit form - will Walter Samuel and co be good enough to keep them out?

    And then what about England? Since 1982 England versus Argentina has taken on extra impetus, and this summer's meeting promises to be the most anticipated contest of the opening round. Four years ago England so very nearly eliminated Argentina in St Etienne, beaten more by David Beckham's petulance than the eventual penalties. What people forget about that game is how close it was, and since it both teams have become closer still as England have improved and closed the gap under Sven Goran Eriksson. Both countries will probably take a draw in this game, expecting to win the other two matches. But with France surely waiting in Niigata for the group runner up, both teams really need to win this one.

    So what do Argentina have in their favour? Well coach Marcelo Bielsa certainly has the tactical ability to coax his many stars into playing like a team. And he does have a huge collection of superstars - more than any team, even France. The list reads like a who's who of the Champions League: Walter Samuel, Javier Zanetti, Roberto Ayala, Diego Simeone, Hernan Crespo, Claudio Lopez, Pablo Aimar, Ariel Ortega, Javier Saviola, Juan-Sebastian Veron and Gabriel Batistuta make a scarily formidable line-up.

    Yet something still seems to be missing. When winning their two World Cups Argentina had something extra - Maradona in 1986, bribery in 1978 - which they don't seem to have this time. In recent months many Argentineans have started to look jaded and old. Veron has been caught out as too slow time after time in England, while even Batigol himself has found scoring hard in European competition this season.

    Nonetheless Argentina should qualify for the Second Round, although if they will avoid France is impossible to say. If they do, and they get past Denmark or Uruguay, they could be up against Brazil in Osaka, before meeting France or England again in the semi-final and Italy or Portugal in the final. Now that is a tough route to the final, and one that could be too tough for Argentina. Strangely it could come down to a failure to score enough goals, something this squad should have no problem doing. It is not only Batistuta that is having difficulty finding the net at present. Crespo, often selected as the most feared striker in the world, has picked up a serious injury that could keep him out of action until May at the earliest. Without these two will Lopez, Ortega and Saviola be able to score enough? And just as importantly will Samuel and Ayala be able to keep out Larsson, Owen, Rivaldo and Henry?

    Argentina are good enough to win a third World Cup and join Germany and Italy in chasing Brazil in the overall victories race, but then there are at least four other teams equally as good as them standing in their way. Being favourites means you have great players and a great chance of going all the way to the final. But it also means every other team wants to beat you and your reputation - just ask Brazil.

    So in the end it does leave you thinking, who would want to be favourites for the World Cup anyway?



A BRIEF WORLD CUP HISTORY

by Jan Alsos


    Argentina have been present at all World Cups since 1974 and arrive in Korea/Japan as one of the hottest favourites to win the whole tournament. They reached the final at the very first World Cup held in Uruguay in 1930 and lost 4-2 to the hosts, but little did they know that it would take almost fifty years until they played a final again. In the meantime, Argentina spent some years away from the limelight of world football. They gained a reputation as 'animals' after some unsportsmanlike behaviour at the England World Cup 1966. Prior to that, Argentina had done very little after World War II. Failed qualification campaigns and first round exits were routine.

    The wonderful Mexico World Cup in 1970 was also staged without Argentina, but brighter days were about to come. Argentina managed to reach the second phase under wet conditions in West Germany 1974 where several players gained valuable experience which would help them blossom into stardom four year later. One of them was Mario Kempes. He turned out to be the greatest hero as Argentina captured the World Cup on home soil in Buenos Aires after a thrilling 3-1 win over Holland in the final. Kempes scored two goals, which took his tally to six earning him the Golden Boot as topscorer, and set up the third for Bertoni. One man who was axed from the 1978 squad for being too young was determined to revenge his omission in Spain 1982. Argentina came with virtually all their heroes from the previous World Cup plus Diego Maradona. Argentina looked unbeatable on paper, but very beatable on the field. Five games and three defeats plus a red card for Maradona after a savage foul on a Brazilian player in the second phase 3-1 defeat, meant adios to Menotti's men much earlier than expected.

     The World Cup came back to Mexico in 1986 and this time with an Argentina team present. Maradona owned the tournament from day one when the Koreans tried to stop him with methods that were effective four years earlier, but to no avail now. He dominated like no other player had ever dominated a tournament before. Decisive goals with hand and feet helped Argentina through the rounds until they faced West Germany in one of the best finals ever. The final score was 3-2 to Argentina in front of a packed Azteca Stadium. Valdano, Burruchaga and Ruggeri were great as supporting cast for Diego himself.

     Argentina brought back the defensive and ugly style at Italia '90 where the hero was a substitute goalkeeper, Sergio Goycoechea, who came into the side only because Nery Pumpido broke his leg in a first round match. 'Goyco's extraordinary abilities as a penaltystopper almost won Argentina a third title in four attempts when he was a fingernail away from tipping Brehme's matchwinning penalty in the final away from goal as the Germans revenged their defeat from four years earlier.

     Maradona's drugscandal overshadowed everything at USA '94 as yet another "unbeatable" team on paper proved to be very beatable. Argentina crashed against Romania already in the round of sixteen. The latest chapter was written in France 1998 where Argentina after a thrilling penalty shoot-out eliminated England in the second round, but fell to a classic Dennis Bergkamp goal a minute from time in the quarterfinals.

 

 

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