ROAD TO KOREA/JAPAN
|Argentina won the two year long
CONMEBOL qualification league having spent virtually the whole campaign
on top of the table.
here for details
|Participations: (12) 1930, 1934,
1958, 1962, 1966, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994 and 1998
|Best placing: Winners 1978 and
|Topscorer: Gabriel Batistuta,
detailed history information
|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?
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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