Population: 39,500,000
Area: 2,766,890 km²
Capital: Buenos Aires
Language: Spanish

Argentina never looked troubled in the two year long CONMEBOL qualification league. They came second after Brazil, but with same total of points.
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Mar 01 Croatia v Argentina 3-2
May 30 Argentina v Angola 2-0

Participations: (13) 1930, 1934, 1958, 1962, 1966, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002
Best placing: Winners 1978 and 1986
Topscorer: Gabriel Batistuta, 10 goals
More detailed history information

Jun 10 - ARG v CIV  in Hamburg
Jun 16 - ARG v SCG  in Gelsenkirchen
Jun 21 - ARG v NED  in Frankfurt

- Argentina in Group C -
Jan Alsos: 1st place
Pierre Boisrond: 1st place *
Ruud Doevendans: 3rd place
Mike Gibbons: 1st place *
Peter Goldstein: 2nd place
Paul Marcuccitti: 2nd place
Felipe Santos: 2nd place
* World Cup winners


by Jan Alsos

    Four years ago Argentina were the hottest pre-tournament favourites alongside France to take home the World Cup trophy, but the albiceleste crashed out already in the first round "Group of Death" after three tight matches against Nigeria, England and Sweden. It was a sad farewell to a great generation of players who never managed to achieve in the World Cup what they had talent to accomplish. 2006 is set to be redemption time for Argentina.

    The two-time World Cup winners are once again drawn in what the media dubbed the "Group of Death" - even though none of their opponents were good enough to qualify for the World Cup in Korea/Japan. The pressure to win the title is somewhat less now than four years ago. Brazil have taken care of that. Still, coach Jose Pekerman and his players will go into the tough matches against the Netherlands, Cote d'Ivoire and Serbia & Montenegro knowing that only qualification to the knock-out stages is considered good enough for the fans back home in South America. Expectations remain high even after some disappointing friendly results in recent months.

    Pekerman took over the coaching job in September 2004. He was highly successful with Argentina's U20-team guiding them to several World Youth Cup titles. Now he is finally ready to achieve glory with the senior team, having turned down the job as early as in 1998 because he didn't feel he had enough experience at the time. Pekerman guided Argentina with ease to the World Cup through the long CONMEBOL-league and also to a place in the final in the Confederations Cup last summer without the presence of many key players.

    Overall, the team looks very strong on some positions and not so strong on others. The goalkeeper's position falls into the latter category. Finding a reliable goalkeeper has been a problem for several years now in Argentina. Roberto Abbondanzieri (Boca Juniors) is tipped to wear the number one jersey at the World Cup. He is an experienced keeper and one of very few domestic based players expected to make the starting line-up. German Lux (River Plate) played in the Confederations Cup, but didn't impress there. Leo Franco (Atletico Madrid) could also be the first back-up goalkeeper.

    More solid names are found in defence. Roberto Ayala (Valencia) has been one of the best central defenders in European club football over the last decade and will be appearing in his third World Cup this summer. Alongside Ayala is tough tackling Walter Samuel (Internazionale) and/or Fabricio Coloccini (Dep. La Coruņa) likely to be found. Argentina are also strong wide in defence with their energetic captain Juan Sorin (Villarreal) on the left and the dependable Javier Zanetti (Internazionale), who rarely plays a bad game and recently won his 100th cap, on the right. Argentina have other strong defensive candidates in Gabriel Heinze (Manchester United), if he becomes fully fit, and Diego Placente (Celta Vigo) to mention a couple.

    In midfield there is still some uncertainty. Pekerman might choose Esteban Cambiasso (Internazionale) and/or Martin Demichelis (Bayern Munich) to fill the holding positions. Juan Riquelme (Villarreal) will be the creator and playmaker of this team. He has had a terrific season at club level and should arrive in Germany with enough confidence to give Argentina a major boost in the attacking game. To avoid direct comparison with Maradona, Riquelme will probably choose to wear shirt #8 - the same he wears at his Spanish club. Knowing all the new Maradonas who have popped up and then faded away, who can blame him?

    Pablo Aimar (Valencia) is a good second choice in that attacking midfield role. Other players who could start in midfield are: Sebastian Battaglia (Boca Juniors), Javier Mascherano (Corinthians) and the veteran Kily Gonzalez (Internazionale).

    Up front, Hernan Crespo (Chelsea) looks certain to be Pekerman's center-forward. He has been an established goalscorer at top level for many years now and is finally out of Batistuta's shadow. This is likely his last shot at World Cup glory, so expect him to be hungry like a wolf this summer.

    Argentina of course have other exciting names in attack as well. Most of all this season's teenage sensation in the European game, Lionel Messi (Barcelona), who is currently struggling with a thigh injury, but should be fit for the finals. Messi could be one of the stars of the tournament if he performs like he has done in numerous matches at club level this season.

    Carlos Tevez (Corinthians), topscorer and gold medalist at the Athens Olympics 2004, has yet to impress at senior level for Argentina, but has done really well in the Brazilian league. Pekerman can also choose Javier Saviola (Sevilla) in attack, but will need to be without the services of Luciano Figueroa (River Plate), a frequent scorer when given the chance, who suffered a severe knee-injury recently.

    Another interesting prospect in attack is Sergio Aguero (Independiente), still only 17, but many people feel he should be included in the squad after a fine season in the Argentinian Clausura tournament. If Pekerman is impressed enough to select him remains to be seen. Other boy wonders have been axed on the eve of the World Cup before, like Maradona in 1978 by Cesar Luis Menotti. With Messi already in the team, Pekerman might not want to gamble on yet another teenager among his forwards.

    Regardless of that, Argentina do have excellent player material, but can they deal with the mental pressure this time? Marcelo Bielsa, coach in 2002, walked nervously back and forth constantly inside FIFA's marked areas by the bench during the three games Argentina played like he awaited execution in prison. How did that behaviour affect the players? Despite having some of the most talented players in the world over the last 15 years, Argentina haven't reached the semifinal stage since Maradona's haydays. Three World Cups in a row with under-achievement - if we count 1994 after Diego's suspension as well.

    May be 2006 is the year Argentina finally are able to fulfill their potential in the World Cup again and lift the golden trophy for the third time.




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