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Thursday, June 22, 2006

A preview?


We are not Argentinian.

Argentina Offers Glimpse at What May Be to Come

By JERE LONGMAN
Published: June 22, 2006

FRANKFURT, June 21 — Argentina rested several of its stars, but not its ambition, on Wednesday night. It won its group with a 0-0 draw against the Netherlands that suggested that the future could be every bit as encouraging as the present at the World Cup.

It said much about Argentina's prodigious depth — and its inviting chances of winning this and future championships — that the luminous young forwards Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez could not get into the starting lineup until this final match of group play.

Argentina, the group winner on goal differential, will play Mexico in the Round of 16, while the Netherlands will face Portugal. Both of Wednesday's opponents had already advanced with two previous victories, so Argentina Coach José Pekerman could afford a cautionary approach in resting his usual starting forwards, Hernán Crespo and Javier Saviola.

Each had received a yellow card, and a second would have meant a suspension against Mexico. The Netherlands rested five players for the same prudent reason. For Argentina, the match became a showcase for Messi and Tevez, and they proved to be incandescent if not victorious replacements.

"The only thing we lacked were goals," Tevez said. "We did everything right."

The game was not completely satisfying. Argentina dominated early, then grew vulnerable during a late flurry by the Netherlands. But Tevez was named the star of the game, and Pekerman called for a tolerant assessment of his young stars in a game in which the final score did not quite match anticipation and expectation.

Both Tevez and Messi had scored earlier, in a 6-0 rout of Serbia and Montenegro.

"Football is easy and football is difficult at the same time," Pekerman said. "It's easy to praise, but we must also be patient when everything doesn't turn out the way we want it to."

Stocky and bullish at 22, Tevez was the star of Argentina's gold-medal-winning team at the 2004 Athens Olympics. He moves forward with a muscular doggedness made evident by a chipped front tooth. On Wednesday, he kept threatening to score until the final whistle.

Tevez cracked a left-footed shot from outside the penalty area that knuckled just wide in the first half. He coaxed a yellow card for Dutch forward Dirk Kuyt with an apparent flop that nearly brought an own goal for the Netherlands in the 29th minute. He blasted another late shot that was saved, and in second-half injury time, he shouldered a ball down in the penalty area and fired high.

Messi, who will turn 19 on Saturday, possesses such talent that he has inspired T-shirts calling him "Messi-ah of Football." In Hamburg, a banner featuring his likeness is draped 20 stories down the side of a hotel. According to news accounts, Nike and Adidas are in court battling over his endorsement of their sportswear.

Wednesday was Messi's first start in three months, since he sustained a thigh injury with Barcelona, his club team. His speed, acceleration, touch and control were on elegant display. He feathered passes. He ran at four Dutch defenders and hammered a shot from 25 yards that was saved. And, as did Tevez, he tracked back to midfield to win the ball.

Messi's effort was such that when he left the game in the 69th minute, he drew a standing ovation from his idol, Diego Maradona, who led Argentina to the World Cup title in 1986.

posted by Steve @ 12:52:00 AM

12:52:00 AM

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