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Well here we are eventually, the first game in the group of death, and our first chance to have a look at England’s competition in this first World Cup of the new millennium. The result of this game was crucial to England, with a draw probably being the most favourable result for our (England I mean!) chances of progressing through possibly the most difficult of this World Cups group to the knockout stages. Argentina are being widely tipped as potential World Cup winners, and a look at the starting 11 shows us why. Most of the Argentine squad are household names, with 8 of the squad currently displaying their talents in the Italian Serie A, widely regarded as the most talent packed (and certainly the most lucrative) stage in World football today. The Nigerian squad contains some familiar names from the Premiership, (for those of you who aren’t familiar with the Premier league – Kanu, Babayaro, West all have figured in the recent Premiership competition) and perhaps the most famous is Jay Jay Okocha, currently with Paris St Germain. Let’s have a look at the starting teams:
Argentina: Pablo Cavallero Mauricio Pochettino Diego Placente Walter Samuel Javier Zanetti Diego Simeone Juan Sebastian Veron Juan Sorin Ariel Ortega Gabriel Batistuta Claudio Lopez
Nigeria: Ike Shorunmu Celestine Babayaro Taribo West Isaac Okoronkwo Efe Sodje Joseph Yobo Nwankwo Kanu Jay Jay Okocha Bartholomew Ogbeche Julius Aghahowa Garba Lawal
Referee: Gilles Veissiere (France)
Okay, so that’s the line ups, how was the game itself?
Not a great deal, it was fairly obvious that this is the opening game for both teams, and the game is played at a medium pace. The heat here is going to make it impossible to play the fast and furious pace we see week in, week out in the Premiership. Nigeria kicked off but it’s Argentina who pushed forward and their first attack ended with a fine cross into the penalty area to Batistuta but he couldn’t quite manage to connect with it. Nigeria responded to win the first corner of the game. The corner was swung over well and fell to Sodje but he volleyed over the bar. Batistuta is at it again, but Nigeria managed somehow to clear his low inviting cross. However, Nigeria make it obvious that they are not here to make the numbers, and Babayaro, released by a clever backheel from Kanu, puts in a poor cross and the danger is cleared. Ariel Ortega for Argentina is causing some problems for Nigeria, and he releases Batistuta, but keeper Shorunmu saves with his feet. However, he promptly takes a dreadful freekick that falls to Batistuta but he fails to take full advantage and Shorunmu redeems himself with a diving save. Nigeria are defending well but little errors are providing Argentina with opportunities, and there is a sense that Argentina are beginning to control the game. On the half hour, Ortega lets fly from distance and Shorunmu saves it well, tipping it over bar for another Argentinian corner. It’s cleared and suddenly Jay Jay Okocha sparks into life. He steps past two defenders and unleashes a fine shot towards the top corner, but Cavallero makes an acrobatic save to deny him. Back up the field and Argentina win another corner, taken by Veron and met by Batistuta but his header is way off target. Nigeria launch a final attack of the first half but Aghaowas overhead kick flies high, wide and not very handsome. So we arrive at half time, no goals, a few chances, but Nigeria’s well organised defence has denied the more attack minded Argentinians. It has to be said that it is Argentina who have looked more likely to score, but the game is there for the taking by Nigeria.
Both teams make early substitutions, Kanu limps off to be replaced by Ikedia, and Gonzalez replaces Claudio Lopez for Argentina. Very early on, Batistuta has the best chance of the game so far – finding plenty of space, he connects with Veron's corner but volleys wide from close range. Argentina open up Nigeria again but Sorin doesn’t even hit the target with a free header. Both teams now are trying to raise the pace of the game, but Nigeria really don’t look like scoring. The chance of the match falls to Juan Sorin. He chests the ball down but scuffs a volley goalwards and Shorunmu saves quite easily. Perhaps inevitably, the ball is again played into the Nigerian box, and Batistuta rises to steer in a header from a tight angle, putting Argentina 1- 0 in the lead. Incredibly, this is the third World Cup in which Batistuta has scored. Argentina continue to turn up the pressure, with both Veron and Sorin going close to increasing the lead. The first booking of the game sees Sodje going into the book for a clumsy rather than nasty challenge on Simeone. Argentina makes a second substitution, Aimar for Veron, and Batistuta is denied a second goal, immediately before being substituted by Crespo, who heads wide with his first touch. Very quickly afterwards, he breaks clear but puts his shot high over the bar. In the final minute, Simeone is booked for a reckless challenge. The whistle goes, and its all over. Hotly tipped Argentina has successfully navigated their first group match.
Argentina ran out deserved winners, although the Nigerians defended well they just did not have the attacking options available to seriously threaten an upset in this game. Argentina seem to be a team full of creativity, coming into top form at just the right time (again!! This seems to happen in every World Cup tournament). Men to watch for in upcoming Argentina matches have to be Batistuta and Ortega – both did what they do best today and look capable of unlocking any defence in the tournament. England will have to be on their mettle to counter the attacking flair of the Argentinians on Friday, but this result adds pressure for a win in today’s opening game against Sweden.
Come on England – a win by 2 goals isn’t beyond you and would see us sitting proudly at the top f Group F, the group of death.
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Since I don't like football, at all, the World Cup is of no interest to me..until I found my favourite tipple, Coke, has teams under the lids of bottles/cans...I have so far found myself supporting....Senegal---Great Score...as well as Saudi Arabia, Paraguay, Ireland, Mexico, Slovenia, Cameroon, Sweden, Japan and Turkey so far...Being Scottish they are not (obviously) in it...and I don't have England Yet so can't possibly support them..
Luigi 02.06.2002 21:54
As I now live in America, I don't often keep up-to-date with the football scene like I used to. So I enjoyed reading this. It was most informative and interesting. Thank you.
eljimbob 02.06.2002 18:58
A medium paced match, you must be kidding me, yuo wont see another game as goos as that before the semis :¬) James