Football: Asprilla back to his old trickery

The erstwhile Magpie maverick was Colombia's colossus against Germany.
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The Independent Online
WHEN FAUSTINO ASPRILLA was sent home early from France 98, accused of being a disruptive influence within the Colombian World Cup camp, it seemed that the talents of one of football's true mavericks might be lost to the international arena.

The former Newcastle striker is now back in favour, however. He was recalled by Colombia's new coach, Javier Alvarez, for last month's friendly at home to Denmark, and responded with a goal in a 1-1 draw.

On Tuesday, on a sultry Florida afternoon in the Orange Bowl, Asprilla was back to his best, scoring twice in a thrilling 3-3 draw with Germany. All the old tricks were on display: the twists and turns, the theatrical tumbles and the tormented appeals to the referee.

But with Colombia a man down for the entire second half after the debutant defender Alexander Lemus had been sent off for two foolish yellow cards, Asprilla had to work hard, too. He dropped back into midfield after the interval, and did his share of chasing back and defending.

Alvarez made it clear after the match, his second in charge of Colombia, that Asprilla is now expected to labour for the common cause. "We have to avoid relying too much on one player," he said. "It is a collective game."

Asprilla is now without several of his old team-mates - both Carlos Valderrama and Freddy Rincon have retired from international football since the World Cup, and other veterans have been discarded by Alvarez. Against Germany the coach gave four players their debut, one of whom started the move that brought the opening goal in the 26th minute.

Henry Zambrano, boxed in by the corner flag on the left wing, dribbled his way into space and found the midfielder Arley Betancourt. He slid a superb pass through the German defence that gave Neider Morantes the chance to cross for Asprilla to tap in from six yards.

It was a great team goal, and Asprilla celebrated with a typical somersault in front of the Colombian fans. Germany levelled within seven minutes, though, with Michael Preetz knocking the ball in after Oscar Cordoba had pushed aside a shot from Oliver Neuville.

Preetz was on target again with a fine header from a Neuville cross 10 minutes after the interval. Playing against 10 men, it looked as though Germany would go on to win, but in a spirited display Colombia kept pushing men forward and they were rewarded in the 67th minute. The substitute goalkeeper, Jens Lehmann, was judged to have brought down Jorge Bermudez and Asprilla converted the penalty with casual arrogance.

Marco Bode headed Germany ahead again after 74 minutes but still Colombia came back. Ten minutes from the end Ivan Cordoba found the net with a glancing header that met a well-flighted free-kick by Asprilla.

A draw was a fair conclusion to this friendly, but Germany will not be happy with conceding six goals in two games, after Saturday's 3-0 defeat to the United States in Jacksonville.

"We were under immense pressure after that result," admitted Germany's coach, Erich Ribbeck. He has been criticised for relying on too many veterans, but he insisted that "we still need the older players to guide the younger ones. We are only in the middle of our restructuring programme".

Sadly, he was not asked for his views on reincarnation.

COLOMBIA (4-4-2): O Cordoba (Boca Juniors); Lemus (Once Caldas), I Cordoba (San Lorenzo), Bermudez (Boca Juniors), Maziri (America Cali); Serna (Boca Juniors), Betancourt (Deportivo Cali), Morantes (Nacional Medellin), Bolanos (Junior Barranquilla); Zambrano (Colombian Football Federation), Asprilla (Parma). Substitutes: Yepes (Deportivo Cali) for Maziri, h-t; Preciado (Racing Santander) for Betancourt, h-t; Gaviria (Deportivo Cali) for Bolanos, h-t; Congo (Once Caldas) for Zambrano, 65; Salcedo (Once Caldas) for Morantes, 78.

GERMANY (1-3-4-2): Kahn (Bayern Munich); Matthaus (Bayern Munich); Babbel (Bayern Munich), Worns (Paris St-Germain), Rehmer (Hansa Rostock); Moller (Borussia Dortmund), Neuville (Hansa Rostock), Jeremies (Bayern Munich), Reich (Kaiserslautern); Preetz (Hertha Berlin), Bode (Werder Bremen). Substitutes: Lehmann (Borussia Dortmund) for Kahn, h-t; Nerlinger (Borussia Dortmund) for Jeremies, h-t; Zickler (Bayern Munich) for Neuville, 74; Ricken (Borussia Dortmund) for Reich, 78.

Referee: B Hall (United States).