Football: Preciado's precious strike

Colombia 1 Preciado 83 Tunisia 0 Att: 35,000
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THERE IS no such thing as a simple football match for Colombia, the crazy gang of world football. A week of internal dissension, presidential interference and debate which eclipsed the small matter of elections on Sunday ended with a desperate victory over Tunisia here yesterday. Glenn Hoddle will have watched with interest. But there was nothing to worry the sleep of the England coach before the final Group G match in Lens on Friday. Defending is not part of Colombia's repertoire.

It was a daft, thoroughly entertaining match, which could easily have ended 5-5 had either side possessed a striker even approaching the class of Alan Shearer or, dare one say it, Tino Asprilla. The thought will doubtless not be lost on the Colombian fans, who were just beginning to sense a revolution when Leider Preciado struck the decisive goal eight minutes from time. Most of the jeers were aimed at Carlos Valderrama, considered in some quarters to be the villain of the Asprilla affair and in most eyes to be well past his best, but it was Valderrama who set up the victory, winning the ball down the left before feeding Preciado. Preciado swayed past two defenders before planting his left foot shot off Chokri El-Ouaer's outstretched right hand and into the net.

By then, most of the 35,000 crowd had given up hope of seeing a goal, though chances came and went with abandon. A draw was of little interest to either side, but no one expected a complete free-for-all. The Colombians lack any interest in such a disciplined art form; the Tunisians, in their second World Cup finals, are still learning. Shearer gave Sami Trabelsi a fearful time in Marseilles in England's comfortable victory. Without Asprilla, Colombia relied on the pace of Anthony De Avila, whose goal against Ecuador, subsequently dedicated to the founders of the Cali drug cartel in prison, took Colombia to France. At the age of 34, De Avila can no longer match his nickname, "El Muchacho", the Kid, but he never stopped harrying the Tunisian defence down both flanks and his crosses were at the heart of most of Colombia's best moments.

Valencia, handed the main striking duties in the absence of Asprilla, could have had a hat-trick in five minutes just before half-time, but his left-foot shot, dipping from 25 yards, flew just over, a crashing near-post header went wide and a near-post flick, from a Valderrama free- kick, hit the post. The pace and space was more five-a-side. At the opposite end, Farid Mondragon, whose handling of crosses under pressure was suspect throughout, punched a corner on to the back of Riadh Bouazizi and watched the ball loop back on to his crossbar. Surprisingly, given the height difference between the two rugged Colombian centre-backs and the Tunisian forwards, Tunisia looked dangerous at almost every aerial set piece.

At the heart of their problems is the charismatic figure of Valderrama, whose influence is at best sporadic, at worst destructive. Harold Lozano and Maurizio Serna will be old before their time making up their captain's mileage. Yet his judgement of a pass is still critical to Colombia's staccato style. De Avila's most productive spell midway through the first half was prompted by Valderrama's right foot. At other times, he is an expensive luxury.

The Tunisians deserved a better fate. They played themselves to a standstill and Mehdi Ben Slimane and Adel Sellimi, who plays in France, will replay a catalogue of chances. Skander Souayah miscued a shot from 15 yards with the whole goal open and Sellimi got his feet in a tangle at the near post when only a touch was needed. Mondragon dealt erratically with the rest, though El-Ouaer was the busier of the two goalkeepers, saving brilliantly from a Victor Aristizabal header and minutes before the end from the goal- scorer, Preciado.

COLOMBIA (4-3-3): Mondragon (Independiente); Cabrera (Millonarios), Bermudez (Boca Juniors), Palacios, Santa (both Atletico Nacional); Serna (Boca Juniors), Lozano (Real Valladolid), Valderrama (Miami Fusion); Rincon (Corinthians), De Avila (Barcelona Guayaquil), Valencia (Independiente Medellin). Substitutes used: Preciado (Santa Fe Bogota) for Rincon, 59; Aristizabal (Sao Paulo) for Valencia, 59, Bolano (Junior Barranquilla) for Serna 67.

TUNISIA (4-4-2): El-Ouaer (Esperance); Thabet (Esperance), Chouchane (Etoile Sahel), S Trabelsi (CS Sfaxien), Clayton (Etoile Sahel); Bouazizi (Etoile Sahel), Souayah (CS Sfaxien), Beya (Freiburg), Chihi (Esperance); Sellimi (Real Jaen), Ben Slimane (Freiburg). Substitutes used: Ben Younes (Etoile Sahel) for Sellimi, 70; Ben Ahmed (Esperance) for Beya, 75; Godhbane (Etoile Sahel) for Thabet, 77.

Referee: B Heynemann (Germany).