Football: Riquelme plays the elegant lead

Tim Vickery in Paraguay sees the arrival of the next generation
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The Independent Online
DIEGO SIMEONE regrets, but he is unable to make it to David Beckham's wedding. He's busy on the other side of the Atlantic, forming part of a double act with a young talent who, in his own way, is no less alluring than Posh Spice. Simeone is playing the Copa America in Paraguay, where he shares the centre of Argentina's midfield with Juan Roman Riquelme. Just turned 21, Riquelme has already conducted Boca Juniors in two domestic championships, and now his foot on the ball elegance is the most eye- catching feature of the Argentinian team.

After starring in Thursday's 3-1 win over Ecuador, Riquelme will be making the play today as Argentina take on Colombia in Luque. The Colombians, who also won their first game, are going through a process of renewal after the long reign of Carlos Valderrama. A young side - the average age of their starting line-up against Uruguay was 24 - was made even younger by the second-half introduction of the striker Jhonnier Montano. With No 17 on his back and only 16 years to his name, Montano, played a delightful half-hour, full of audacity, strength and invention. His skill induced the tournament's first red card, when Uruguay's Diego Lopez was tricked into a rash challenge.

After a year in the Argentinian second division, Montano is joining Parma of Italy. Bayern Munich is the destination of Roque Santa Cruz, who, a year older than Montano, is shouldering the burden of leading Paraguay's attack the first time that his country has staged the Copa America. The second youngest player here, Santa Cruz shows astonishing maturity in the way he is coping with the expectations of him.

His two goals against Japan on Friday both came from headers - one flicked over the keeper from a cross from the left, the other guided into the far corner from a cross from the right. With his beanpole physique makes his aerial prowess no surprise; what does shock is his acceleration and tight ground skills.

European football is sure soon to be enjoying the talents of the 19- year-old Ronaldo Assis, the new sensation of the Brazilian game. If the talk before Brazil's first game since the World Cup - on Wednesday against Venezuela - was of Ronaldo and 1998, by the end it was of the new Ronaldo and 1958.

A few minutes after his introduction from the bench, Ronaldo Assis scored a goal that rates comparison with one that immortalised the teenage Pele in the World Cup final against Sweden. In the confined space of the penalty area he lifted the ball over one defender, spurted past another and fired emphatically past the goalkeeper to put Brazil five goals up.

He was not given another chance against Mexico last night, but Brazil qualified for the quarter-finals with a 2-1 victory. Amoroso's 18th-minute goal set them on their way and Alex rocketed in a shot from 30 yards just before half-time. Brazil were cruising but then things went awry. Isaac Terrazas rewarded Mexico's second-half fightback with a goal 17 minutes from time, and with 10 minutes to go Rivaldo was sent off for the second time in his last four internationals for a two-footed tackle.

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