Football: World Cup - Argentina's perfect day

Argentina 1 Pineda 36 Croatia 0 Att: 35,000
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The Independent Online
ARGENTINA BEAT Croatia here yesterday to win Group H and go through to the last 16 with a 100 per cent record. Croatia finished second in the group.

Twenty years and one day after their then captain, Daniel Passarella, hoisted the World Cup in Buenos Aires, yesterday's victory set up the potential for a game against England in the second round reminiscent of the renowned 1986 match in Mexico in which Diego Maradona beat England with one flash of brilliance and one of cunning.

Passarella - now national team coach and nicknamed "El Kaiser" in Argentina - surprised Croatia with four changes in their starting line-up.

Hector Pineda, starting in the midfield role usually played by the regular captain, Diego Simeone, scored the winner in the 36th minute, moving on to a lobbed pass from Ariel Ortega, bringing it down on his chest and crashing a left-foot volley inside goalkeeper Drazen Ladic's right-hand post.

The move had been started by another newcomer, Marcelo Gallardo, who started in place of Claudio Lopez. Passarella further confounded the Croatians by bringing on Simeone and Lopez for the second half.

The Croatian coach, Miroslav Blazevic, left no doubt that he was not content with second-place in the group - he had always said he would prefer to play England than Romania in the next round - by bringing on striker Goran Vlaovic of Valencia at half-time to replace midfielder Silvio Maric. But the gamble by Passarella paid off. Pineda always looked dangerous coming down the left flank and Pablo Paz, brought in for Jose Chamot because Chamot already had a yellow card hovering over him, made several dangerous runs down the right.

Three players were booked on each side, including Croatia's Zvonimir Soldo of VfB Stuttgart, who will miss the next game. The defender earned his booking for body-checking Ortega just outside the box when the Valencia midfielder was moving into a scoring position.

Gallardo from the River Plate club was the midfield driving force throughout the first half, combining well with Juan Veron and Ortega. Passarella took Ortega off shortly after half-time, apparently to rest him, and brought on Lopez.

Gallardo had a clear-cut chance to score in the 19th minute but his attempt at a spectacular bicycle kick only ended with a miskick.

Real Madrid's Suker, out of favour at his Spanish club, came close to opening the scoring in the second minute when he moved on to a long ball from midfield, looping a header from just inside the box which beat Argentina keeper Carlos Roa but dropped on to the roof of the net. But Gallardo was the revelation of the day.

ARGENTINA (5-4-1): Roa (Mallorca); Paz (Tenerife), Vivas (Lugano), Ayala (Naples), Zanetti (Internazionale), Pineda (Udinese); Ortega (Valencia), Veron (Sampdoria Genoa), Gallardo (River Plate), Almeyda (Lazioe); Batistuta (Fiorentina). Substitutes: Lopez (Valencia) for Ortega, 54; Simeone (Internazionale) for Zanetti, 69; Berti (River Plate) for Gallardo, 82

CROATIA (4-5-1): Ladic (Croatia Zagreb); Soldo (VfB Stuttgart), Jarni (Betis Seville), Simic (Croatia Zagreb), Bilic (Everton); Boban (Milan), Maric (Croatia Zagreb), Stanc (Parma), Asanovic (Naples), Prosinecki (Croatia Zagreb); Suker (Real Madrid). Substitutes: Stimac (Derby County) for Prosinecki, 69; Vlaovic (Valencia) for Maric, h-t.

Referee: S Belquola (Morocco).

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