THERE were long shadows on the grass here yesterday, none more imposing than the figurative one cast by Diego Maradona. Without their fallen captain, Argentina were squeezed into third place in Group D when Nasko Sirakov headed a second Bulgarian goal in injury time.
Argentina must now play Romania in Pasadena, while Bulgaria got to New York to take on Mexico. They will be without Tsanko Zvetanov, sent off in the 66th minute for a trip too many in a match of nine bookings but no real malice.
A freshly Tippexed space next to the No 10 slot on the teamsheet confirmed Maradona had officially become a non-player, but there were few signs initially that Fernando Redondo or the other Diego, Simeone, were inhibited by additional responsibility.
Both stroked the ball around with aplomb - distance no object - though it took Jose Chamot to inject a sense of urgency after 22 minutes of tentative probing. Argentina's left- back, another of the real finds of these finals, made ground before feeding Claudio Caniggia 25 yards out. His raking shot was scrambled behind by Borislav Mikhailov.
Minutes later, after a rugged challenge by Emil Kremenliev, Argentina's second most famous ex-cocaine user was substituted. There was nothing obviously wrong with Caniggia, but with numbers already depleted they were taking no chances. Bulgaria, sensing that their opponents' commitment might be less than total, came close when Hristo Stoichkov sent a free-kick just over the bar, while it took three defenders to curtail Sirakov's dribble into the danger zone.
Argentina claimed penalties immediately before and after Stoichkov's breakthrough, as first Abel Balbo and later Gabriel Batistuta tumbled under vigorous challenges, but an otherwise whistle-happy referee was unmoved.
On the hour, Bulgaria broke the impasse with a goal out of character with a humdrum game. Kremenliev's angled through-pass picked out Stoichkov as he broke from midfield, and he beat the Barcelona keeper, Luis Islas, to the ball before nudging it past him from 18 yards.
ARGENTINA (4-4-2): Islas (Independiente); Diaz (River Plate), Caceres (Real Zaragoza), Ruggeri (San Lorenzo), Chamot (Foggia); Balbo (Roma), Rodriguez (Atalanta), Redondo (Real Madrid), Simeone (Seville); Batistuta (Fiorentina), Caniggia (Roma). Substitute: Ortega (River Plate) for Caniggia, 25; Medina Bello (Yokahama Marinos) for Rodriguez, 67.
BULGARIA (4-4-2): Mikhailov (Mulhouse); Kremenliev (Levski Sofia), Hubchev (Levski Sofia), Ivanov (Neuchatel Xamax), Zvetanov (Levski Sofia); Lechkov (Hamburg), Yankov (Levski Sofia), Sirakov (Levski Sofia), Balakov (Sporting Lisbon); Kostadinov (Porto), Stoichkov (Barcelona). Substitute: Kiryakov (Lerida) for Kostadinov, 73; Borimirov (Levski Sofia) for Lechkov, 76. .
Referee: N Jouini (Tunisia).