Argentina fight to impress fans

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The Independent Football

The current Argentinian team were efficient, conceded Cesar Luis Menotti, who coached Osvaldo Ardiles and Co to victory in the 1978 World Cup, but they did not enthuse him with the traditional artistry of the country's football.

The current Argentinian team were efficient, conceded Cesar Luis Menotti, who coached Osvaldo Ardiles and Co to victory in the 1978 World Cup, but they did not enthuse him with the traditional artistry of the country's football.

Menotti's views are widely shared in Argentina. They refer to a side which are the runaway leaders in South America's World Cup qualification table, which only field three specialist defenders and which were described by the great Brazilian Tostão as "the most attacking team in the world." But for many the style of play is too European, based excessively on hard running. The existence of such criticisms is an eloquent statement of the burdens of tradition and expectation carried by those who wear the light blue and white shirt.

It might be too much to ask, but perhaps Argentina's players will have satisfied their public after a 2-0 win in Chile that keeps them five points clear in the table. Chile needed a victory to keep their campaign alive, but Argentina dominated from the start, stretching their opponents and then pouring through the gaps. Confirming the impression that he is a poor man's right-footed Maradona, Ariel Ortega danced through the Chile defence to score a goal about half as good as the great man's second against England in 1986.

A switch to a more compact 4-4-2 brought Chile into the game, although equally as significant was the fact that Juan Veron limped off. Argentina were already missing Batistuta, Crespo, Claudio Lopez, Zanetti and Simeone. But Chile only once came close, a header from Marcelo Salas being tipped onto the bar, and two minutes from time Ortega set up Claudio Husain for Argentina's second.

However, if Argentinian fans are hard to please, then Brazil's can be impossible. Colombia arrived in São Paulo with the blanket defence that has seen them concede the fewest goals in the competition, while Brazil were badly missing the guile of the injured Romario, a master at positioning himself in cramped penalty areas.

Despite some effervescent prompting from Juninho, Brazil were getting nowhere and towards the end of the first half came the first signs of frustration from the crowd. The closing stages were played out amid a rising chorus of derision, much aimed at Rivaldo whose free role once again produced little more than a cheap surrender of possession. Shocked by the ferocity of the fans, Rivaldo pondered aloud if it was worth playing for the national team.

The crowd's boos should have had a soothing effect on the visitors, but five minutes from time it was a Colombian who lost his head. Jairo Castillo was sent off after reacting violently to the worst in a series of cynical fouls from Cesar Sampaio, and Brazil took full advantage. The only area in which Colombia had looked vulnerable was from corners, and with the last kick of the game Juninho crossed for Roque Junior to head home at the near post. A crowd which was preparing to sing its final condemnation was forced to change its tune.

Brazil stay second, ahead of Paraguay on goal difference. Free from the burdens of expectation which afflict their more illustrious neighbours, the Paraguayans routed Peru 5-1. Since beating Brazil in July they have been South America's form side and are running the risk of creating a tradition of their own.

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