World Cup Football: Batistuta's freak show

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Argentina. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Australia. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

(Argentina win 2-1 on aggregate)

ARGENTINA qualified for next year's World Cup finals courtesy of a freak goal in a scrappy encounter against Australia in Buenos Aires on Wednesday. The home side's 1-0 win in the second leg of their South America / Oceania play-off gave them a 2-1 aggregate success.

After a tense first half in which Argentina squandered three clear chances to score, the deadlock was broken in the 60th minute. Tenerife's classy midfielder, Fernando Redondo, broke through and released Gabriel Batistuta, whose cross from the right deflected off the Australian defender, Alex Tobin, and sailed over the goalkeeper, Robert Zabica, into the net at the far post.

Argentina's key to victory was that they matched the Australians' physical approach and at times raised the standard of play with close-knit passing from their nimble-footed captain, Diego Maradona, and an outstanding Redondo.

The 33-year-old Maradona said: 'This is marvellous. This is for the people, they deserve it'. Despite close marking from his opposing captain, Paul Wade, Maradona orchestrated a number of attacks with strong running and incisive left-foot passes, although he never looked like scoring.

The Australian midfield lacked rhythm and struggled to find the final ball. The craftier Argentines also repeatedly caught the partly amateur visiting team offside, while Oscar Ruggeri, a veteran of two World Cup finals, was solid in the home defence.

ARGENTINA: Goycochea (River Plate); Chamot (Foggia), Vasquez (Universidad Catolica), Ruggeri (America), MacAllister (Boca Juniors), Perez (Independiente), Redondo (Tenerife), Simeone (Seville), Maradona (Newell's Old Boys), Balbo (Roma), Batistuta (Fiorentina). Substitute: Zapata (Yokohama Marinos) for Balbo, 69.

AUSTRALIA: Zabica; Ivanovic, T Vidmar (all Adelaide City), Van Blerk (Go Ahead Eagles), Durakovic (South Melbourne), Tobin (Adelaide City), Slater (Lens), Wade (South Melbourne), A Vidmar (Waregem), Arnold (RFC Liege), Farina (Strasbourg). Substitute: Veart (Adelaide City) for T Vidmar, 63.

Referee: P Mikkelsen (Denmark).