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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 September, 2003, 10:34 GMT 11:34 UK
Veron rebuilds bridges
By Tim Vickery

Juan Sebastian Veron turned the jeers to cheers with his display for Argentina against Chile
Veron made Argentina tick against Chile

It was Argentina's first game in Buenos Aires for nearly two years, and the disappointment of the 2002 World Cup was hanging heavy in the air.

When the team was read out before the opening World Cup qualifier against Chile, three names were singled out for special disapproval; coach Marcelo Bielsa, striker Claudio Lopez and Chelsea's own Juan Sebastian Veron.

Lopez, who was on the bench, has never been highly rated by the Argentine public.

Bielsa has always been more of a football intellectual than a crowd pleaser.

But in Veron's case it was different. He may not have been everyone's favourite, but he was generally popular.

But all that changed with the World Cup.

Just as he was the symbol of the side that went to Japan, so he became the personification of Argentina's crushing first-round elimination.

South American World Cup qualifiers
Argentina 2-2 Chile
Ecuador 2-0 Venezuela
Peru 4-1 Paraguay

As the Chile game got under way, it was almost as if the crowd saw Veron as a traitor.

For the first half hour the stadium was strangely quiet. The only rises in the decibel count were the whistles that greeted Veron every time he received the ball.

No longer does he feature in his old free role. Perky young talents like Aimar and D'Alessandro now dictate the play in the final third of the field.

Veron has moved back to the holding role in front of the back three, for so long the possession of Diego Simeone.

There was something of Simeone in Veron's determination to get his international career back on track.

He was even booked for a wild challenge halfway through the first half.

Some of the whistling continued but it could no longer drown out the applause...Veron was winning the crowd back

And as the game wore on it became harder for the crowd to ignore the truth; Veron was playing a blinder.

Along with his manic effort and sharp interceptions, Veron was making Argentina play.

With solid footballing sense, passing and movement, a mixture of long and short balls, Chelsea's recent acquisition was giving a masterclass.

Some of the whistling continued, but it could no longer drown out the applause. Veron was winning the crowd back.

Backed up by his prompting, Argentina's bright young attacking stars began to shine.

Soon it was 2-0, with the promise of plenty more to come, and a party broke out in what had seemed more like a morgue.

The Chile coach Juvenal Olmos made some shrewd tactical changes. He switched from 4-4-2 to 3-3-1-3, and his side quickly pulled a goal back.

The conclusion appears to be that Veron is not out - despite last year's World Cup flop he seems as important as ever to his national team

Marcelo Bielsa fretted. He wanted a more defensive balance to his midfield.

Off, to the odd whistle and plenty of applause, went Veron. On came specialist marker Mathias Almeyda.

It was a disaster.

Almeyda proved unable to tighten up the midfield.

Argentina gained nothing extra - but lost the capacity to build their play from the back.

Chile drew level, and could even have won as Argentina lost their shape and piled forward in desperation.

It was an enthralling game, which seemed to pack all of the ebbs and flows of a five-day Test Match into its 90 minutes.

And the conclusion appears to be that Veron is not out.

Despite last year's World Cup flop he seems as important as ever to his national team.

Meanwhile, Newcastle's Nolberto Solano started off the scoring as Peru beat Paraguay 4-1 in Lima.

And, in Quito, Ecuador got their campaign off to a winning start after beating Venezuela 2-0.

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