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Last Updated: Monday, 13 February 2006, 09:55 GMT
Tim Vickery column
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

Argentina coach Hugo Tocalli
Assistant coach Hugo Tocalli's Argentina face Ivory Coast at the World Cup

Egypt may have won the African Cup of Nations - but Argentina also came away from the tournament in profit.

The South Americans had the chance to take a long, hard look at Ivory Coast, their opening World Cup opponents.

Just as well, because otherwise they might have taken some basic misconceptions along with them on the road to Hamburg on 10 June.

Argentina's assistant coach Hugo Tocalli went to the draw last December.

"Ivory Coast attack a lot and don't defend very much," was his instant verdict on his side's first Group C rivals. Six games in Egypt later, Argentina have been alerted to the fact that the truth is very different.

The Elephants, as shown in game after game, defend deep and look to attack quickly, in moves of one or two passes that set free their dangerous strikers.

The ideal Ivory Coast goal was the semi-final winner against Nigeria; one long, diagonal pass from deep putting Didier Drogba clear of the entire opposing defence.

Coach Henry Michel's Ivory Coast team are counter-attack specialists.

It means that the 10 June meeting has the potential to be a terrific game. Styles makes fights, as the boxing writers say.

The current Argentina side do not base their game on rapid breaks or on set-pieces.

They look to have as much possession as possible, dictate the rhythm of the game and pass their way through the opposition.

They are like an old-fashioned boxer who wears down his adversary by controlling the centre of the ring.

Didier Drogba
Didier Drogba epitomises Ivory Coast's direct approach
So 10 June then, matches the puncher against the counter-puncher.

Twelve years ago such a clash of styles produced a masterpiece.

In USA 94, Alfio Basile's Argentina side, like Josť Pekerman's current outfit, had a similar romantic approach to the game. They were an adventurous and attractive passing team.

In the second round in Los Angeles they came up against Romania, who, with the skill and shrewdness of Gheorghe Hagi and the speed of Ilie Dumitrescu, were lethal on the break.

Romania won 3-2, although it could have gone either way.

Whoever won, it was far and away the outstanding game of the tournament. The clash of styles made for a marvellous contest.

If Argentina against Ivory Coast is anything like as good then Germany 2006 will have got off to a wonderful start. I would also hope that this time the counter-attacking team do not prevail.

This wish is not founded on any South American loyalty. Instead, it is based on loyalty to football.

Increasingly, in international tournaments the road more travelled by is the less risky one - sit back, take few risks, strike on the break.

I truly believe that the game will be all the better if sides with Argentina's current approach - wherever they come from - are successful in Germany this June.

By no means have all Argentina sides upheld such high-minded principles of the joys of the passing game but it is part of their mix, part of their self-expression, part of their footballing identity.

I wonder - and please let me stress that I am posing the question rather than making any definitive statement - if some of the African sides are in danger of losing their own identity.

Perhaps, traumatised by all those accusations of naivety, they have gone too far in the other direction.

Maybe they have turned to European coaches, who have brought them organisation but have stifled their self-expression, magic and unpredictability.

It would be fantastic if there were plenty of all three of these things from both sides on 10 June when Argentina meet Ivory Coast with World Cup points at stake.


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12 Jul 05 |  World Football


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