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Last Updated: Monday, 30 August, 2004, 18:16 GMT 19:16 UK
Argentina hope for more glory
By Tim Vickery

When Diego Maradona dribbled past the England defence to score in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final, he took nearly 13 seconds to run approximately 55 metres.

It is not a time that would have put him in contention for an Olympic medal.

But Maradona was running with a ball, and zig-zagging through opponents who were desperate to stop him.

These, thankfully, were not impediments faced by Mark Lewis-Francis on Saturday when he held off Maurice Greene to clinch Britain's relay gold.

For all its simplicity, football is a game which includes a vast complexity of movements and options.

He may never have been the greatest athlete in the world, but in the last 30 years no one has dominated the arts and techniques of the game as well as Maradona.

It made him an exceptionally hard act to follow, but now, with the gold medal in the Olympic football tournament, Argentina have finally won their first title of the post-Maradona era.

It was a most convincing triumph. They won all their games, scoring 17 goals and conceding none.

Along the way they played some sparking football; there was plenty of high tempo passing and movement, use of both flanks, changes of rhythm, both individual and collective brilliance.

They were a delight to watch. But though Olympic gold is welcome, coach Marcelo Bielsa is well aware that the World Cup is the real test.

The Olympic tournament is a valuable half way house on the way to football's toughest challenge.

For example, Argentina's team in the last two World Cups came up through the 1996 Olympics.

Bielsa paid tribute to these men in the post-Olympic final press conference.

"They formed a great team," he said, "who received less than they deserved."

Is the new team on course to do better? Can the reigning Olympic gold medallists also become the world champions in 2006?

First they have to get to Germany - and after two months of non-stop tournament football there will be some tired legs in the team that travels to Lima to face Peru in Saturday's World Cup qualifier.

But assuming that they make it through safely, Argentina look set to light up the World Cup with some flowing and attractive football.

The Olympic win, though, has not completely removed the impression that when it matters most Argentina struggle to turn their domination into goals. It proved their undoing in July's Copa America.

Perhaps, as well as Maradona, there is another player from Argentina's past whose absence is being felt.

A welcome addition would be a player with the characteristics of 1978 World Cup hero Mario Kempes.

Argentina weave some glorious patterns on the edge of their opponent's area.

Kempes, with his powerful bursts from deep, would supply an extra cutting edge.

Not especially quick off the mark but an impressive sight in full flow, Kempes might have made an excellent 200 metre runner. A striker in the same mould might help carry them over the finish line.





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