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Wednesday, 5 June, 2002, 23:57 GMT 00:57 UK
Argentina's case for the defence
Gabriel Batistuta together with Walter Samuel and Diego Placente
Samuel (centre) will be a key player for Argentina
BBC Sport Online's Tim Vickery

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Roberto Ayala's injury has not healed in time for him to face England - and he can be forgiven if his disappointment is tinged with a tiny dose of relief.

For Argentina's captain there will be no World Cup rematch with Michael Owen.

Four years ago the usually unflappable Ayala was looking extremely flappable whenever the Liverpool wonderkid ran with the ball in his direction.

At that time Ayala was the sweeper in an Argentina back line which defended very deep.

To counter Owen's pace Ayala dropped back so far that he was practically standing on his goalkeeper's toes.

Now the defensive system is very different.

Coach Marcelo Bielsa has the team positioned much further up the field, trying to put pressure on the opponent in their half.

It is a bold system, since the defenders must be prepared to go one-on-one against the opponents' strikers.

Argentina's Jose Chamot tries to contain England's Michael Owen
Owen gave Argentina's defence problems in 1998

But Argentina are prepared to run the risk - which makes the clash in Sapporo all the more intriguing.

On the evidence of the opening games, few would doubt that Argentina look the better all-round team.

But England have the attacking tools to hurt the South Americans - as Bielsa is well aware.

In addition to Owen, there is his Liverpool team-mate Heskey.

Argentina's commentators normally pronounce his first name as "Emily", but their regard for him is high.

He had an excellent game against Argentina at Wembley in February 2000.

At the time Roberto Sensini was the visiting captain.

But Bielsa was forced to replace the veteran centre back in the first half after Sensini was unable to cope with Heskey's explosive power.

Then, as Diego Simeone put it, Argentina must also watch out for "England's set pieces, Scholes bursting into the area, and Beckham's striking of the ball."

Argentina's Juan Pablo Sorin, Mauricio Pochettino and Pablo Caballero listen to coach Marcelo Bielsa
Marcelo Bielsa points the way for Argentina

Bielsa has been relentlessly drilling his men to neutralise such threats.

He has his defenders moving on the training ground as if joined together by an invisible rope - the key idea being that they must defend as a unit.

But in this collective scheme the performances of two individuals will come under the microscope.

First is Walter Samuel, the Roma defender who is the most important player to have forced his way into the Argentina side since the last World Cup.

Usually employed on the left of the back three, Samuel has moved into the centre to cover for Ayala's absence.

Many in Argentina think he should play there on a regular basis.

But for all his undoubted skills, Samuel lacks Ayala's experience at organising the defence.

Quiet by nature, Samuel will have to show against England that he is capable of leading the defensive line.

Also in the spotlight is goalkeeper Pablo Cavallero.

Against Nigeria he seemed unsure of when to come off his line.

In training Argentina have worked on trying to stop the cross coming in.

But there are bound to be moments when England will put Cavallero's decision making to the test.


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GROUP F
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SWEDEN 3 +1 5
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ARGENTINA 3 0 4
NIGERIA 3 -2 1




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