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Friday, 7 June, 2002, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Where Argentina went wrong
Argentina fans in a London bar don't like what they are seeing
Argentina fans in a London bar don't like what they are seeing

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At last Argentina and England managed to get through a World Cup match without one of those tabloid talking points so beloved of those who prefer controversy to football.

That, though, is of little consolation to Marcelo Bielsa, who will spend hours analysing his team's performance in the light of this defeat.

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Michael Owen's display in Sapporo reinforced the message that Bielsa's system can be undone by outstanding individual ability
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Now his side must beat Sweden to stay in the competition. In all probability a draw against England would have left them in the same position, but even so the defeat is bad news.

Bielsa's Argentina are not used to losing. This was only their third defeat since the 1999 Copa America and it is no coincidence that both the other two were away to Brazil.

However poor their form may be, Brazil can always be relied upon to have great individual talent and Michael Owen's display in Sapporo reinforced the message that Bielsa's system can be undone by outstanding individual ability.

Bielsa's Argentina are quite happy to assume all the risks of taking the initiative in the game. It is precisely this that has made them so exhilarating to watch over the past two years.

They are not a cagey, wait-and-see-what-happens side. They want to dictate the rhythm of the game from the opponent's half of the field.

Stretched

But it leaves them short of cover at the back. Defenders are forced to go one-on-one with opposing strikers.

Argentina have generally coped well with this risk, but then they lost two of their first-choice back three.

Nelson Vivas is out of the World Cup and captain Roberto Ayala has not yet recovered from a muscle tear suffered while warming up for the Nigeria game.

Along comes Michael Owen, and suddenly Argentina's defensive system does not look quite so clever.

To cope with the pace of Owen, Samuel dropped deeper. But it left Argentina more stretched than usual.

That gave the England midfield more time on the ball to launch passes in Owen's direction and then second-string defenders Pochettino and Placente were left exposed.

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Bielsa will be tossing and turning in search of attacking solutions
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Since a change of system is unlikely at this stage, Bielsa's task is to remind his players that there are not too many Michael Owens in world football.

The methods that have served them so well over the past two years can continue to get results.

If the defensive problems were half-expected, the same cannot be said for Argentina's difficulties at the other end of the field. Two games have yielded just one goal, and even that came from a set piece.

Here, most of the failings are individual: Veron is playing the worst football of his international career, Ortega flatters to deceive, Crespo looks less than fully fit.

Football's tortured intellectual, Bielsa will be tossing and turning in search of attacking solutions.

Unless Argentina score at least one goal against Sweden next Wednesday, they are out of the World Cup.


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GROUP F
  P GD PTS
SWEDEN 3 +1 5
ENGLAND 3 +1 5
ARGENTINA 3 0 4
NIGERIA 3 -2 1




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