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Wednesday, 12 June, 2002, 09:49 GMT 10:49 UK
Finals the poorer for Argentina exit
Marcelo Bielsa attempts to rally his troops against Sweden
Bielsa attempts to rally his troops against Sweden
BBC Sport Online's Tim Vickery

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Argentina crash out of the World Cup after doing a fair impression of the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight.

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Two goals is a poor return for a side committed to attack which had the lion's share of possession in all its games
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They managed just two goals in three games, one from a corner, the other resulting from a dubious penalty.

It is a poor return from a side committed to attack, a team which had the lion's share of possession in all its games.

There were near misses and great saves aplenty. But the hard truth is that Argentina were not able to create enough clear chances against sides whose first priority was to defend.

It also seems clear that what worked in qualifying did not have the same success in the World Cup.

Coach Marcelo Bielsa brought to the team a European dynamism and a European emphasis on crosses.

It steamrolled the opposition in South America, who were uncomfortable against this style of play. But when it mattered, when they met European opposition, they were unable to achieve the same degree of penetration.

Batistuta comforts Crespo on the final whistle
Batistuta comforts Crespo on the final whistle

Bielsa's excess of nerves may also be at fault.

He has been jumpy all through the tournament.

He brought in Claudio Lopez for the Nigeria game and then took him off at the interval, removed Veron at half-time against England, and then with the changes made for the decisive clash with Sweden.

Everything is easy in hindsight, but perhaps he would have been better advised to stick with the XI who have done so well for him over the past two years.

It might have given the team a serenity they lacked at key moments.

Argentina pummelled Sweden for the first 45 minutes. The interval message should surely have been that, if they kept playing their football as they had been doing, the goals would come naturally.

Initiative

Instead they were visibly tense when the second half got underway, and were a goal down before they began to get back into the first-half rhythm.

But it would be unfair to be too harsh on Bielsa, because whatever nationalists in England and Brazil may think, both the World Cup and football in general are poorer for Argentina's exit.

Bielsa's team had one extremely rare and precious characteristic: wherever the game, whoever the opponents and whatever the circumstances, they were happy to accept the risks of taking the initiative.

Away to Brazil, at altitude against Bolivia, in the World Cup finals, it was all the same to them.

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The World Cup loses a side which would surely have been involved in some sensational games in the knock-out stages
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They never dragged everyone behind the ball, waited for the opposition to make a mistake and then struck on the break.

Their philosophy was always to force the game, to keep their opponents under pressure and stamp their authority on proceedings.

There was never a stalemate while they were on the pitch. So the World Cup loses a side which would surely have been involved in some sensational games in the knock-out stages.

Football also learns a dangerous lesson from their failure. It strengthens the hand of the cautious coach, the "play on the break and hope we nick one off a set piece" brigade.

One fast striker to win free kicks, 10 giants to get behind the ball - not a very imaginative recipe.

Bielsa's bold system was excellent at turning clear superiority into goals.

But when that superiority was not so clear, when the opposition could defend against crosses and break at speed, then it left the side exposed.

Chasing a goal is far more difficult and dangerous than defending a lead, or a draw. Bielsa's experiment was, in the final analysis, a failure. But at least it was a glorious one.


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SWEDEN V ARGENTINA
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 SQUAD PROFILES
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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