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Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 19:08 GMT 20:08 UK
The other Diego
Diego Simeone
Diego Simeone has played for Argentina for 13 years
When Diego Simeone lined up against Venezuela last March he became the first Argentina player to win 100 caps.

As the most-capped Argentina player in history and an ever-present in the team's midfield for 13 years, Simeone could reasonably be considered an all-time great.

But when the Lazio midfielder made his historic 100th appearance, his overriding feeling was one of embarrassment.

Diego Simeone
Simeone led Atletico Madrid to the double
"If I think about Maradona it puts me to shame," he said. "He was a Martian. He was so good that he could be with us still today, even at the age of 40.

"I, on the other hand, am just a warrior, a fighter who aims to give everything."

The combative nature of a self-proclaimed warrior is the familiar image of Simeone to those who have watched him since he made his international debut against Australia in 1988.

The tough-tackling midfielder was a key figure in successful Atletico Madrid and Inter Milan sides in the mid-1990s before moving on to Lazio in 1998.

It was in Rome two seasons ago that Simeone reached the pinnacle of his club career, scoring four goals in the last seven league games, including the winner in a vital victory over Juventus in Turin.

He also scored the winner in the Coppa Italia final to ensure hero status with the Lazio fans, much as he had done when helping Atletico to a Spanish double in 1996.

But for all his success at club level, Simeone has suffered numerous disappointments with the national side.

It started with a crushing 4-1 defeat at the hands of lowly Australia in 1988, and things got worse two years later when he was left out of the squad for Italia 90.

Diego Maradona
Maradona was thrown out of USA 94
"I was a 20-year-old and I was left out of the final 22 at the last minute," recalled Simeone. "It was a big blow."

By the time of the next World Cup he had firmly established himself in a midfield that included, at times, an ageing Maradona. They swept through the three group games at USA 94 and looked like potential winners.

But when Maradona was thrown out of the tournament following a positive drug test, the squad was shattered. A dramatic defeat to Romania in one of the games of the World Cup left Simeone feeling a glorious chance had been wasted.

"I felt sick because we had a team that had re-established the good image of Argentinian football after the shame of 1990, and then the private habits of a player intervene and rip the soul out of the squad," he said.

"I really felt that we had a team that could win the World Cup and then, as always with an Argentina team, outside forces destroyed our dream."

More disappointment came at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta when Argentina lost in the final to a Nigeria side that had already shocked Brazil.

"A silver medal is nothing when you are standing on a lower level to the gold medallists," said Simeone of that achievement. "There is no shine to it; there is only shame."

Diego Simeone
Simeone and Beckham clashed four years ago
France 98 saw the hard man of the Argentina side gain worldwide recognition, but not for his part in a run to the quarter-finals that was only ended by a Dennis Bergkamp wonder-goal for Holland

Rather, Simeone found fame and, in England at least, notoriety, for throwing himself to the ground and getting David Beckham sent off after a harmless looking tap on the calf.

Now, at the age of 32, Simeone is ready to take football's greatest prize at the heart of what he considers the best Argentina side he has played in.

"Although most of the players will be those who played in 1998, they will have more experience. And there's nothing to beat experience."

Maybe it is time for another Diego to lift 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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