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Tuesday, 7 May, 2002, 09:07 GMT 10:07 UK
On the right track
Pablo Aimar in action for Argentina
Pablo Aimar may have a vital role in the Far East

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Piece by piece the Argentina squad is assembling in Rome.

And the most fascinating part of the jigsaw is the position on the right side of the attack.

Coach Marcelo Bielsa is a firm believer in the value of attacking players in wide positions.

He seeks to play in the opponents' half of the field, stretching their defence by using a front three - a centre-forward plus a wide man on either flank.

Bielsa took over after the last World Cup.

Throughout his reign, Ariel Ortega has usually been the first option for the role wide on the right.

Ariel Ortega in action for Argentina
Ortega is becoming more and more of a fringe player
Now 28, the 'Little Donkey' should be at the height of his powers, ready to make this - his third World Cup, and probably his last - the crowning moment of his career.

But the signs are that Bielsa's faith has been shaken.

The last time that Ortega played a full 90 minutes for Argentina was back in November 2000.

Ever since, his form has been patchy, and no amount of pep talks have straightened him out.

It was Ortega's loss of form which opened up the space for Claudio Caniggia to make a late challenge.

Bielsa brought the veteran back for two friendlies this year and was enchanted.

"Cani carries out a role which is becoming increasingly rare in football," the coach said.

"He's a player who aims to get round the back of the opposing defence."

The Glasgow Rangers winger seemed to be on course to claim a place in the World Cup starting line up.

But then injury kept him out of last month's game against Germany.

Claudio Caniggia in action for Argentina
Caniggia has made the most of the chance he was given
And now the knock he picked up in the Scottish Cup final threatens to keep him out altogether.

Despite both Ortega and Caniggia being included in Bielsa's first draft of the squad, the battle is moving in favour of Pablo Aimar.

The fragile playmaker has not had the easiest of introductions to senior international football.

He looked very lightweight when called upon to deputise for Juan Sebastian Veron in World Cup qualifying.

He also found it hard to adjust to the physical demands of European football after his move from River Plate to Valencia.

But he has grown up quickly, and has come good at the right time.

Superb in the run-in as Valencia claimed their first Spanish league title for 31 years, he was also in fine form for his country last month against Germany.

Aimar is not a natural wide man but it could be that it is easier for him to find space on the flanks to launch into his trademark jinking runs.

The team's width is maintained if Javier Zanetti can overlap from his position on the right of midfield.

It was how Argentina played in a friendly away to Italy last year, when their 2-1 win did little justice to the extent of their domination.

It could be the way that Argentina will begin their World Cup campaign.


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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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