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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 14:07 GMT 15:07 UK
Bielsa's men go it alone
Claudio Lopez, Areil Ortega and Gabriel Batistuta limber up at training
Training sessions will be less intrusive
BBC Sport Online's Tim Vickery

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In the film The Producers, Zero Mostel plays a once great theatrical entrepreneur who has fallen on hard times.

A cardboard belt holds his trousers up - and perhaps the World Cup is performing a similar role in Argentina, preserving the dignity of a suffering society.

A violent thunderstorm kept me trapped in my Buenos Aires hotel room and a flick through the TV channels confirms that heavy rain is not the only thing falling on the Argentine people.

One afternoon discussion show is devoted to the psychological effects of the economic crisis.

Another ponders the influence of the crisis in provoking family break-ups.

Once the storm clears up, the still elegant streets tell a similar story.

Open Quote
Argentina's rich terrace culture will hardly be in evidence this June - the World Cup will be all the poorer for it
Close Quote
There are long queues outside exchange houses, empty shop space everywhere, an explosion of graffiti and people looking through litter for anything of value.

The once exhuberant city is full of melancholy faces.

It is indeed raining stones - and the best the World Cup can do is provide a temporary umbrella.

Football has always been an important source of South American self-esteem, a clear and dramatic demonstration that given a level playing field and 11 against 11 they can compete with anyone.

It is a message that Argentina needs to hear at the moment.

But even here the crisis intrudes.

The national team have been training on the outskirts of Rome.

Coverage in the local press is surprisingly scarce - the Argentine media is also in crisis and lacks the money to send squadrons of journalists across the Atlantic.

Now Marcelo Bielsa and his men are in Japan, where high travel and living costs once more make life difficult for the Argentine press corps.

Gabriel Batistuta
Gabriel Batistuta will get used to a quieter life
Newspapers which traditionally send over a dozen reporters to the World Cup will now get by with just two - and this in a year when their team is justifiably seen as one of the favourites.

Argentina's players will have plenty of microphones and tape recorders thrust under their noses in the next few weeks - but far fewer than usual will be from home.

They will also receive less encouragement from the stands.

Brazil's travelling support has always been a myth, only the priviledged can afford it, since overseas travel is beyond the dreams of the average fan.

But that was not the case with Argentina.

While the peso was equal in value to the dollar they flocked in their thousands.

In both 2000 and 2001 Boca Juniors even sent a massive contingent to Japan for the annual clash with the champions of Europe.

It will not be possible this year.

In the current climate only the rich and the insane will make the trip.

So Argentina's rich terrace culture, with its drums and wonderful non-stop singing, will hardly be in evidence this June - and the World Cup will be all the poorer for it.


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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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