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Thursday, 23 May, 2002, 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
Argentina's Brazilian influence
Toninho Cerezo
Toninho Cerezo in full flight in the 1978 World Cup
BBC Sport Online's Tim Vickery

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Finding sparring partners has given Argentina headaches all year.

This week it was the turn of Tunisia to pull out so a match was hurriedly arranged against Japanese club side Kashima Antlers.

Marcelo Bielsa's men could hardly have found more fitting opponents.

Kashima are coached by Toninho Cerezo, a man who had a huge influence on the career of Argentina's most important player.

Toninho Cerezo watches Kashima Antlers from the touchline
Cerezo in his present guise as Kashima coach
Cerezo is one of the best midfielders Brazil have ever produced.

Some said he looked ungainly. One critic descibed him as being like two dwarves, one on top of the other, both trying to run in different directions.

But few have ever controlled a midfield with more ability or intelligence.

However, the World Cup was not kind to Cerezo.

He was disappointing in 1978 and in his prime in 1982, an uncharacteristic poor pass let in Paolo Rossi to score a goal that helped send Brazil home.

Four years on injury forced him to pull out.

Juan Sebastian Veron in training in Japan
Veron is Argentina's answer to Cerezo
It was in Italian club football that Cerezo made his mark, first with Roma, and then with Sampdoria.

He was the key player at "Samp", the supply line for Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini as the humble Genoa club established itself as the best in the land.

How Brazil would love to have a player like Cerezo nowadays.

In stark contrast Argentina have no such worries.

Many in Argentine football have a huge admiration for the Brazilian midfielder, and as soon as Juan Sebastian Veron began to hint at his potential, he was dubbed "the new Cerezo".

Sampdoria certainly thought so, too.

Veron was still a callow youth of 21 when they bought him in 1996, handing him the role filled with such success by Cerezo.

The Brazilian had left the club four years earlier.

Toninho Cerezo
Cerezo marshals Sampdoria in the autumn of his career
His last game was the European Cup final at Wembley, where Barcelona played him the complement of assigning Bakero, their best midfielder, to cancel him out. The Brazilian was 37 at the time.

With his younger legs, Veron soon showed that his mobility made him a very difficult man to mark.

He relished the challenge of filling Cerezo's boots, and Argentina soon felt the benefit.

Veron broke into the starting line up for the World Cup qualifier away to Colombia in February 1997.

Argentina were languishing at the time, in danger of missing out on France 98.

Colombia were top of the South America's table and backed by the blistering afternoon heat of Barranquilla.

But Veron took the field with the confidence befitting a player who had already shown Sampdoria he was worthy of the Cerezo tag.

He dominated the game and Argentina won 1-0.

It was a result which proved to be the start of everything they have gone on to achieve.

Now Veron will look to continue that run and achieve success on the stage that Cerezo graced but never mastered.


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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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