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Thursday, 13 June, 2002, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Why England are wrong to gloat
Beckham and Sheringham enjoy beating Argentina
Beckham and Sheringham enjoy beating Argentina
BBC Sport Online's Tim Vickery

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From the other side of the Atlantic, the outpouring of anti-Argentine sentiment in England is both disturbing and baffling.

Presumably much of it dates back to a certain goal in a quarter-final match 16 years ago - in which case it is worth taking a look at the official film of the 1986 World Cup.

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As a player, Maradona was undoubtedly more cheated against than cheating
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Early in the game, miles from the ball, an English defender's elbow smashes into Maradona's face. It is the kind of intimidation Maradona faced every time he set foot on the field.

Many people, under such circumstances, would take the chance to get their own back one way or another.

As a player, Maradona was undoubtedly more cheated against than cheating. The same was also certainly true of Pele, who was both willing and physically equipped to fight back.

In the 1970 semi-final, Uruguay set out to kick him. Pele, on film and confessed, threw an elbow that left a defender groggy.

Team-mates say the referee saw it all, but turned a blind eye.

With the ill-fortune of playing in an age of greater media scrutiny, Maradona was seldom cut the same slack.

Referees in Brazil also talk of how Pele was a master at winning free kicks. He would lock his arm round a defender and haul him down, making it look as if he had suffered the foul.

The Pele/Maradona debate typifies the common view in England of the countries they represent. Brazil are the golden heroes, Argentina the snarling villains.

Pele scores in the 1970 final
Pele's ability to "win" free kicks should not be underestimated

It is lazy thinking, not always substantiated by the facts.

It is worth learning Portuguese just to read Ruy Castro's biography of the brilliant winger Garrincha. He gives extensive details of how Brazil used bribery on their way to winning the World Cups of 1958 and 1962.

The win-at-all-costs approach has dogged football all over South America, and has recently inflicted great damage on the game in Brazil.

There are signs of improvement, but it is true that matches can contain up to 100 fouls, as players systematically try to stop the rhythm of the opponent's counter-attacks.

Current national team boss Luis Felipe Scolari has frequently spoken of the need to commit what he terms "normal fouls".

Brazilian football has been and will continue to be an exhilarating spectacle. But no one who has seen it up close could ever call it ethical.

There are many stains on the history of Argentine football, with teams and players going far beyond the bounds of acceptable behaviour in search of victory.

But the irony of the current English rage is that this is the cleanest Argentina team that anyone can remember.

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Right from the start there were no histrionics on the field, no blood curdling tackles, no intimidation of the referee
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The tone is set by Jose Nestor Pekerman, the man in overall charge of Argentina's national team.

He also coaches the Under-20s, and is proud of the three World Youth Cups his team have claimed in recent years.

But he is just as proud of the fact that they keep winning the fair play trophy.

Pekerman took the decision to appoint Marcelo Bielsa to coach the senior side, and the two men are on the same philosophical wavelength.

Right from the start of the World Cup qualification campaign there were no histrionics on the field, no blood curdling tackles, no intimidation of the referee.

There was just football.

In the end the team's football was not good enough, and they now fly home. But, as Pekerman is always quick to stress, "you have to be prepared to accept defeat, because it's part of the game".


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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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