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ATHENS 2004

Argentina Looks Unstoppable

After outscoring opponents 16-0, it faces Paraguay in the men's soccer final.

August 28, 2004|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — The way Argentina has swept aside the opposition so far in the men's Olympic soccer tournament suggests that today's gold-medal match is merely a formality.

All that Coach Marcelo Bielsa's team has to do, it appears, is show up for the game at the Olympic Stadium, dispose of Paraguay, pick up its medal and head home.

But wait ...

Argentina has not won anything in 11 years, since prevailing in the Copa America in Ecuador in 1993, when it beat Mexico in the final.

The only Olympic medals it has won were silvers in 1928 and 1996. It was also 1928 that produced the last South American team to win the gold, with Uruguay prevailing, 2-1, in a game that had to be replayed after a 1-1 tie.

This year, Bielsa adopted a strategy that should assure the Argentines the title: Make sure the offense works and the defense will take care of itself.

"Attacking football is the simplest way to victory and success," he said. "In Argentina, we are aware of this, which is why we play open attacking football."

That has certainly been the case here. In its five games en route to today's title game, Bielsa's squad has:

* Crushed Serbia and Montenegro, 6-0.

* Shut out Tunisia, 2-0.

* Edged out Australia, 1-0.

* Rolled over Costa Rica, 4-0.

* Romped past Italy, 3-0.

Bielsa's approach on offense has earned the support of Julio Grondona, president of the Argentine Football Assn. and a senior vice president of FIFA.

"This is an out-and-out attacking side," Grondona told FIFA.com after Argentina had beaten Tunisia.

Grondona argued that Argentina was "unlucky to be eliminated in the first round" at the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan, a development that almost cost Bielsa his job.

Since then, however, he has put together a team that has what seems to be the perfect blend of experience and youth, wisdom and enthusiasm.

The team attacks from all angles, in the air, on the ground, up the middle and from the flanks. Carlos Tevez has been its unquestioned star, scoring seven of the team's 16 goals, but there is talent all through the starting lineup and even on the bench.

"We have a lot more to give because some young players, who are only 20 and 21 years of age, have virtually established themselves in the national team and this is very important for the future of Argentine football," veteran midfielder Cristian "Kily" Gonzalez told Reuters during the Copa America in Peru last month.

Bielsa brought virtually the same team to Greece, and the more it plays together, the better everything seems to work. The transition game is virtually seamless, the players are reading each other's moves with ease and the results are proving Bielsa correct.

"Having a lot of good players is not what I would consider a problem," Bielsa said.

It could be a problem for Paraguay. Coach Carlos Jara has to find a way to stop Tevez and unlock an Argentine defense that has not given up a goal at the Games.

That task will be forward Jose Cardozo's. Cardozo has five goals so far at the Games, scored on counterattacks.

Paraguay has edged Japan, 4-3; lost to Ghana, 2-1; blanked Italy, 1-0; squeezed past South Korea, 3-2; and beaten Iraq, 3-1.

Compared to Argentina's record, it seems ordinary, which is why the Argentine anthem probably will be played after today's game.

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