Saturday, June 18, 2005

Argentina 2:1 Tunisia

Argentina kicked off the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup with a comfortable 2-1 win over Tunisia in Cologne. Goals from Villareal's Juan Riquelme and Monaco's Javier Saviola were enough to kill off the spirited though limited African champions.

Argentina 2:1 Tunisia.


The North Africans started as firm underdogs but took the game to the twice World Cup winners in the opening minutes, backed by the noisy drums and chants of their expat support in the half-full Rhein-Energie Stadion.

The Tunisians, coached by Roger Lemerre, the man who led the French to the most pathetic defence of a World Cup in Korea three summers ago, gave Argentina an early scare in the fifth minute when Imed Mhadhbi's flick released Haykel Guemamdia who left Fabio Coloccini for dead before before Mario Santana intervened with a last-ditch tackle.

Soon the Argentinians were in control, and Saviola as a roaming predator was causing problems, blazing over after seven minutes and denied by the advancing Khaled Fadhel five minutes later.

Real Zaragoza's Luciano Galletti shold have given them the lead in the fourteenth minute from a Juan Sorin cross but powered his header over the crossbar.

Despite the territorial possession exerted by the South Americans, Tunisia still looked sharp on the break and one such counter on the 17 minute mark brought them a penalty as German Lux, the only home-based player in Argentina's squad, brought down Guemamdia.

The 23-year old Tunisian striker, who is on his way to Nantes next season, casually loped up to the spot before languidly swiping the ball a good two yards wide of the post, to the consternation of the Tunisian fans and the hilarity of the Argentinians.

The rest of the half saw Argentina maintain possession and Tunisia looking for the counter-attack, to the obvious annoyment of Roger Lemerre in the technical area.

Just before the half-hour mark, Lux was forced into a fingertip save from Jawhar Mnari minutes before Argentina drew first blood.

With thirty-two minutes on the clock the referee pointed to the spot after Ajax right back Hatem Trabelsi pushed over Barcelona's Maxi Rodriguez.

The Tunisian captian was also shown a yellow card and had to watch as Riquelme calmly slotted down the middle to make it 1-0.

The remainder of the half saw a flurry of Argentine chances, Maxi Rodriguez volleying in the thirty-ninth (replays showed later that Bolton's Radhi Jaidi had handled), Juan Sorin firing just wide seconds later and Luciano Galletti stroking a shot into Fadhel's arms four minutes before the interval.

The stats said it all: 70% ball possession for the South Americans and Lemerre showed his displeasure by withdrawing penalty villain Mhadhbi and spot-kick conceding skipper Trabelsi at half-time.

Argentina began again where they had left off, Heinze coming close with a curling free kick before Saviola made it two in the 57th minute.

The mobile midfielder Santana took the ball out of defense and released Galletti down the right wing. With Maxi Rodriguez and Saviola unmarked in the box, his measured cross landed at the former Barca prodigy's feet and his tap in to the far corner gave Fadhel no chance.

With Tunisia losing what bite they had in the first period and losing by two goals they cannot have been delighted to see Carlos Tevez, hailed as the next big thing in Argentine football,coming on for Saviola after sixty-six minutes.

They almost reduced arrears two minutes later however as Lux produced a moment of madness out of the book of Rene Higuita, the crazy Colombian keeper remembered for his scorpion kick and reckless upfield dribbles. Having Cruff-turned Silva Dos Santos in the box, the Argentine keeper over-hit his pass to Coloccini. Selim Benachour gleefully seized upon it but snatched at his shot which agonizingly sailed wide of an empty net.

Three mintes later things got worse for Lux as he was booked as he clipped Guemamdia and Tunisia won a penalty. The referee nodded repeatedly to confirm his decision but replays showed the Tunisian had dived and avoided contact, in much the same crafty way Michael Owen did against Argentina in 1998 and 2002. Guemamdia converted the kick anyway to make it 2-1.

Tevez would have made it 3-1 with a quarter of an hour to go but for Jaidi's goal-line clearance but the 21 year old Corinthians striker, who is being closely watched by a number of big teams at this tournament, did show signs of things to come with a couple of surging runs in the dying minuets that left a string of defenders in his wake.

Dos Santos for Tunisia and Riquelme and Rodriguez for Argentina could have added to the score before the final whistle but 2-1 it finished.

Riquelme was named man of the match for his expert orchestration between midfield and attack and as well as the twin columns of Saviola and Tevez up front, the other teams will have to look out for the probing Santana and the floating Galletti, whose tousled locks, untucked shirt and
rolled down socks brought back memories of Mario Kempes in 1978.

Roger Lemerre looked stressed throughout and cannot have slept soundly whilst Carlos Pekerman the Argentine coach is well aware that tougher tests await.

"I saw some negative things but mostly positive things" he told the journalists after the game. "We have a number of young players and this tournament is important for them to gain experience" , he went on.

Soccerphile spoke to Inter defender Javier Zanetti who confirmed it was a job well done: "I am very satisfied with the result and the performance of the team as a whole" he told me. When asked about the lack of contact between Lux and Guemamdia that led to Tunisia's goal he added, "I did not see the incident but then neither did the referee obviously but it is he who makes the decisions so we have to accpet them. But we played well today and we are looking forward to the rest of the tournament."

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