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Argentina

From the time they reached the final of the inaugural World Cup to the time they finished second in the qualifiers to Brazil, the team has always been one of the favourites. And with a record of making it to the finals every year their expectations are high this time.

india Updated: May 25, 2006 19:17 IST

FIFA world ranking 8
Coach Jose Peckerman
Group C Holland, Ivory Coast, Serbia & Montenegro, Argentina
Previous appearances 13  (Winners 1978, 1986; Runners-up: 1930, 1990)
Key player Juan Roman Riquelme
Odds 7/1


Argentina has always been one of the teams to beat in the World Cup ever since its inception in 1930. In that inaugural World Cup, Argentina lost in the final to hosts Uruguay 4-2 in front of 80,000 spectators.

Argentina's rivalry with Brazil is a part of the legend. But it was eight years after Brazil had won their third World Cup in 1970 could Argentina win their first when they were the hosts in 1978 with a fleet-footed striker called Mario Kempes being the star, scored six goals in the tournament.

Eight years later in Mexico, the collective strength of some of toughest defenders in the world wasn't enough to shoot down Diego Maradona, who inspired an average Argentine team to win the World Cup against all odds.

The genius was in full flight; making the right moves with that magical left-foot and the opponents were left tackling his shadow!

Four years later in Italy, Maradona was a shadow of the player he was and in the final Argentina were beaten by West Germany, a team they had crushed in Mexico to lift the Cup.

They were knocked out in the second round by Romania in USA 1994, a tournament in which Maradona was banned for failing a dope test.

Four years later in France, Dennis Bergkamp's wonder goal scripted Holland's win over Argentina in the quarterfinal, regarded as the match of that tournament.

Along with France, they went to Japan and Korea as the hot favourite in 2002 only to be knocked out in the first round!

After finishing second in the qualifying campaign to Brazil on goal difference, they are going to Germany as one of the favourites.

In the Group of Death (Group C), they will vie for a place in the second round with Holland, Ivory Coast and Serbia and Montenegro.

Though not as big a contender as Brazil, but this Argentine team of Juan Roman Riquelme, Pablo Aimar, Carlos Tevez, Hernan Crespo and Lionel Messi is capable of going all the way. And the world knows it.

Elevated to the national team hotseat in 2004 after the sudden departure of Marcelo Bielsa, Coach Jose Pekerman's came to the senior side after guiding Argentina's under-20s to three youth World Cups.

The respected 56-year-old had already turned down an offer to coach the side in 1998 saying he did not have enough experience, but did not hesitate when offered the position six years later.

Juan Roman Riquelme, sublimely gifted playmaker who is the attacking fulcrum of the Argentinian side. Lacks pace, but his superb control and positional awareness make him devilishly hard to mark.

Career has taken off since he was let go by Barcelona and headed to Villarreal, whose run to the semi-finals of the Champions League was largely down to the inspirational Riquelme.

COMPLETE SQUADS

Goalkeepers: Roberto Abbondanzieri, Leo Franco, Oscar Ustari

Forwards: Javier Saviola, Hernán Crespo, Carlos Tévez, Rodrigo Palacio, Lionel Messi, Julio Ricardo Cruz

Defenders: Roberto Ayala, Juan Pablo Sorín, Fabricio Coloccini, Javier Saviola, Hernán Crespo, Carlos Tévez, Rodrigo Palacio, Lionel Messi, Julio Ricardo Cruz

Midfeilders: Esteban Cambiasso, Javier Mascherano, Juan Román Riquelme, Lionel Scaloni, Pablo Aimar, Maxi Rodríguez, Lucho González.