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Crespo equals Maradona's goal count

Striker Hernan Crespo equalled Diego Maradona's Argentine goal count as the Copa America favorites beat the United States 4-1.

sports Updated: Jun 29, 2007 20:39 IST

Striker Hernan Crespo equalled Diego Maradona's Argentine goal count as the Copa America favorites beat the United States 4-1 on Thursday in one of two blowouts in Group C Roque Santa Cruz scored a hat trick to lead Paraguay over Colombia 5-0, exposing a team which had come to this South American championship with its eyes on the title.

In Saturday's games, Uruguay will try to rebound from its 3-0 loss to Peru when it meets the relatively weak Bolivia at San Cristobal, while Peru will take on host Venezuela. No games are scheduled on Friday.

The United States successfully defended the CONCACAF Gold Cup on Sunday, but only four members of that winning side played against Argentina two as second-half substitutes and they were outgunned by an Argentina side which is close to full strength. After the US went ahead in the ninth minute via a penalty by Eddie Johnson, the Argentines quickly equalized as Crespo knocked home a loose ball after a free kick by Juan Roman Riquelme. Argentina renewed offense in the second half, with Crespo scoring his record-equaling goal, followed by a charging header by substitute Pablo Aimar. Carlos Tevez, who started on the bench, added the fourth in the final minutes.

Crespo equaled Maradona's 34 goals for "la albiceleste." The achievement was made special by the presence of Maradona at the game. Retired stiker Gabriel Batistuta is Argentina's all-time top scorer, with 56 goals.

"It's an immense honor for me to equal the achievement of Diego," Crespo said.

The win was an ideal start for Alfio Basile's experienced squad, which is seeking its 15th Copa America title, breaking the tie on 14 titles it shares with Uruguay.

In the earlier match, Santa Cruz' hat-trick saw Paraguay record its biggest ever win over Colombia, surpassing 3-0 victories in 1949, 1957 and 1985.

Second-half substitute Salvador Cabanas scored Paraguay's last two goals in the final 10 minutes, when a tired Colombia defense had already collapsed.

Paraguay faces the United States in its next match Monday in Barinas and Argentina stays in Maracaibo to take on Colombia the same day.

Off the field, Brazilian striker Fred was ruled out Thursday for the rest of the tournament after breaking his right foot during a practice match.

The Olympique Lyon forward didn't take part in the upset opening loss to Mexico, but coach Dunga had been counting on the player being available for the match Sunday against Chile in Maturin, which the five-time World Cup-winners must win to reinvigorate their championship hopes.

Ten minutes into the second half of the US-Argentina match, the mostly Venezuelan crowd of 40,000 came to its feet and shouted "libertad, libertad, libertad" - Spanish for freedom - in defiance of President Hugo Chavez, who is a critic of the United States. The Copa America is being hosted by Venezuela for the first time in its 91-year history and Chavez' government has spent lavishly - more than US$1 billion (euro740,000) - building or renovating nine stadiums and related infrastructure.

Tournament organizers have taken care to prevent the country's political divide from impacting the event and the government has been accused of buying tickets to prevent protesters from entering stadiums.

Apart from Thursday's chanting, and a brief heckling of Chavez at the opening ceremony in San Cristobal, the games have been free of disturbances. However, regional governing body CONMEBOL cited security concerns for its decision to move one of the semifinals from the protest-prone capital Caracas to Maracaibo.

First Published: Jun 29, 2007 20:36 IST