Peru looks to surprise Argentina
Like the MetroStars and Colorado Rapids, the national teams of Argentina and Peru enter Wednesday evening's match at Giants Stadium focused firmly on the future, in a world where "parity" has become soccer's new mantra.
Just as a mere four points separate the Rapids, basement dwellers in the West, from the East-leading Metros - in this, one of the tightest campaigns in Major League Soccer - so the Peruvians find themselves - just days before playing host to the Copa América - taking solace from recent trends in international soccer.
"Before in soccer, maybe you would say that on paper, Argentina or Brazil - or Italy or Germany - were the favorites," said Peruvian captain Norberto Solano at a press conference Tuesday in midtown Manhattan. "But look at what has happened at this year's European Championships. The big favorites were gone after the first round.
"These days, you have to go out and play. Wearing a certain shirt won't win the game for you."
The Peruvians are grouped with Bolivia, Venezuela and reigning champions Colombia in Group A of the 12-team South American championship - held first in 1916, making it the world's oldest competition between national teams - to be held in seven cities from July 6 to 25.
Although Peru has won the event only twice - compared to Argentina's 14 trophies - the Aston Villa midfielder Solano takes confidence from his team's wealth of overseas stars, including defender Miguel Rebosio of Spain's Real Zaragoza, midfielder Roberto Palacios of Monarcas Morelia (Mexican sister club of the Chicago Fire), and striker Claudio Pizarro, a first-choice standout for Bayern Munich of the German Bundesliga. He says the team's first goal is to make the second round.
For the Argentines, on the other hand, talk of the "new world soccer order" only brings up painful memories. To the dismay of a nation, the two-time World Cup winners crashed out of the tournament's 2002 edition in East Asia, finishing third to England and Sweden in Group F and failing to reach the second round for the first time since Chile 1962.
Coach Marcelo Bielsa retained his job in the aftermath of 2002, but enters the Copa América knowing he must provide a strong performance to a hungry public - though currently ranked second in South American World Cup qualifying, Argentina have not won a full international tournament since 1993 - if he hopes to continue until Germany 2006.
"When you play for Argentina, you're under an obligation to win. For us, there's a pressure to win it all, or else it's not a good result. So obviously we're hoping to win," said Bayer Leverkusen defender Diego Placente, whose former teammates at the German club include San Jose Earthquakes forward Landon Donovan and Columbus Crew midfielder Frankie Hejduk.
The Argentines, placed in the Copa América's Group B with Uruguay, Mexico and Ecuador, bring a squad of typical international pedigree into tonight's Fiesta Cup.
The absences of recent Real Madrid signing Walter Samuel and mercurial Valencia midfielder Pablo Aimar - both of whom were withheld by their Spanish clubs - is offset by the presence of veterans like goalkeeper Pablo Cavallero (Celta Vigo), midfielder Javier Zanetti (Inter Milan) and dynamic young stars like midfielder Andres D'Alessandro (Wolfsburg) and striker Javier Saviola of Catalan giants Barcelona.
Goalkeepers: Pablo Cavallero (Celta de Vigo), Oscar Ustari (Independiente)
Defenders: Roberto Ayala (Valencia), Fabricio Coloccini (Villarreal), Gabriel Heinze (Manchester United), Diego Placente (Bayern Leverkusen), Facundo Quiroga (Wolfsburg)
Midfielders: Cristian González (Internazionale), Javier Zanetti (Internazionale), Juan Pablo Sorín (Paris-Saint Germain), Andrés D'Alessandro (Wolfsburg), Gonzalo Rodríguez (Villarreal), Nicolas Domingo (River Plate)
Forwards: Javier Saviola (Barcelona/ESP), César Delgado (Cruz Azul), Mariano González (Palermo), Mauro Rosales (Newell's Old Boys), Luciano Figueroa (Cruz Azul)
Technical director: Marcelo Bielsa
Goalkeepers: Erick Delgado (Sporting Cristal), Oscar Ibañez (Cienciano), Leao Butrón (Alianza Lima)
Defenders: Santiago Acasiete (Cienciano), John Galliquio (Universitario de Deportes), Miguel Rebosio (Real Zaragoza), Guillermo Salas (Alianza Lima), Jorge Soto (Sporting Cristal), Walter Vilchez (Alianza Lima), Martmn Hidalgo (Alianza Lima)
Midfielders: Juan Jayo (Alianza Lima), Roberto Palacios (Atlético Morelia), Julio García (Cienciano), Norberto Solano (Aston Villa), Carlos Zegarra (Sporting Cristal), Aldo Olcese (Alianza Lima), Juan Carlos la Rosa (Cienciano), Pedro Garcma (Alianza Atlético)
Forwards: Flavio Maestri (Sporting Club Vitória), Andrés Mendoza (Club Brugge), Claudio Pizarro (Bayern Munich), Jefferson Farfán (Alianza Lima)
Technical director: Paulo Autuori
This story was not subject to approval by MLS or its clubs.