The crowd at Parc des Princes chanted, "Ba-ti-gol!" the nickname of Argentina striker Gabriel Batistuta, cheering him on as much as they were begging him and his teammates to show more animation than they had displayed in a victorious but lackluster opener.
Ever the crowd pleaser--if not always as obliging toward his autocratic coach, Daniel Passarella--Batistuta scored the last three goals Sunday in his team's 5-0 rout of Jamaica, which gave Argentina a berth in the second round. It also matched the most decisive victory of the tournament, a 5-0 romp by the Netherlands over South Korea on Saturday.
Argentina leads Group H over Croatia on the basis of its plus-six goal differential after two games, and Batistuta is the tournament's scoring leader, with four.
"I think Argentina played very well. We controlled the ball and raised our game at the right moments," Passarella said. "We were in better form than against Japan [in a 1-0 victory].
"We hoped for a victory to assure our qualification, and we needed to score goals so as not to be at a disadvantage against Croatia. We needed to win, and we got it. But I didn't expect the margin was going to be this big."
Batistuta claims he did.
"We expected a more difficult game," said the 29-year-old striker, who plays for the Italian team Fiorentina. "They sort of went home after the first goal."
That's not fair to first-time finalist Jamaica, which was eliminated.
Argentina's lead was only 1-0 at halftime on the first of Ariel Ortega's two goals, but Jamaica lost midfielder Darryl Powell when he got his second yellow card for a nasty tackle--which automatically brings a red card and ejection--in injury time before the intermission.
That left Rene Simoes, the Brazilian who coaches Jamaica, with the option of losing honorably but boringly with a defensive mind-set, or allowing players to push forward, use their speed and hope to catch Argentina off guard.
Simoes let go the reins, but that strategy cost him dearly against a team that is too talented, smart and opportunistic to let so many defensive openings go unexploited.
"For a coach, playing it safe is preferable, but I wanted to give the players a chance to show their talents," Simoes said. "I let them express themselves. This time, I thought about the players. I didn't care about my reputation. . . . I'm very proud of my team. It's difficult to play with 10 men against a team with players like Ortega, [Juan] Veron and Batistuta. "
While Jamaica had some good moments, Argentina's talent was too dispersed and its resolve to prove itself too strong after its uncertain debut.
"We felt a bit of rage after the Japan match. The team knew they could play better," said Veron, whose vision and timing enabled him to wrest control of the midfield and create countless scoring chances for Argentina in the second half.
"We were anxious to play again quickly, and we attacked with the ball on the ground, which is what we most wanted."
Said Passarella: "They broke lose."
And when they did, there was almost no stopping them.
Ortega had scored the only goal of the first half when he took a chip pass from Veron on the left side in the 31st minute and scored from the right side. He scored again, in the 55th minute, when he burst past several Jamaican defenders and bested goalkeeper Warren Barrett from close range.
Then it was Batistuta's show. Ortega set him up in the 72nd minute with a cross to the right side that Batistuta finished of with a hard, low shot into the corner of the net. Batistuta broke in alone on his second goal, in the 80th minute, and converted a penalty kick in the 83rd minute by firing a waist-high shot inside the left post.
"Batistuta deserved his three goals. He's in good form and the team gives him good support," said Passarella, who has differed with his talented striker over such issues as the length of Batistuta's hair--which has been trimmed--and Batistuta's reluctance to play the way Passarella wants.
"It's a personal victory for him, but he wants more that the team will go on and succeed in the World Cup and go on to the final."
Batistuta would like to maintain his scoring supremacy. With the kind of support he got Sunday, he has a good chance. "Of course, that's what I'm here for," he said. "But it's early yet. It's going to be very difficult, but we'll keep on trying to the end."