Argentina Emerges Unscathed


Because Argentina and Croatia already had qualified for the second round of the World Cup, there was little for either to shoot for Friday in their final first-round match. So neither did much shooting.

Or scoring.

In a generally uninspired game, Argentine defender Hector Pineda gave his country's singing, swaying fans one reason to keep beating their drums at Parc Lescure when he scored in the 36th minute, giving Argentina a 1-0 victory and first place in Group H. The shutout, Argentina's third in succession, improved its record to 3-0, a distinction it shares only with France.

Argentina, which has scored seven goals and given up none, will face England on Tuesday in Saint-Etienne. Runner-up Croatia, the strongest of the three first-time World Cup participants in the group, will face Romania on Tuesday in Bordeaux.

"We are very satisfied. In my view, in this first round, the team has played better and better," Argentina Coach Daniel Passarella said. "We finished up playing the strongest team, and we deserved to win."

The Croatian players didn't dispute that.

"I wasn't looking forward to this game, but in the end I made the grade," defender Dario Simic said. "As it turned out, it wasn't all that bad. Argentina is a great team. We managed to play more or less as well as each other. We shouldn't be ashamed of losing."

Argentina didn't have to be great to win Friday.

Goalkeeper Carlos Roa faced only three shots on goal and watched while another shot, by second-half substitute Goran Vlaovic, glanced off the junction of the crossbar and post. For the most part, Croatia misfired on its few opportunities and rarely did much to test Argentina's defense.

Pineda, playing for Argentina for only the eighth time, scored his first goal for his country on a well-executed play that displayed his intelligence and ability to come up into the play.

Running into the box, he chested down a chip pass from Ariel Ortega, allowed the ball to settle, and then blasted it past Croatian goalkeeper Drazen Ladic.

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