Friday, June 29, 2007
Crespo equals Maradona's mark for Argentina
Jeff Carlisle, ESPNsoccernet
MARACAIBO, Venezuela -- The cameras were rolling at
Argentina's postgame press conference, the room was
hushed, yet the exasperated TV cameramen still
couldn't hear what Argentine forward Hernan Crespo had
to say. The frustration became so palpable that some
were audibly exhorting the Inter Milan striker to
speak up. The reluctant star did not oblige, giving
his responses in a voice that was as soft as his smile
was faint. Not that it mattered to him. Crespo, with
two goals in Argentina's 4-1 victory over the United
States, was content to let his play speak for itself.
These days, finding Crespo in the spotlight with
Argentina is becoming more of a rarity. Most of the
buzz surrounding the team is focused on the creative
artistry of Juan Roman Riquelme and the dynamic runs
of Lionel Messi. Messi in particular, is the current
darling of the Argentine public. At the team's hotel,
his replica shirt can be seen everywhere, especially
in light of the Diego Maradona-like goal he scored for
Barcelona against Getafe in this year's Copa del Rey.
And while both players showed their quality on
Thursday, it was the team's silent assassin, Crespo,
who delivered when it mattered most.
After the U.S. had taken a shock 1-0 lead courtesy of
Eddie Johnson's ninth-minute penalty, it was Crespo
who helped calm his side's nerves when he slammed home
a rebound from Riquelme's deft chip just two minutes
later. The Argentine forward then nearly put his side
ahead just before halftime, when his header from a
corner kick was parried away by American keeper Kasey
Keller. And with thoughts of a draw beginning to creep
into the crowd's thoughts, it was Crespo's
authoritative finish in the 64th minute that opened
the floodgates, and sent the Albiceleste on their way
to a comfortable victory.
That goal was Crespo's 34th for Argentina in
international competition, equaling the mark of Diego
Maradona himself. Given such a place in the country's
soccer history, and after being named Man of the Match
for his performance on Thursday, you would think that
Crespo would have allowed himself to bask in the
afterglow of these achievements. Yet afterwards,
Crespo was every bit the humble player that Argentina
head coach Alfio Basile appreciates, praising his
opponents and quickly diverting attention from his own
accomplishments."The Americans worked very well tactically," Crespo
said through an interpreter. "They managed to limit
our space, especially that of Riquelme."As for equaling Maradona's mark, Crespo added, "For
me, it's an honor to equal the number of goals by
Diego."Instead, it was left to Basile to engage the assembled
media, not that he minds. The man they call "Coco" has
the kind of presence that dominates the room, and he
was more than happy to take the spotlight from his
"I thought the Americans tired with the heat," said
Basile in his basso-profundo voice that is almost
Kissinger-like. "It all worked out in the second half.
We tried to play the ball and look for the second
goal. When space opened up, things got easier."
Basile also added that he was pleased with his side's
calm approach with the score tied.
"It was important that we stayed patient," said
Basile. "We stuck to our strategy, and grew as the
game went on."
That was especially true of Crespo, at least until the
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at email@example.com.