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Argentina Downs Ivory Coast in Debut

June 10, 2006

HAMBURG, Germany (AP) _ Argentina kept the Elephants from dancing in their World Cup debut.

Hernan Crespo and Javier Saviola took advantage of some shaky defense to score first-half goals, and Argentina beat Ivory Coast 2-1 Saturday night in the first game of what many think is the toughest World Cup group.

``It was savage,″ Crespo said. ``We were nervous, so much wanting to do things well. This is the first step.″

Didier Drogba, a key to Chelsea’s consecutive English Premier League titles, got Ivory Coast’s goal in the 82nd minute. After he just missed a header, the ball was cut back in front, and Droga converted a left-footed shot for his 24th goal in 33 international appearances.

Argentina won its fourth straight World Cup opener and next plays Serbia-Montenegro on Friday, when Ivory Coast meets the Netherlands. The Dutch face Serbia in their Group C opener on Sunday.

``This is a young Argentina team,″ coach Jose Pekerman said. ``Many are playing their first World Cup, and a debut like this is going to give them confidence.″

Ivory Coast, which got past African power Cameroon to qualify for the first time, was dressed in bright orange jerseys, and so were its fans. The supporters serenade the team with ``When the Elephants dance, it’s the ground that suffers″ after wins, but they didn’t have much to sing about.

``I think maybe we deserve something better than what happened tonight, but Argentina’s players were very good,″ Drogba said. ``They played very well, and I think they scored when they had to score. That was the difference between them and us. We had a lot of chances, but we were unlucky to not score.″

Argentina fans, in their blue-and-white-striped shirts, filled the other corner of the stadium and brought along drums for some extra noise. Dressed in Argentina jersey and watching from midfield was Diego Maradona, who led Argentina to the title.

Four years ago in Japan, the two-time World Cup champions were eliminated in the first round and were ridiculed back home, where newspapers took a photo of the team’s defensive wall and superimposed handbags draped on the players’ arms.

Lionel Messi, Argentina’s rising 18-year-old star who plays for European club champion Barcelona, did not get into the game, which featured entertaining, end-to-end action. Ivory Coast outshot the South Americans 13-9, with Droga getting off four shots alone, and Argentina was whistled offsides six times to none for the Africans.

``We haven’t achieved anything yet,″ Argentina captain Juan Sorin said. ``But it was key to start in this way with three points.″

After being outplayed early, Argentina nearly went ahead in the 14th minute, when Roberto Ayala had a powerful header from about 10 yards off Juan Ramon Riquelme’s corner kick. The ball bounced off the hands of goalkeeper Jean-Jacques Tizie and his right goalpost, then came back at least partially _ and maybe completely over the line. Tizie, his back to the field, bobbled it before gathering it in, and Argentine players argued after Belgian referee Frank De Bleeckere failed to signal a goal.

Crespo scored in the 24th off a free kick by Riquelme. The ball bounced off a leaping Drogba and bounced into the penalty area, where Crespo kicked it in from 5 yards for his 30th goal in 56 international appearances. Drogba argued to no avail he had been fouled by Gabriel Heinze.

Saviola got Argentina’s second goal in the 38th, breaking ahead to receive Riquelme’s through ball. Tizie came out and Saviola put the ball in from just to the left of the penalty spot for his 10th international goal. Replays showed Saviola and Crespo, who was on the left side, were on the borderline of being offside.

Before a crowd of 49,480, Ivory Coast had plenty of scoring chances. Kader Keita had the best in the first half, a point-blank header in the 35th from 6 yards after a flick header by Drogba, but Keita was stepped by goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri.

It was the first World Cup match at the venue since June 22, 1974, when East Germany upset West Germany 1-0 on Juergen Sparwasser’s 77th-minute goal in a politically charged first-round game before 60,350 at the old Volksparkstadion. The stadium, now known as AOL Arena, was rebuilt at a cost of about $100 million while the local team Hamburger SV played at it, and it reopened in September 2000.

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