| Hernan Crespo
Buenos Aires: Argentina striker Hernan Crespo warned his teammates on Thursday of the dangers lurking ahead in the World Cup qualifiers as the two-time former champions attempt to wipe out the bad memories of 2002.
Crespo, who joined English Premier League side Chelsea last month, remembered the difficulties faced by Brazil as they scraped through the qualifiers before winning their fifth world title in Japan and South Korea.
Argentina, who last missed out on the World Cup in 1970, kick off their qualifying campaign for the 2006 World Cup on Saturday with a match at home to Chile.
“It’s not easy to play the qualifiers,” said Crespo. “Brazil showed it last time — no matter how much experience you have, you have to get through them.
“I believe that if we play to our capabilities, there’s no doubt we’ll qualify for the World Cup. But if we think it’s all going to be easy and simple, we’re mistaken.
“In the previous qualifiers we finished first because we thought of each game as a difficult obstacle and we were never overconfident. A relaxed Argentina is not Argentina.”
Argentina finished top of the qualifiers for the 2002 World Cup, making sure of their place with three games to spare, and arrived in Japan and South Korea as favourites to win the title.
Instead, they were knocked out in the first round while arch-rivals Brazil, who qualified in their last match after a campaign in which they used four coaches and lost six matches, went on to win a fifth world title.
Argentine public opinion now looks distrustfully at coach Marcelo Bielsa, who was surprisingly given a new contract and another chance, and players such as Crespo who were in the team.
“Nothing can ease the pain of what we felt and it’s important to stop looking back,” he said. “We have to look forward and write a new chapter in history.”
Crespo also criticised the system in the World Cup finals, where two of the four teams in every group qualify for the second round. He suggested a return to the method of earlier tournaments, where the top two qualified plus the best third-placed teams.
“It’s not right that you play well over the 18 matches in the qualifiers but don’t get another chance in the World Cup finals, where only two teams qualify from the four,” he said.