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Argentina practices hint at unchanged team

Written by: Staff
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HERZOGENAURACH, Germany, June 7 (Reuters) Maxi Rodriguez, a bit part player in Argentina's team until a year ago, could play a key role in their challenge for a third World Cup.

Rodriguez is in the line-up coach Jose Pekerman looks set to send out against Ivory Coast in Argentina's opening Group C match in Hamburg on Saturday.

A right sided player often regarded as a striker in Spain where he plays his club football for Atletico Madrid, the 25-year-old is one of Pekerman's most versatile men.

''(Pekerman) sometimes asks me to play as a winger, sometimes more inside, it depends on the situation and the match,'' Rodriguez told reporters.

''I see myself as a midfielder, I don't see myself as either a forward nor a goalscorer as they sometimes refer to me in Spain,'' said Rodriguez, who has scored three times in 13 internationals spanning three years.

''I see myself as a midfielder who gets right up (in attack) and it depends on the rivals whether that's on the inside or the outside,'' added Rodriguez.

He played his way into Pekerman's reckoning with a good performance in the friendly against England in Geneva last November.

Rodriguez and his team mates, however, play down suggestions from reporters eager to know who Pekerman's 11 starters will be on Saturday that the team has already been picked.

''In these three days that remain before the match a lot of things can change ... no-one is sure of his place,'' he said.

BENCH TALENT The consensus among more than 100 reporters who have gathered for Argentina's open training sessions this week is that Pekerman will field the same side that beat Angola 2-0 in a warm-up match in Salerno, Italy last week.

In the practice sessions, the defence has lined up with Nicolas Burdisso at right back in the slot vacated by Javier Zanetti, the veteran of two World Cups whom Pekerman surprisingly left out of his squad.

Roberto Ayala and Gabriel Heinze should be in central defence with captain Juan Pablo Sorin on the left and Javier Mascherano and Esteban Cambiasso occupying the defensive midfield roles.

Rodriguez will be largely entrusted with feeding the attack from the right with Juan Roman Riquelme dictating play down the centre or from the left.

Hernan Crespo will lead the attack probably playing off Javier Saviola, who appears to be preferred as a starter to Carlos Tevez.

Wonder boy Lionel Messi, only recently back from a thigh injury, is being kept on the bench with a view to sending him on late if the attack needs new spark.

Rodriguez and Sorin scored the goals against Angola in the first half but the excitement came in the final half hour when substitutes Messi, Tevez and Pablo Aimar ran rings around the defence and hit the woodwork twice.

Pekerman will be hoping for a similar pattern on Saturday.

REUTERS DH KN1540

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