Veron gets new chance in twilight of career

PRETORIA - Juan Sebastian Veron never looks back, only ahead, and way off in the distance is the presidency of his club Estudiantes de La Plata and even the Argentine Football Association.

The immediate future, though, holds for him a World Cup comeback that once seemed impossible after he was vilified for Argentina's failure at the 2002 finals in Asia.

Veron, coach Diego Maradona's midfield general, is expected to win a 71st cap when Argentina meet Nigeria in their opening Group B match at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday.

"I don't think of (this as) revenge," Veron said when asked about his feelings now after Argentina, then outright favourites, failed to get past the group phase in Japan and he was singled out by fans as one of the main culprits.

"I didn't like it when I was aimed at and I'd prefer it if another lad was not aimed at if he doesn't do well. We're a group of 23 guys and that means that if we do well, we'll all do well and if we do badly, it will also be shared," he said.

"I don't look back. Experience doesn't count for me," he told reporters at Argentina's camp of what he might have learned from 2002 and missing out altogether for the 2006 finals in Germany.

His Premier League experience with Manchester United did, however, appear to have had a bearing on Veron's form in 2002.

Having helped Lazio win Serie A, Veron joined United in 2001 near the end of Argentina's brilliant qualifying campaign and had to accept a different position because central midfield in Sir Alex Ferguson's side was dominated by Irishman Roy Keane.


This and a niggling back problem went some way towards explaining his dip in form in Japan where Argentina, having beaten Nigeria 1-0, lost 1-0 to England and drew 1-1 with Sweden, a match they needed to win.

A member of the same generation as Javier Zanetti, who holds the Argentine caps record of 136, and Roberto Ayala, next with 115, there was a big hole in Veron's international career between November 2003 and June 2007.

The comeback trail started when Alfio Basile, Maradona's predecessor, picked him for the Copa America in Venezuela on the basis of his form for Estudiantes.

Used sparingly by Basile and then Maradona, Veron was a key element of Argentina's last-gasp qualification for the South Africa finals, dictating play in their pragmatic 1-0 win over Uruguay in Montevideo in October.

He has played just twice since, in the 1-0 win over Germany in Munich in March and the second half of the 5-0 rout of Canada in Buenos Aires two weeks ago, as Maradona's side have begun to take some shape for the finals, having been seen as a disparate combination of talents.

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