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SA Guest Comment: A fit Caniggia is Argentina's key to success





Caniggia is the key (Allsport)


05/29/2002. Claudio Paul Caniggia was born on January 9th, 1967 in a small town called Henderson near Buenos Aires in Argentina. Claudio Caniggia has an illustrious but roller coaster career spanning 17 years and several clubs in Europe and Latin America. Nick named El Pájaro (The Bird), Caniggia began playing professionally in 1985 and he rose to stardom with Argentinean giants River Plate and has never looked back since then.

Caniggia is 35 now but looks lithe, eager and supremely fit and he still has what forwards covet most: the sheer, raw speed to burn past defenders toward the goal and an unerring eye for the goal. He is currently playing some of the best football in his career after his move to Scotland.

Caniggia ruled out against the Super Eagles

Claudio Caniggia's knee injury sustained in Scottish Cup Final in early May had been reported to be progressing well. But running against time, Caniggia will not be fit for Argentina's opener against the Super Eagles (Nigeria) on 2nd June 2002 as the favourites begin their World Cup campaign. It is a big blow for coach Marcelo Bielsa who is looking forward to his 35-year-old talisman's experience and current great form for Argentina to win their World Cup glory. The group featuring Argentina, Nigeria, Sweden and England is easily the toughest amongst the eight groups and is no wonder labelled as the group of death.

Caniggia had orchestrated Argentina's 2-1 win, when last time the two nations played each other in World Cup in USA 94. Caniggia scored two great goals to ensure a remarkable come-from-behind victory for Argentina, after Nigeria had taken the lead with an early goal. The Argentine camp is very much hopeful that Caniggia will be fit for their crunch second match against England.

Flashback –Italia 90 World Cup

The stage was set for the inaugural match of Italia 90 World Cup. As per the World Cup tradition, defending champions Diego Maradona's Argentina began their title defence against Cameroon at the San Siro stadium in Milan. Argentina was expected to easily cruise to victory against the African nation for whom a World Cup final rounds appearance itself was an achievement of sorts at that time. Although after their great show at Italia 90, World Cup final rounds appearance has become a regular feature for 'the indomitable lions' as Cameroon is known to soccer fraternity world-wide and is current Olympic soccer gold medallists and African Nations champion. As the inaugural match of Italia 90 progressed, Cameroon playing elegant soccer outplayed Argentina for most part of the match and their striker Omam Biyik even scored a goal to stun Maradona and Co. to take a 1-0 matchwinning lead, as it finally transpired. The Argentina attack was looking purposeless, even with the presence of the maestro Maradona in the midfield and the Cameroon defence was hardly stretched. With about twenty minutes left for the final whistle, Argentine coach Carlos Bilardo made a substitution. He introduced a youngster, who with his stringy long blond hair looked a hard-living rock star rather than a world-class athlete, as one saw during those last 20 odd minutes of the match. With this substitution, suddenly the Argentine attack looked an altogether different proposition. With his electric pace and superb ball skills Claudio Paul Cannigia, making his World Cup debut created quite a few chances that his teammates couldn't utilise. Had Caniggia's World Cup debut taken place an hour before, the final score line most likely would have been different and Argentina in all probability would not have had to suffer the humiliating upset defeat against Cameroon which dented their pride as the defending champions. No one realised it more than coach Bilardo. Although Argentina lost 0-1 to Cameroon in the tournament opener, Claudio Caniggia had impressed everyone in his short stint in the field against Cameroon as a talented classy striker. He added the much-needed extra bite that Argentina required so desperately in their visibly lacklustre attacking forays against Cameroon. This 'big' extra bit was required in the attacking line up of the Latin American nation in Italia 90 if they were to do justice to their tag as the defending world champions.

After that upset defeat against Cameroon, Argentina came back strongly in the tournament to reach the final of the World Cup for the second consecutive time. En-route to the final of Italia 90, Caniggia was one of the three most influential players in the Argentine squad who orchestrated their remarkable comeback after that defeat against Cameroon. The other two being goalie Sergio Goycochea and of course the maestro Diego Maradona. Goycochea made it into the Argentine playing XI line-up in Italia 90 only after he substituted first choice goalie Neri Pumpido, when the latter was injured against USSR in Argentina's second match. Goycochea had to man the Argentina goal for the rest of the tournament and he was brilliant and easily the best goalie of Italia 90 World Cup.

After qualifying from their group for the knockout stage, Argentina faced strong contenders and their traditional archrivals Brazil in their pre-quarterfinal tie. Brazil called the shots in the battle of titans for most past of that match and the woodwork and a brilliant Goycochea in the Argentine goal kept the marauding Brazilian attackers, inspired by Valdo at bay. However, in the second half of the match no one will ever forget the Maradona-Caniggia combination goal that knocked out Brazil from the competition. Maradona's great pass trisecting three Brazilian defenders was complimented with great elan from Caniggia who got hold of the great through ball, neatly dribbled past Brazilian goalie Taffarel, and put the ball in net. With the final whistle, the whole nation of Argentina went into celebrations just as most Brazilian supporters couldn't hold back the tears at the thought of the fact that Brazil was out of World Cup. Argentina went past Yugoslavia in quarterfinals to meet tournament favourites and hosts Italy in the semi-finals at Naples. Italian goalie Walter Zenga had already created the world record of not conceding a goal for maximum duration of time in the World Cup in its history, which exists still today. When Italy took the lead through tournament's top scorer Schilacci, it seemed the script of the semi-final was going the way as was expected, i.e., in favour of the host nation. However the canny Caniggia had other ideas and he scored the most important goal in his career that also ended Zenga's world record goalless tenure under the Italian bar. Zenga had no answer to Caniggia's brilliant back-header from a cross from the left, but to collect the ball from the net inside the goal and Argentina had equalised to make the score 1-1. The goal inspired Argentina and they played their best match of Italia 90 and went on to knock out the hosts and favourites Italy in the semi-final match through penalty shoot-out to reach the World Cup final for the second consecutive World Cup. But the referee had made an unpardonable error during the semi-final match. The referee whimsically flashed the yellow card to Caniggia when he had held the ball with both his hands only after the referee had blown the whistle for a foul. This happened to be Caniggia's 2nd yellow card of Italia 90 and it ruled him out of the crucial final against Germany. The referee's decision was widely criticised by the entire soccer fraternity and the legendary soccer writer Brian Glanville condemned referee's act and termed it as ridiculous. Without Caniggia in their ranks, Maradona Company were reduced down to 9 men but still managed to stretch the Germans fully. The referee who had given marching orders to two Argentina players put the final nail in Argentine coffin when he awarded a non-existent and controversial penalty to Germany which sealed the fate of the final. TV replays clearly showed Argentine defender Nestor Sensini had committed no foul on German forward Jurgen Klinsmann. Germany went on to win the World Cup 90 through that controversially awarded penalty kick, but Argentina and their supporters felt cheated and they had only one genuine reason to console them - it would have been an altogether different story had Caniggia played in the final match against Germany. Obviously Caniggia's replacements Abel Balbo and Ramon Dezotti, were not of same class to worry the Germans in the finals or make use of the presence of the legendary Maradona in Argentina midfield.

Caniggia in-between was the player of the tournament in the inaugural FIFA Confederations Cup won by Argentina and held at Saudi Arabia in 1992.

World Cup USA 94

The following World Cup at USA in 1994 marked the return of Diego Maradona into the Argentina team and the maestro looked in deadly form. The Argentina line up with Maradona playing behind two classy strikers in Caniggia and Gabriel Batistuta, created havoc in opponent defence and looked the best team of the tournament in the initial phases. Argentina outplayed Greece 4-0, with Batistuta scoring a hattrick and Maradona scoring the other goal. Incidentally that proved to be the legend's last and final goal in World Cup. This was followed by a 2-1 win over 'the Super Eagles', Nigeria, with Caniggia netting both the goals for Argentina. With the troika of Maradona, Caniggia and Batistuta displaying outstanding attacking soccer with goals galore, Argentina looked all set for another great performance in the World Cup. But after the match against Nigeria, disaster stuck the Argentine camp as the legendary Maradona tested positive for ephedrine usage and was banned from the World Cup. That was a big blow to the Argentina and to make matters worse, Caniggia got injured in the last group match against Bulgaria, which rendered him unfit for the pre-quarter final match against Romania. Argentina without their two top stars in Maradona and Caniggia dominated Romania only to loose 2-3, the lack of experience being the main reason for being eliminated from the competition.

An egoistic coach denied France 98 appearance

It seemed that Caniggia would have a last World Cup swan song at France 98. But it was not to be. The Argentine coach Daniel Pasarella had his own yardstick to select players. It was not the class and talent of the player that influenced Pasarella to judge a player. Pasarella's disliking for players possessing long hairs was something hard to fathom in modern day soccer. Caniggia and the former Real Madrid captain and midfield dynamo Fernando Redondo (currently injured with AC Milan) had to pay the price for their long hairs. They did not trim down their hairs to satisfy the ego of the coach whose ridiculous disciplinary outlook was criticised by all and sundry. Pasarella's attitude would have earned him full marks as a military commander on a mission of war, but portrayed him poorly as a coach of a highly talented soccer team. Argentina again playing in the shadows of the legendary Diego Maradona could not go beyond the quarterfinals, when Dennis Bergkamp's brilliant goal (rated the best goal of France 98) in the closing stages of the match helped Holland to register a memorable 2-1 victory and eliminate Argentina from the World Cup. Pasarella also got the boot after the end of Argentine campaign in the round of eight in France 98.

The recall after nearly six years

After his exclusion from the Argentina squad in France 98, the soccer fraternity assumed the then 31 years old Caniggia's World Cup career being over with USA 94. After all, he had last represented Argentina in 1996 when he partnered Batistuta upfront to script a 1-0 victory for his nation against archrivals Brazil. Hardly anyone expected Caniggia to earn a recall for the World Cup squad after an absence of six years from the national squad. Moreover he did not feature in any of the 18 World Cup qualifying matches that Argentina played and topped the Latin American continent pre World Cup qualifying group. But perhaps the star himself and most importantly the Argentina coach Marcelo Bielsa had other ideas. The nation has excelled as a team under Marcelo Bielsa who is a man with great foresight. No wonder Argentina emerged as the top team in the World Cup qualifiers, head and shoulders above the rest of Latin American nations. But Bielsa had never ruled out the possibility of recalling Caniggia, currently the star striker and the main inspiration of Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers FC with his great form at the age of 35. It became clear when Argentina began their final preparations for the World Cup in Korea and Japan with friendly internationals that El Pájaro was indeed in Bielsa's scheme of things for the big stage. Bielsa recalled Caniggia in the Argentina squad after nearly six years of hibernation from international soccer for their first friendly international match against Wales on February 13 2002. Argentinean Football Association (AFA) president Julio Grondona was delighted at the news of Caniggia's recall as he considers Caniggia to be a top class player and wonderful person.

The great expectations

Argentina is the favourites to win the World Cup 2002 having odds of 9:2 against them for winning the tournament (followed by Zinedine Zidane powered holders France at 5:1). The nation has embarrassment of riches as far as talent is concerned. This is over emphasised by the fact that world class players who would have been starting line up players in most of the nations featuring in the World Cup, do not feature in the Argentine list of 23 for World Cup 2002. Players like Real Madrid medio the highly skillful and elegant Santiago Solari and River Plate's Argentinean player of the year, medio Juan Roman Riquelme would have been regular member starting line-up players in any nation participating in the World Cup. World youth cup star and FC Barcelona striker Javier Saviola would also have made into the playing XI of most of the nations featuring in this World Cup. The stakes are very high and Bielsa realises that. As Manchester United and Argentina medio Juan Sebastian Veron said, "nothing but being the world champions will satisfy the nation and our supporters. The expectations from this side are sky high". If real justice is done with the talent available at Bielsa's disposal, Argentina will emerge as the world champions. There is no second opinion about it.

Argentina has to emerge out of the shadows of Diego Maradona

Argentina soccer had never had dearth of talent. The team had and has world-class players like Gabriel Batistuta, Ariel Ortega, Pablo Aimar, Juan Sebastian Veron, Claudio Lopez, Hernan Crespo, Roberto Ayala and Diego Simeone to name some. But Argentina is yet to come out from the shadows of the legendary Diego Maradona whose off field activities still grab more headlines than the on field soccer exploits of any of the stars in the current team named above. The legend voted as the FIFA player of the millennium after leading Argentina in two consecutive World Cup finals had Caniggia as his key forward in the Italia 90 World Cup and the two combined excellently in all the matches they played together for Argentina in Italia 90 and USA 94. Also, Caniggia happens to be Maradona's closest friend ever in the Argentina squad.

Currently Caniggia is in great form and is as sharp a forward as he was at any stage of his career. Also, he excelled in the international friendlies against Wales and Cameroon this year. Psychologically for Argentina, Caniggia is the missing link between Maradona and the highly talented bunch in Argentine squad. That's the way Bielsa looks at it. Also, Caniggia being a big match player knows what it takes to play and succeed in the big stage, like World Cup semi-finals.

Caniggia professionally with clubs

Caniggia burst to fame with River Plate in the mid-1980s. His talent was immediately noticed by Italian Serie A side Verona, who took him to Italy for his first experience of European football. He played seven years of top quality football in Serie A, the world's richest and most glamorous soccer league. After a season with Verona he played for Italian clubs Atalanta and AS Roma. After a couple of seasons with AS Roma, Caniggia moved to Portugal for a season to play for Portuguese giants Benfica, before being lured back to his homeland by his great friend and arguably the greatest footballer ever Diego Maradona. Maradona wanted Caniggia to play alongside him for the most well known club of Argentina and Latin America, Boca Juniors. For Maradona it was a comeback to his old club where he had played in the early stages of his career and became famous, before he moved to FC Barcelona. Caniggia after playing for 4 seasons at Boca Juniors returned back to play in Serie A for his former club Atlanta midway through the season.

Scottish Glory

From Atalanta in Italy, Caniggia made a surprise move to Dundee United in Scotland in 2000. He got a red carpet treatment on his arrival at Dundee, the sort of ovation meant for legends. On Caniggia's arrival at Dundee, The Guardian reported, "the old city of Dundee has not been this mind-boggled since the days when Sinatra and the Beatles arrived in town". Caniggia matched all expectations and after a series of outstanding performances with Dundee United, Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers snapped him up in June 2001 to help them in their hunt for success in Europe. Rangers had ended the previous season without a single trophy. Caniggia immediately became a big success with Rangers and is currently playing outstanding soccer and has become the key inspiration of the Scottish giants. Rangers manager Alex McLeish credited Claudio Caniggia as the man who inspired Rangers when they ended a 22-month trophy drought after Caniggia scored two brilliant goals as Rangers beat Ayr United 4-0 in the CIS Insurance Cup final.

Caniggia and his clubs
River Plate (Argentina) - 1985-1988
Verona (Italy) - 1988-1989
Atalanta (Italy) - 1989-1992
AS Roma (Italy) - 1992-1994
Benfica (Portugal) - 1994-1995
Boca Juniors (Argentina) - 1995-1999
Atalanta (Italy) - 1999-2000
Dundee FC (Scotland) - 2000-2001
Glasgow Rangers (Scotland) - 2001- current.

The strength of character and his injury

Caniggia again inspired Rangers to a double as the club won Scottish Cup also this season beating Celtic 3-2 in the final. However he suffered knee ligament damage in a tackle with Celtic's Chris Sutton in the final, which put his third World Cup appearance in serious doubts as initial medical reports feared worse. "It is a crying shame that someone of his talent will not be at the World Cup," Rangers manager Alex McLeish told Reuters. But Caniggia as he may be quoted has "put his mind over the matter" and is showing tremendous grit and determination to be fit to start for Argentina against The Super Eagles on 2nd June 2002 in World Cup. It is the same determination, which has sustained him at the highest level of soccer for over 17 years.

Personal ups and downs

Caniggia had his personal ups and downs in his life. He was suspended from Serie A for six months when he tested positive for cocaine usage while playing for Italian giants AS Roma in late1993. Later when he was in Italy, his mother committed suicide back home in Argentina, which was expectedly a mentally shattering experience for Caniggia as he rushed back home and did some soul searching before taking the tragedy in stride. His strength of character has come into display time and again. Caniggia's famous wife, the beautiful Argentine supermodel Marianna has been a tower of strength for Caniggia and accompanies the star striker wherever he plays and has always stood by him. While at Dundee in Scotland, Caniggia took over a castle for his wife Marianna and her family to stay.

An exemplary skillful striker with great goal scoring prowess, Caniggia may well be in the twilight of his career but he still has the class to make a big impact in the World Cup if he is 100% fit and most importantly he is in great form. His career has been a saga of courage and conviction blended with rare talent, which makes him the same dangerous proposition in the Argentine attack, as he was 12 years ago in Italia 90 World Cup. If Caniggia recovers fully from his knee injury as is expected and remains injury free during the World Cup, there is little doubt of Argentina doing justice to their tags as tournament favourites.





Shubhodip Pal Chowdhury
 

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I'm not sure I would agree that his wife Marianna Nannis has been a "tower of strength." Maybe she has changed in recent years, but before she was a raging shopaholic who spent money as fast as Cani could earn it. She would take expensive shopping trips to Miami and spend thousands of dollars on the latest designer clothing.

Also, when he had his original drug problems, she famously said, "he got himself into this trouble, and he can get himself out of it."
 

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good post riasni!! but i dont rate caniggia that good anymore. may be im wrong, but i prefer ortega as a starter.

except for this
River Plate's Argentinean player of the year, medio Juan Roman Riquelme would have been regular member starting line-up players in any nation participating in the World Cup.
JRR, is a boca player, even though he wont play for us again.

btw, caniggias wife is a *****.
 

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Batigol9 said:
I dont think so batigold, Cani is much faster than Ortega.
ok, but the speed is not the only important thing in a player.
otherwise USA would have the best team on earth.
also claudio lopez is faster than both of them, but noone would think to put him above el burrito or cani.
 

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hey Batigold, can you and czar deputize the rest of us as "honorary Argentinians" for the month of June?
 

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What about that funny dude Rimmer?:D He is Argentine, isn't he?:)
But anyway, what's with this 'honorary Argentinians' thing?:confused: I didn't understand your idea, Hum:angel:
 

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I want to be Argentinian for the month of June.
 

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Saw caniggia on a documentary last night - he was as pale as a ghost, really white for an argentino.

Either he's back on the coke or he's been in Scotland too long.
 

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I agree with the article...Caniggia is the missing link between the team of Maradona that won everything, and the current team of underperformers that hasn't won anything yet..

Byy the way we lost in our friendly 1-0,,,we played against a Japanese club team---
 

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Humbird said:
I want to be Argentinian for the month of June.
it would be an honour to deputize you as an honorary argentinian, but that s something for life not for one month.
so thats the condition:eek: ;)

and also send me $1000 :greed:

:howler:
 

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you're one tough businessman Batigold!

I don't have $1000 but I do have an Argentina scarf and some Mate' tea. I even have the mate cup and bombilla. I know how do do an asado too.

So am I an honorary Argentine?
 

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of course, a die hard fan like you is always wellcome. :)
you are in congrats!!!
but my next time in chicago, i ll go for those $1000.:D
 
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