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 Posted by ESPN Staff
May 31, 2006

Pekerman hails Messi's impact on Argentina

SALERNO, Italy, May 30 (Reuters) - Livewire forward Lionel Messi lifts the team whenever he comes on, coach Jose Pekerman said after Argentina's 2-0 win over Angola in a World Cup warm-up on Tuesday.

'Messi gives the team a leap upwards when he comes on. He's getting more and more adapted to his team mates,' Pekerman said of the teenager on whom Argentina are pinning their hopes of a third world title.

'What he did was important,' Pekerman told a news conference in this southern Italian city after Argentina's last outing before their World Cup opener against another African team, Ivory Coast, in Hamburg on June 10.

Messi, who has just recovered from a thigh injury, came on for the last half hour when the score was 2-0 following first- half goals from Maxi Rodriguez and captain Juan Pablo Sorin.

The 18-year-old was involved in one of the best moves of the match, setting up Rodriguez for a shot which hit the underside of the bar and bounced down without crossing the line.

Pekerman was pleased with his team's tactical variations in a match they dominated against tough but modest opposition.

'We have plenty of options and that leaves me relaxed. We have a lot of variety in attack and that allows me to plan different things taking into account how the matches look,' Pekerman said.

'From zero to 10, we are on six points, this team can grow a lot,' he said.

'We defended well in situations that in other matches had complicated us. We also kept a clean sheet which is always good.'

Turning his attention to Angola, Pekerman said: 'They took the field in a way that complicated our initial tactics. They're a team who are better than what they showed today. They're an attacking team but they surprised us with a defensive game plan.'

Argentina leave for their World Cup base near Nuremberg on Wednesday. They also meet Serbia & Montenegro and the Netherlands in Group C.

Angola, taking part in their first World Cup, are in Group D with Mexico, Portugal and Iran.