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Young Argentine duo look forward to Owen reunion

© Reuters 2002

By Rex Gowar

NARAHA, Japan, June 3 (Reuters) - Diego Placente and Pablo Aimar are relishing another encounter with Michael Owen when Argentina meet England in the World Cup on Friday. The pair helped Argentina beat England 2-1 in the 1997 World Youth Cup quarter-finals in Malaysia on their way to the title.

They should both be involved again when the two countries clash in a World Cup group F match in Sapporo. "Owen wasn't well known then," Placente said of the striker who made his mark at the 1998 World Cup in France.

Owen scored a brilliant goal in a memorable second round match in St Etienne before England went out to Argentina on penalties following a 2-2 draw after extra time.

"I don't remember much about Owen in that match. I didn't mark him because he was on the other side (of the attack). Aimar was brilliant, we were much better," Placente, a left back, said.

Placente made a surprise World Cup debut in Argentina's 1-0 victory over Nigeria on Sunday when he was drafted into the defence at the last minute after captain Roberto Ayala pulled a thigh muscle in the warm-up. It was his seventh cap.

With Ayala unlikely to recover in time, Placente should be in the back three against England. Aimar, who at 23 is the youngest member of coach Marcelo Bielsa's squad, came on towards the end of the match against Nigeria for Juan Sebastian Veron in the playmaking role.

"My job is to make sure the change goes unnoticed (in the team make-up," he said.

Asked what differences there were in him and Owen five years on, Aimar said: "Well, he won the Golden Ball (as European Footballer of the Year) last year. I've just won the Spanish title (with Valencia)."

Placente said that playing against England is special - akin to the rivalry Argentina have with Brazil. "It's a bit more than a normal match," Placente said. "We're going to face them the way we're playing, keeping the ball and taking the game to them.

"The draw (between England and Sweden) was better for us, but our previous match (in the group) doesn't count," he said. "We still want to win."

Argentina top group F with two more points than England and Sweden, who drew 1-1 on Sunday. "People (in Argentina) think it's an attractive match (against England)," Aimar said."

He said he watched the 1998 game on television with his family in his home town of Rio Cuarto and also the 1986 quarter-final in Mexico City, a 2-1 Argentina win, which added spice to the rivalry between the two teams because of Diego Maradona's infamous "Hand of God" goal.

"When (Diego) Maradona scored (his brilliant second goal) against England my Dad, who's a football fanatic, got down on his knees in front of the TV and screamed," Aimar, then only seven, said. "We looked at him as if he'd gone mad."

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