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L.A. preview of potential gold-medalists
by Paul Kennedy, January 30th, 2008 6:45AM

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[OLYMPIC WATCH] Argentina barely qualified for the 2008 Olympics when it beat Uruguay, 1-0, on a 92nd-minute goal dubbed a "miracle" on the final day of qualifying at the Sudamericano 2007, but it heads into 2008 favored to defend its gold medal in men's soccer.

Los Angeles soccer fans will get a chance to watch Argentina's Olympic hopefuls when they face Guatemala next Wednesday at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Among the players in the squad is senior national team star Juan Roman Riquelme, whose presence in the squad for the Guatemala is an indication that he should be one of Argentina's three overage players at this summer's finals.

Argentina only qualified for the Olympics when tiny Lautaro Acosta scored on a header to give the Albiceleste the three points that allowed it to leapfrog Uruguay and finish second, behind Brazil, at the South American U-20 championship. The top four teams qualified for the 2007 U-20 World Cup. The top two teams also qualified for the Olympics as CONMEBOL dropped its under-23 qualifying tournament.

Another veteran in Olympic coach Sergio Batista's squad is Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano, who was on the Olympic gold medal-winning team in Athens in 2004 and is the only other member of the 2006 World Cup squad in Germany to be called up.

Youngsters called up include Real Madrid's Fernando Gago and Gonzalo Higuain and Atletico Madrid's Sergio Aguero, who led Argentina to the 2007 Under-20 World Cup title.

Of Argentina's under-23 stars, only Barcelona's Lionel Messi is not in the squad that will face Guatemala.

Of the 19 players traveling to Los Angeles, 16 play in Europe.

ARGENTINA ROSTER:
Goalkeepers: Oscar Ustari (Getafe, Spain), Sergio Romero (AZ, Netherlands)
Defenders: Pablo Zabaleta (Espanyol, Spain), Ezequiel Garay (Racing Santander, Spain), Martin Demichelis (Bayern Munich, Germany), Cristian Ansaldi (Rubin Kasan, Russia), Federico Fazio (Sevilla, Spain)
Midfielders: Fernando Gago (Real Madrid, Spain), Ever Banega (Valencia, Spain), Jose Sosa (Bayern Munich, Germany), Jonathan Ramon Maidana (Boca Juniors), Javier Mascherano (Liverpool, England), Juan Roman Riquelme (Boca Juniors), Angel Di Maria (Benfica, Portugal), Damian Escudero (Velez Sarsfield)
Forwards: Ezequiel Lavezzi (Napoli, Italy), Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid, Spain), Sergio Aguero (Atletico Madrid, Spain), Marco Ruben (River Plate).



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