Palacio, Cruz in Argentina team

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Striker Rodrigo Palacio and midfielder Julio Cruz are two surpassing choices in Argentina's youthful World Cup team.

updated: February 25, 2007 11:40 IST
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Buenos Aires:

Striker Rodrigo Palacio and midfielder Julio Cruz are two surpassing choices in Argentina's youthful World Cup team. Palacio, 24, is rated highly for his dribbling skill in the attacking third of the field while Cruz led Inter Milan with 17 goals this season, two more than Brazil's Adriano. "This is a balanced, highly qualified team,'' Pekerman told a news conference at the national team training center outside Buenos Aires. Only four players return from the 2002 World Cup side that was eliminated in the first round in Japan and South Korea. "This team represents new blood to a degree seldom seen,'' Pekerman said. Palacio and goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri, both with league champion Boca Juniors, plus keeper Oscar Ustari of Independiente are the only players who play for clubs in Argentina that were included by Pekerman on the final 23-man roster. "Palacio will adapt very well to the team,'' Pekerman said. "Too bad he was unable to join the squad for the last friendly game, but we've been observing him for a long time. He will add quality to the offense.'' In another surprise, Pekerman dropped midfielder Martin Demichelis, of Bayern Munich, whom many fans and reporters thought was beyond question. Also dropped were 10-year veteran Javier Zanetti (Inter Milan), Walter Samuel (Real Madrid) and Juan Sebastian Veron (Inter Milan). Pekerman refused to answer questions about the players he did not select. "I don't want to play or live anymore,'' a devastated Demichelis told Argentine sports channel TyC. "A long time ago I stopped living to devote myself to soccer. Now I don't feel like doing anything, or traveling anywhere.'' Zanetti, who played the last two World Cups, told Radio del Plata he didn't understand why he was dropped. "Nobody told me what I did wrong to be left out. I'm at peace because I did everything in my power to be there and I always answered the call of the national team when they needed me,'' he said. The four that return from the 2002 side are defenders Roberto Ayala (Valencia) and Juan Pablo Sorin (Villarreal), midfielder Pablo Aimar (Valencia) and forward Hernan Crespo (Chelsea), who was a substitute for Gabriel Batistuta in 2002. To replace Demichelis, Pekerman picked Cruz, who will be playing in his first World Cup. 13 of the 23 have won the under-20 world championship, including Aimar, Esteban Cambiasso and Juan Roman Riquelme (Malaysia 1997), Javier Saviola and Nicolas Burdisso (Argentina 2001), Sorin (Qatar 1995), forward Lionel Messi and Ustari (Netherlands 2005). Uncapped Ustari was a surprise pick over River Plate's German Lux, a gold medalist at the Athens Olympics who did not allow a singe goal and who also played at the 2005 Confederations Cup, where Argentina lost the final to Brazil. This is the first time that River - which along with Boca are the most popular teams in the country - did not supply one player to the World Cup team. Sorin, Crespo, Saviola and Aimar are former River players. On May 25, the team will travel to Italy for a friendly game with Angola five days later. Argentina plays the first round in Group C with Ivory Coast, Serbia and Montenegro and Netherlands. Squad:Goalkeepers: Roberto Abbondanzieri (Boca Juniors), Leonardo Franco (Atletico Madrid), Oscar Ustari (Independiente). Defenders: Fabricio Coloccini (Deportivo La Coruna), Roberto Ayala (Valencia), Gabriel Heinze (Manchester United), Juan Pablo Sorin (Villarreal), Lionel Scaloni (West Ham), Gabriel Milito (Zaragoza), Nicolas Burdisso (Inter), Leandro Cufre (Roma). Midfielders: Maximiliano Rodriguez (Atletico Madrid), Javier Mascherano (Corinthians), Esteban Cambiasso (Inter), Juan Roman Riquelme (Villarreal), Julio Cruz (Inter Milan), Luis Gonzalez (Porto), Pablo Aimar (Valencia). Forwards: Carlos Tevez (Corinthians), Hernan Crespo (Chelsea), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Rodrigo Palacio (Boca Juniors), Javier Saviola (Sevilla). (AP)