May 29, 1998

Scoring goals is a passion for Argentina's ``Batigol''

By Vincente Panetta

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - Gabriel Batistuta doesn't need a publicist. He already has thousands of them - in both Florence, Italy, and Argentina. They call him ``Batigol''.

Since 1991, when he transferred to Fiorentina and subsequently scored 13 goals in 26 games, the flamboyant Batistuta has been a fan favorite and a feared opponent.

``Goals are my passion and the important thing is to get them,'' the 29-year-old striker said.

The centerpiece of Argentina's quest for a third world championship, Batistuta has had more success scoring goals than persuading Argentina's coach, Daniel Passarella, that he deserves to be in the starting lineup.

The strict Passarella has made it known he prefers Claudio Lopez and Hernan Crespo, players he considers ``less egotistical.''

However, Batistuta's goals and immense popularity got him on the roster for France, and they may still get his name among the first 11. In a recent 5-0 victory against Bosnia, he demonstrated his ability to dominate, scoring three and setting up a fourth.

``I'm not an egotist, it just happens that in front of the goal I change and my obsession becomes the goal,'' said Batistuta, Argentina's all-time goal scoring leader.

Since his 1991 debut in Argentina's blue and white stripes, ``Batigol'' has scored 40 goals in 58 games, including solo tallies against Chile and South Africa in the last half of May.

Despite not having Maradona for the first time in 12 years, Argentina is considered one of the top favorites to reach the finals in France - and Batistuta is among the key considerations.

An ambidexterous finisher with a quick first step, Batistuta also is dangerous on the wings with crosses or as a target for high balls into the box.

Although not considered a flashy technician, what he lacks in skill often is compensated by speed and strength.

``What they say about my technique does not interest me. The only thing that interests me is making goals,'' he said.

Batistuta debuted in Argentina's first division in 1988 playing for Newell's Old Boys in his native province of Santa Fe. Afterwards, he played for Argentina's River Plate and Boca Juniors before being transferred to Italy's Fiorentina in 1991.

Finishing his seventh season with Fiorentina, Batistuta has said he would consider a transfer to renew his motivation.

He says its not the money that is a driving force at the moment.

``The glory, the money, and the fame will end,'' he said. ``But what will not end are the dreams, and I have a dream to fulfill: leaving the World Cup in France a champion.''