As Gabriel Batistuta and Hernan Crespo fought their long battle to be Argentina’s first-choice centre-forward, it was widely assumed that by the 2006 World Cup the post would belong to the younger man. But Crespo can take nothing for granted. By then he will be the senior citizen, fighting off the challenge of a new generation.

A leading contender stars for River Plate, where Crespo made his name six years ago. Fernando Cavenaghi’s 15 goals in 19 games helped River to this year’s closing championship title and put him top of the national scorers’ chart. Like River predecessor, Javier Saviola, Cavenaghi achieved the feat before his 19th birthday; unlike Saviola, he went into the campaign with no guaranteed first-team place.

At the start of the year River signed Juan Esnaider and Uruguayan Daniel Fonseca, experienced international strikers who were expected to form the attack while Cavenaghi was groomed. But the youngster was not to be kept waiting. He had already sacrificed his beloved fast food on the advice of the club nutritionist and gained a new nickname: ‘Fatboy’ became ‘Little Bull’. Such physical development was rewarded with promotion to the senior squad last year, and in his sporadic opportunities he responded with goals.

Then, as the 2002 closing championship got under way in February, he scored so often that Fonseca and Esnaider were hardly used. Particularly impressive was the quality of his finishing. Most of his goals were first-time efforts, either on rebounds from the keeper or on balls played across the box. He drilled home sharply off either foot, with minimum fuss and maximum efficiency.

A championship medal, though, does not make Cavenaghi the finished article. As with all players pitched in so young, the flaws in his game are there for all to see. When the chances do not fall his way his contribution can be limited. It is a defect he recognises. ‘I’m working to improve my use of the body when I receive the ball,’ he says, ‘and I’m also trying to develop my heading.’

The capacity for improvement was evident during his glory campaign. Eight goals in the first four games made him a marked man, and he went nine barren matches. But, a more complete player, he bounced back to make sure of the title with seven goals in the final six games.

Cavenaghi will not always find life so easy. A knee injury on the opening day of the current campaign sidelined him for a month. But he was born with a gift for putting the ball in the back of the net, and in football that is no bad place to start.

Club River Plate
Country Argentina
Born September 21, 1983, in General O’Brien, Buenos Aires
Honours Argentinian closing championship 2002