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Argentine team sports Jewish coach, player

BUENOS AIRES, June 18 (JTA) — A Jewish player is trying to help kick Argentina’s national team to a triumph in soccer’s World Cup, with help from the team’s Jewish coach. Both the coach, Jose Pekerman, 56, and the player, Juan Pablo Sorin, 30, have their roots in the Buenos Aires-based club Argentinos Juniors, best known as the team where superstar Diego Maradona first honed his talent. Adrian Stoppleman, an Argentine Jewish sportswriter, said, “In the past, Argentina has had a sprinkling of Jewish players in its local league. But to have two such key people like the coach and team captain being Jewish is truly an achievement to be proud of.” Pekerman, 56, was born in Villa Dominguez — otherwise known as Moisesville, the center of where the “Jewish gauchos,” or cowboys, lived — in Entre Rios province but has lived much of his life in the Jewish neighborhood of Villa Crespo in Buenos Aires. He was a solid midfielder who played from 1970-1974 in the first division of Argentine soccer for Argentinos Juniors. He then spent a short stint playing for Colombia’s Independiente Medellin before becoming a coach. At first, he worked as youth division coach, jobs that barely paid the rent. In fact Pekerman, for a number of years, drove a taxi at night. So it was a real surprise when he was named coach of the national youth teams in 1994. Under his guidance, the Argentine under-23 teams won three world championships. In 2004, he was promoted to coach the national team. Sorin, 30, is a defender-midfielder whose dynamic blend of spirit and intelligence made him an obvious choice as team captain. All the other players describe him as a natural leader off the field. During the game, he is, in many ways, the player who sets the rhythm and tone for the Argentines. Sorin has also played for teams around the world, and this year led his small Spanish league team, Villareal, into the European UEFA Cup semifinals. In Argentina, Sorin had his own radio show, and last year edited a children’s book whose proceeds went to a foundation for children with health and nutritional problems. Argentina has already qualified for the second round of the World Cup, which will crown its winner on July 9.

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