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Sanneh comes home to start against Argentina.

By John Haydon

Sanneh WASHINGTON, D.C. (Saturday, June 12, 1999) -- Tony Sanneh is not known for being a prolific goal scorer, but he does have a knack for scoring big goals in big games.

Sanneh scored a goal in both of D.C. Unitedís Major League Soccer championship game victories. He also scored when United beat Brazil's Vasco da Gama to win the InterAmerican Cup last season. And while playing for the United States national team, Sanneh found the back of the net as the Americans stunned three-time world champion Germany 3-0 in Jacksonville, Fla., in February.

The former United midfielder is back in town, and will start tomorrow on the right side of the midfield when the U.S. takes on Argentina tomorrow at RFK Stadium.

"It's special to play a team like Argentina because they've been one of the premier teams in the world in the last 20 years," said Sanneh, who left United as a free agent in the offseason to play for Hertha Berlin in Germany. "I know they won't take us for granted, because we beat Germany."

In three seasons with United, the St. Paul, Minn., native was a fixture at right midfield, collecting 20 goals and 32 assists in 98 games. Now Sanneh is gaining attention in one of the toughest leagues in the world the Bundesliga, Germany's first division.

An injury caused Sanneh to miss several games, but he played in the last seven for the club, which finished an impressive third in the championship race behind Bayern Munich. The success earned Hertha a place in the playoffs for the prestigious European Champions League next season and its first European competition in 24 years.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Sanneh will now get a chance to test his skill against some of the best teams in Europe, not to mention being exposed to a massive worldwide television audience.

"Next to the World Cup and European Cup, (the Champions League is) the biggest event in the world," Sanneh said. "It's a chance to showcase your talent . . . In that tournament, you can score one goal, or have a big game, and the next thing you know, a lot of offers can come your way."

When asked if he would like to be the first American to score a goal in the Champions League, Sanneh replied, "I'd like to be the first American to win the Champions League."

But Sanneh will have competition. Americans Frankie Hejduk with Bayer Levekusen and Claudio Reyna with the Glasgow Rangers will be competing in the Champions League next season.

While he remembers fondly the D.C. United fans at RFK, nothing quite prepared Sanneh for those in Berlin. Hertha regularly draws home crowds of 76,000 to the massive Olympic Stadium, which hosted the 1936 Games when Jesse Owens won four gold medals in front of Adolf Hitler.

"The (Berlin) fans are more knowledgeable about the game, a little bit more into it, and a little crazy," Sanneh said.

But life is no a bed of roses in Berlin. Sanneh has already felt the wrath of the fans and the German media when he missed a sitter in a 1-1 tie against champion Bayern Munich last month. And it will be a fight for Sanneh to earn a starting job at Hertha next season because the team has recently stocked up with a number of international players in preparation for the Champions League.

Still, Sanneh believes more American players should take a crack at playing in Europe's top leagues. "We don't give ourselves enough credit," he said. "Any American player that plays on the national team should be able to play in any other country in the world . . . As far as ability goes, we just don't have enough respect for ourselves."

While Argentina is using today's game as a warm-up for the South American Championship (June 29-July 18) in Paraguay, a little revenge might also be in order. The last time the teams met, the U.S. produced a stunning result, beating Argentina 3-0 in group play at the 1995 Copa America in Uruguay.

In that game, Argentine coach Daniel Passarella miscalculated and fielded nine substitutes, hoping to rest his star players for the quarterfinal round. The Argentine press called the defeat a "black night" and a "historic defeat." The loss left Argentina in a fatal situation, having to face Brazil in the quarterfinals instead of weaker Mexico.

Argentina will not make the same mistake tomorrow. Even though the visitors will be missing talented scorer Gabriel Batistuta, D.C. United's Argentine defender, Diego Sonora, called his national squad "a very, very strong team."

"Certainly any 11 players that Argentina puts on the field will be a very competitive team," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. "This is not a life-and-death game, but it's important to make progress. It's an opportunity to see some new faces and prepare for the Confederations Cup."

Argentina leads the series 5-1-1.

John Haydon is soccer columnist for the Washington Times and can be e-mailed at haydon@twtmail.com.

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