Older, wiser Veron regains Argentine fans' trust

By Rex Gowar

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - There were just a few minutes left as Juan Sebastian Veron strolled to the flag to take a corner with Argentina staring at World Cup elimination.

Argentina managed to draw 1-1 with Sweden that day in Japan in 2002 but it was not enough. The favorites were on their way home after Argentina's worst World Cup since 1958.

The strolling image, following an indifferent performance in the 1-0 defeat by England five days earlier, earned Veron the opprobrium of Argentina's fans.

However today, at the age of 35, Veron is captain of South American club champions Estudiantes and one of the leaders of the Argentina team going to the finals in South Africa.

At the 2007 Copa America he was partner to Juan Roman Riquelme in the playmaking department. Now he is Argentina's chief orchestrator after Riquelme fell out with coach Diego Maradona.

Argentina's hopes of victory rest as much on Veron's midfield and dead ball skills as they do on the genius of Lionel Messi.

The fear is that age might catch up with Veron at any moment, that he might not last the pace of 90 minutes at the World Cup, and there is no obvious replacement.

Veron is hoping to carry with him the enthusiasm he felt going for the summit with Estudiantes at the Club World Cup.

"There is no best moment (to do things) and this is my moment and I'm enjoying it as if I were 20," added Veron, who plans to work his way up to becoming Estudiantes president once he retires as a player.

(Editing by Robert Woodward)