Love them or loathe them, the record books never lie. As Argentina prepare to do battle with Mexico for a place in the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup Germany 2005, a quick look through the history books shows that the country boasts a semi-final record that is second to none. It has been 18 long years since the Albiceleste last came off second best in a semi-final, and in major FIFA tournaments they have never fallen at the penultimate hurdle.
Amazing but true, Argentina have not lost a semi-final since Uruguay's Antonio Alzamendi sank the then world champions on Argentine soil at the 1987 Copa America. Since that painful defeat, the country has racked up one semi-final success after another: one at the FIFA World Cup finals, two in the Copa America and, just for good measure, two more in the Olympic Football Tournament.
A nod to history
You only have to think of what the current crop of Argentine internationals were doing when Uruguay emerged victorious from that game to put it all into perspective. Luciano Figueroa, one of the team's top scorers in Germany, was halfway through his first year at primary school, and Juan Roman Riquelme, the chief orchestrator in Jose Pekerman's side, had just blown the candles out on his ninth birthday cake. Since those far-off days, Argentina have been the victors in many memorable clashes.
The first and perhaps most famous of them all came at Italia 90 where, four years after becoming world champions in Mexico, Diego Maradona and his cohorts brought the host nation to their knees after a dramatic penalty shoot-out in Naples. Three years later Alfio Basile's side saw off Colombia in the semi-finals of the 1993 Copa America after yet more penalty shoot-out drama. The Albicelestes went on to lift the continental crown that year, overcoming today's rivals Mexico in the final.
The country's other semi-final victories came in the Olympic Football Tournament, which is effectively an U-23 competition. The first came at Atlanta 1996, when they knocked out Portugal, and the second at Athens 2004, when they saw off Italy. In recent times, Argentina have only tasted defeat in the last four at FIFA World Youth Championships and FIFA U-17 World Championships.
Respect first, stats second
Statistics aside, Pekerman knows his team will have to be at their very best to see off a combative Mexico side, who took the spoils in the last meeting between the two sides at the Copa America 2004: "Judging by their form leading up to the tournament, Mexico will be tough to beat," he said. "If you look at the great results they've had here too, then you can be pretty sure we'll be in for a difficult night."
Pekerman also had warm words for the man who has guided El Tri to the verge of Wednesday's final, fellow countryman Ricardo Lavolpe: "He's played a big part in Mexico's recent success. He's taken a group of skilful players and given them a bit of steel. They're definitely a force to be reckoned with."
Pekerman rounded off with a few words about his side as the competition enters the final straight: "We played very well against Germany but we lack still continuity. That's the hardest thing to find in football and I just hope we can get it all together on Sunday."