Those who dismiss Argentina as contenders for this FIFA Futsal World Championship Chinese Taipei 2004 do so at their peril. By delivering a commanding lesson to the Portuguese favourites, the Albicelestes have as good as booked their place in the next round. And ominously for their rivals, history has shown that when an Argentine side gets on a roll, they take some stopping.
"Before the match, I would have settled for 1-0," confessed Fernando Larrañaga, the Argentinian coach, at the end of the encounter. "But having seen our display, I feel we could have won it by a wider margin. We had quite a few opportunities but were wayward in our finishing. But we'll get better as the tournament progresses." If they do, the South Americans will surely be a leading contender for the world crown.
Having watched almost the entire Iran-Cuba game (8-3) from the stands of the Linkou Gymnasium, the Argentines eased their way effortlessly into this top-of-the-table clash. Extremely well organised defensively in blunting the Portuguese attacks, they created the first real chance through Garcias (4'). Most observers expected these two accomplished teams to serve up a tight match, and that is precisely how it panned out.
Argentina hold out… and could have had more
Also on the menu were two contrasting styles, courtesy of a Portuguese team seeking to impose their physical power by provoking duels, and an Albiceleste outfit using their technique to create gaps in their opponents' defence. And on 19 minutes, the South Americans took full advantage of one such chink in the Portuguese armour. After the Iberian side's Ivan took a free kick from ten yards out that was parried well by Argentine keeper Javier Guisande, Esteban Gonzalez strode forward in the ensuing melee to dispatch a rocket shot beneath Joao Benedito's bar (1-0, 19'), sending Portugal to their dressing room one goal down.
After the break, the same pattern was resumed, although Portugal's pressing game was obliging Argentina to move their passing game up a gear. Inevitably, a higher percentage of balls went astray, giving Portugal increased possession without them actually creating too many clear-cut chances. The longer Orlando Duarte's charges huffed and puffed to no great effect, the more fractious they became.
But Argentinian footballers are not easily intimidated, and they so nearly delivered the killer blow when Garcias sidestepped the Portuguese keeper and fired at goal from a tight angle, only for a last-gasp block by Marcelinho to keep his side in the game (32'). In the minutes that followed, the Albicelestes even had several opportunities on the counter, all of which they spurned. But Portugal failed to give them cause to regret this profligacy and the game finished 1-0.
A few minutes later, the Portuguese coach, Orlando Duarte, had not yet come to terms with defeat: "This was an unfair result, as we were the better team on the night. But Argentina were very hard to break down and defended marvellously. I didn't think I'd need to, but I'm going to go and study the competition regulations about two teams who are level at the end of the first round."