In another display of ruthless finishing, Argentina's all-conquering Olympians routed Costa Rica 4-0 to set up a juicy semi-final clash with Claudio Gentile's Italy. The hero of the hour was once again Carlos Tévez, whose stunning hat-trick made him the tournament's leading goal scorer. Marcelo Bielsa's men dominated the game from start to finish and had effectively killed off the tie by half time.
The individual brilliance of the Boca Juniors star threatened to overshadow a fine team effort by the South Americans. In spite of the stifling heat, which affected both teams in the Pampeloponnisiako Stadium in Patras, it was Argentina who prevailed taking another giant step towards their country's first ever Olympic gold.
As many had predicted, Argentina were first off their blocks and imposed their tempo on the game. The overly cautious Ticos, reluctant to commit numbers forward, sat back waiting to their chances on the break. The ensuing congestion in midfield left the Albicelestes very little room to work the ball through to their front men. The first real chance, however, fell to Costa Rica. A long ball from the back picked out Jairo Arrieta, who sneaking in behind an uncharacteristically lax Argentine defence, saw his shot go narrowly wide (17').
|Argentina's Cesar Delgado celebrates (C) after scoring against Costa Rica during their Olympic Games quaterfinal football match, 21 August in Patras.|
Despite going a goal down, Rodrigo Kenton's side still seemed intent on sitting back - a tactic that merely played into the hands of the insatiable Argentinians. It came as no surprise then, when they almost doubled their lead 12 minutes later. Delgado, picking up a neat pass from Clemente Rodríguez, let fly with an unstoppable drive which clipped the outside of the post and went wide (37'). "Some of you will question my tactic of playing defensively out there tonight. How else can you contain Argentina without being defensive? They are one of the best sides in the world with quality players that can win a game at any moment," the Costa Rican coach explained later at the press conference.
The last action of the first half would see the crucial second goal. The unrelenting pressure of the South Americans - dressed in their change strip of blue - got its deserved reward thanks to cross from the left by Cristian González. The midfielder's inch-perfect ball found Carlos Tévez, who calmly slotted home with his right (2-0; 43'). The strike by the Boca Juniors prodigy brought to 4 his tally for the tournament, as he ran to celebrate in front of a flag which said, "Tévez, because of you I came to Greece".
Although Costa Rica sent on Eric Scott to help the solitary Álvaro Saborio up front, the second half was a case of more of the same. Argentina, very much in the ascendancy, continued to have the lion's share of the chances and possession against a practically beaten Tico side. Another excellent passage of play released the ubiquitous Cristian González down the left, but Drummond got his fingertips to the shot to push it just wide (48'). Moments later, Delgado missed an equally good chance from a similar piece of approach play (52').
Costa Rica must have really known it was not to be there night when they missed a glaring chance to cut the deficit. Carlos Herández broke down the right flank and swung in a perfect ball for Saborio. However, the Saprissa player, from almost on the goal line, somehow managed to head it wide (60'). And when Costa Rica did manage to get a shot on target, they found the Argentine keeper Germán Lux in unbeatable form. Despite, being practically a spectator for the first 45, Lux had to be at his best to pull Scott's goal-bound strike from the air on 66 minutes. "We lost possession for a while in the second half, but we dominated the latter stages as well as the first half. If you ask me if my team make winning easy, I'd say that winning is never easy; It always comes at a cost, even if it's purely physical," Marcelo Bielsa said afterwards.
The game would have gone on maybe 20 minutes too long had it not been for the majesty of Carlos Tévez. First, he finished beautifully after a fine effort by Clemente Rodríguez (3-0; 82'), and then, in a moment of individual brilliance, his powerful right-foot shot curled just inside the near post to send the crowd in Patras into raptures (4-0; 83'). With six goals in four games, the big question now is, can anyone stop the Argentine No. 10?