For Sergio Romero, this week may well prove to be one of the defining moments of his burgeoning footballing career. The imposing, 6'3" Argentinian custodian joined up with the Olympic squad fully aware that Oscar Ustari was coach Sergio Batista's first choice, but an untimely injury to the Getafe keeper in the quarter-final against the Netherlands has opened the door to the starting eleven.
"Nobody likes coming on because one of your team-mates is injured, but these things happen in football, don't they?" the AZ Alkmaar shotstopper tells FIFA.com. "It was a strange feeling. As soon as I saw Oscar signal to the bench I was wracked with nerves. I had to come on late in the game and in a really difficult match. I wanted to prove as quickly as possible that I was up to the job to give a sense of security to my team-mates."
And Romero certainly knows what he needs to do to succeed, having been a key figure in Argentina's triumph at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007, a trophy Ustari had lifted two years earlier in the Netherlands. "For me, being involved in an Olympic Games is priceless," says Romero, clearly thrilled to be appearing at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008.
"I've always been mad about basketball and my brother plays professionally, so to have visited the Olympic Village and met people like Kobe Bryant was incredible. I had my photo taken with him and when I told my family about it they couldn't believe it! That alone made this experience worthwhile."
Brazil, a familiar foe
The gifted goalkeeper believes his 45-minute cameo against the Netherlands, as well as the 90 minutes he played against Serbia in the group phase, could prove vital ahead of the Albiceleste's eagerly anticipated semi-final against arch-rivals Brazil. "It did me a lot of good, especially confidence-wise," says Romero. "Even though we had already qualified (by the time we played Serbia), that match was crucial to helping me feel secure and prove I was up to the challenge."
"Argentina and Brazil know each other very well and yes, we can't deny that there's an age-old rivalry between us," says the baby-faced former Racing Club man. "We always want to beat Brazil and they'll always want to beat us too. It's a really special match."
"I played against them in a South American competition and we ended up drawing 2-2," continues Romero. "I know people are saying that they've beaten us in several big matches recently, but then again we've got a lot of players in this team who have won youth competitions, haven't we?"
"We came here as the defending champions and we intend to do whatever it takes to hold on to that title," adds Romero, who is determined to savour every moment here in China. "Just being here is absolutely priceless. Taking the gold medal would be the icing on the cake."