Brazil-Argentina games are always fought tooth and nail, with the winner enjoying the fruits of victory and regional bragging rights until the teams meet again. For the loser, though, the bitter taste of defeat lingers on and the chance to make amends cannot come quickly enough. In the run up to Tuesday's semi-final at Beijing 2008, the latter was very much the case for the Albiceleste, still smarting from their 3-0 reverse at the hands of the Seleção in the final of the 2007 Copa America in Venezuela. However, by the end of the night in the Chinese capital, the shoe was firmly on the other foot...
Speaking to FIFA.com after the game, Argentina's captain and scorer of their third goal on the night, Juan Roman Riquelme, explained just how much the victory meant: "We're delighted; we can't deny that. We've achieved our first goal, which was to make the final, and on top of that we've exacted some personal revenge. Players like Javier (Mascherano), Lionel (Messi) and Fernando (Gago) and I had the misfortune to be on the losing side at the last Copa America final. Today we won and made amends for that."
No one in Argentina would deny that on the night in question, 15 July 2007, the Albiceleste suffered one of the most painful reverses in their recent history. Among the four members of the Olympic team to lose that final was Javier Mascherano, who also stopped to chat after Tuesday's memorable win. "Argentina-Brazil is always like that - a case of win or bust. Today it was our turn to celebrate and we're enjoying it to the full. Beating our age-old rival and denying them the gold medal they came for is very significant, but we mustn't confuse that with our own goal. Now, we need to focus on ourselves and go and achieve our own bit of glory," he said.
Curiously, the central midfielder was on receiving end of the tackles that earned both Lucas and Thiago Neves red cards late on in the semi-final. Asked what he made of those incidents, he says with a smile: "At 2-0 down, Brazil got a bit nervy that's all. It's not like I was the most skilful player out there on the pitch or anything."
‘We're thrilled for El Kun'
The mood in the Argentinian dressing room post-match was understandably ecstatic. Music was playing at full volume and the smiling faces of the squad and delegation members were there for all to see. Angel Di Maria, who could not hide his delight after one of the biggest wins of his short but successful career, was a typical example: "I couldn't have asked for more. I won a starting berth, I'm playing well and I was part of a victory like this. What else can I say?"
The Benfica player played a vital role by creating space down the left flank, even having a hand in Sergio Aguero's opening goal. "To tell you the truth, it was meant to be a shot not a cross. Luckily I didn't catch it right and El Kun was able to steer it into the net."
Di Maria and Aguero were Argentina's two outstanding players in last year's triumph at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada, which makes the gifted left-footer ideally qualified to talk about El Kun Aguero, who had hitherto failed to score at Beijing 2008. "I knew he was very anxious to get on the score sheet, so I'm delighted to have been able to help him in this respect. He's a very important player for us, one of those who can win you big games. That's why we were thrilled for him."
Another singing the praises of the Atletico Madrid goal-getter yesterday was Sergio Batista, the Argentina coach. "I'd said beforehand I'd be banking on Aguero, as he's one of those players who can do a job for you in these type of games. Today he showed just what kind of player he really is."
"With this group of players, there's nothing I wouldn't fancy us to achieve. Today they ran themselves into the ground and overshadowed a team like Brazil. It was the best game so far in the tournament, and we're now just one step away from the gold medal. We'll work tirelessly to get it, but not tonight though. Today, all we want to do is celebrate."