Clásico awaits as Argentina set up South American showdown
THE DAY REPLAYED: In a tournament that has seen ten penalties in 14 matches in open play, it was only fitting that the FIFA Confederations Cup Germany 2005 should witness a penalty shoot-out as well.
Argentina's nerve held and that won them a place in Wednesday's final against South American adversaries Brazil, leaving Mexico with a play-off for third place against the home nation. After a gruelling semi-final on 26 June, so severe a test of body, mind and heart, it was a cruel reward for the Aztec heroes who have brought so much to the Germany festival.
The competition, full of goals and incident since day one, has a clásico for its final game. Brazil, with an extra day's rest, will hope that the opposition are fatigued after such a relentless struggle in Hanover. At the forefront of Argentine minds will be the memory that it was only three weeks ago that they proved themselves distinctly superior in a FIFA World Cup qualifying tie. But Frankfurt will also be staging a reprise of last year's Copa America final in Peru when it was Brazil's turn to gloat. Ironic as well that the 'Festival of Champions' should come down to a showdown not between the champions of two continents but the strongest rivals from one. (And between the two group runners-up.)
Mexico so badly wanted to have another go at Brazil to prove that their victory in the same stadium in Group B was no fluke. Since then they have had to cope with the loss of two first-choice players but how proud the Tricolor fluttered in the stands although it was sad to hear Ricardo Lavolpe complaining afterwards that "money talks" and that as the less powerful nation his team were up against it. That economic argument certainly did not apply when they faced the Brazilians.
At least they had their star defender Rafael Marquez back to start his first game in the tournament after injury. The Barcelona man was obviously determined to make up for the action he had missed and nearly surprised German Lux with a first-half header. There were few clear-cut chances but nearly a breakthrough just before the break when Juan Sorin lifted the ball over the onrushing Oswaldo Sanchez only for Gonzalo Pineda to prevent it going over the line.
The defending was determined, disciplined and a touch desperate at times. It was a contest for men because the challenges were never less than fully committed. Some of them must have made even referee Roberto Rosetti wince and as a hospital manager he gets to witness a lot of pain. In the previous 13 matches there had not been a single dismissal and now, as the clock showed 90 minutes, two arrived in quick succession. First Javier Saviola was shown a red card for kicking out at Pineda with Marquez following him soon after for a second yellow.
At the end of normal time the teams remained deadlocked. Zinha cut in and shot against the left-hand post. At the other end Fabricio Coloccini had drawn a fine save while Juan Riquelme was just too high with a couple of free-kicks. Only penalties could separate these teams at the end of 120 minutes even the 'foul' count was close, 31 to 27 with Mexico marginally the worst offenders.
The first half of extra time was just coming to a close when Mexico launched another one of their speedy counterattacks. Carlos Salcido's inspirational run took him past two defenders and climaxed in a lunging shot which deflected in off Coloccini. Luciano Figueroa might have equalised almost immediately but could not get a positive contact on the ball. But then from a less promising position the Villarreal forward got the ball down and squeezed it between Sanchez's legs.
After ten immaculate penalty attempts, Ricardo Osorio saw his shot saved and that left Esteban Cambiasso to step up to apply the final cut. Ice-cool, calculating and unerring in his aim, he will surely be in demand as a hit-man when his playing days are over.