Argentina beaten but unbowed
Argentina's FIFA Confederations Cup Germany 2005 campaign ended on an unexpectedly low note. The South Americans arrived on European soil looking to consolidate, to carry out a little fine-tuning under their new coach, and put an end to a 12-year run without major silverware.
While achieving some of their objectives, the title eluded them, with the spoils going to Brazil on an eminently forgettable night for Jose Pekerman and his men. "Losing to Brazil like that in a final hurts a lot, but we shouldn't be too downhearted about the result. We lost against the best or one of the best sides in the world, but we mustn't forget that we had a great tournament."
Their 4-1 final defeat apart, the coach can take a look at his notebook and rest easy, with several of his players staking convincing claims for a place in his squad for next year's FIFA World Cup finals.
If Pekerman was anxious to see how his old hands would respond to the promotion of members of the young side that won the Olympic Football Tournament at Athens 2004, he soon got his answer: Juan Pablo Sorin and Javier Zanetti showed their leadership skills by taking the reins of the squad.
Just as he did at the FIFA World Youth Championship in 1995, the versatile Sorin at ease both in defence and midfield took the captain's armband and became the team's standard bearer. "I was so proud to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Diego Maradona and Daniel Passarella. It's a special feeling and a source of incredible motivation," said Sorin, who has now established himself as one of Pekerman's right-hand men.
Another player to enjoy a successful tournament was Javier Zanetti, who reached a century of caps for his country after 11 years of international duty. Pekerman will be delighted to know he can rely on two more of predecessor Marcelo Bielsa's ever-presents with Walter Samuel and Gabriel Heinze both producing some polished performances.
With seven goals between them, Juan Roman Riquelme and Luciano Figueroa went a long way to winning the affection of the ever-fickle Albiceleste support. The Villarreal midfielder enjoyed a superb group phase, notching three goals and picking up two Anheuser Busch Man of the Match awards. "He's a world-class player, one of the few genuinely exciting performers around," said FIFA Technical Study Group member Francisco Maturana.
"He's almost the complete footballer," added Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann. There is no doubt that Riquelme has cemented his place as the team's playmaker, even though he prefers to give his team-mates and their "tremendous potential" the credit for his electrifying form.
Figueroa, meanwhile, has made a spectacular arrival on the scene, bagging nine goals in a mere 13 full internationals. The crowning moment of his burgeoning career came in the group game against Australia when he plundered a hat-trick to help his side to a narrow win. "We're always under the microscope and when you play as well as that it has a double significance," says the young Villarreal striker.
Other positive points for Pekerman were the reappearance of German Lux as a reliable alternative to Roberto Abbondanzieri between the posts, the form of midfielder Esteban Cambiasso and the significant contributions made by Lucas Bernardi and the irrepressible Mario Santana, both of whom are relatively unknown to many Argentina fans.
'Auf Wiedersehen in 2006'
The FIFA Confederations Cup is now history for Argentina, who are still without a major international trophy since 1993. However, despite the pain of being swept aside by their arch-rivals, Pekerman and his squad can now turn their attentions to their ultimate goal winning next year's FIFA World Cup.
The coach remains upbeat. "The fact we reached the final shows we can compete in major tournaments. We're the first South American side to qualify and we're putting the side together slowly but surely. We'll be in good shape, don't you worry." Argentina's ambitious manager has a year in which to make good his words.