Argentina put Mexico to the sword
Argentina are simply a cut above the rest of the competition at Finland 2003. In the second quarter-final in Lahti on 23 August 2003, Mexico became the latest side to face up to that harsh reality. The South Americans outclassed their northern rivals in the first half, scoring twice before easing off in the second period. With seven goals scored and none conceded, Argentina are on a roll. The winners of the Spain v Portugal quarter-final be warned; you face an ominous task in Helsinki on 27 August.
After a successful campaign in the group stage, the Mexicans were well aware they faced a step-up in class in Lahti. Their Argentinian coach Humberto Grondona will have briefed his boys about their accomplished opponents, all well versed in the demands of their profession. The young Argentinians did not disappoint either. Well organised as ever, they looked even better for the return of playmaker Lucas Biglia. “Lucas doesn’t get nervous," explained his coach Hugo Tocalli after the game. "He brings that touch of calmness and peace of mind that other players don’t have and that does the team good.”
Julio Ceja, with his mazy runs, and captain Alberto Ramirez, always dangerous at free-kicks, did their level best to upset the Argentinian apple cart in the first period, but as the game settled into a pattern it soon became clear that the attacking trio of Peirone, Cardozo and Colzera were going to prove too hot to handle. The Mexican back line, with Oscar Herrera taking no prisoners and Luis Robles looking the part, held out for as long as they could.
Every time Neri Cardozo broke through the middle, Hernan Peirone made a run down the left channel and Ariel Colzera raced down the right, stretching the North American defence to its limit and creating space for their teammates to run into. A goal was on the cards, and although José Alamo had his crossbar to thank for keeping a Colzera header out (21’), the inevitable duly came. Cardozo came charging through the middle yet again, slipped the ball to Peirone down the wing and carried on his run to get his head on the end of Peirone’s first time cross. The ball flew over Alamo and Argentina were ahead (1-0, 34’).
The Albiceleste almost made it two when Peirone volleyed just over (37’). He got another opportunity, however, from practically the same build-up when Cardozo broke through the centre and slipped it into his path; the San Lorenzo striker finished with relish, striking a low drive to the near post to beat José Alamo on the stroke of half-time (2-0, 45’).
Argentina have a solid defence. But what was more important was that they scored when they had the chance. We didn’t,” said Grondona after the match. “The goal on 45 minutes was the key to the game.”
In the second half the Mexican coach sent on two new players who added thrust going forward but were unable to make any change to the scoresheet. Pedro Osorio went close with a downward header (64’) and José Santiago screwed a perfect cross wide (66’). The Mexicans piled on the pressure in the closing minutes when Robles struck a superb shot onto the woodwork (87’) and Osorio missed a chance on the rebound (88’), but Argentina already had one foot in the semi-finals.
Hugo Tocalli played down the win preferring to rejoice in the fact that his side will have gained in experience by reaching the semis. “We set out to play six games in this competition and that is exactly what we’ll do. It means my players will be even stronger at U-20 level and could one day even make the national team.”