On 10 April 2005, Peru's sensational defeat of Argentina in the South American U-17 qualifying tournament for Peru 2005 meant the young Albiceleste had to sit out that year's FIFA U-17 World Championship. Now, 18 months on from that devastating setback, Miguel Angel Tojo has assembled a new-look side which claimed its first silverware with victory in a quadrangular tournament in San Luis, Argentina, in which the USA, New Zealand and Peru also took part.
The win provides a timely confidence boost for Tojo and the boys as they continue their preparations for next March's South American qualifying tournament in Ecuador, which will decide the continent's representatives at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007.
"It's always good to win tournaments and test yourself against sides from other continents, as this gives you a good idea of where your team stands," said Tojo after last week's title win. "In the first match, against New Zealand, we were by far the better side, but in the final against the USA we found it much tougher. That said, my boys deserve a triumph like this," the coach went on to add.
In fact, the Argentine tactician had further cause to celebrate after seeing his side pick up the tournament's Fair Play award and two of his charges, Brian Sarmiento and Fernando Meza, named best newcomer and individual Fair Play winner respectively.
The road to the title
The opening games of the tournament, which were played at the Juan Gilberto Funes Stadium on 10 October, saw the hosts and USA win their respective ties to set up a showdown three days later.
In their first match, Argentina easily saw off the challenge of New Zealand thanks to a goal apiece from defenders Maximiliano Oliva and Fernando Meza and a similar contribution from forwards Lucas Trecarichi (of Spanish side Leganes) and Federico Laurito (of Udinese).
In the second semi-final, John Hackworth's Americans proved too good for Jose Pavoni's Peru, going through by the smallest of margins thanks to a penalty by captain Pared Jeffrey.
The decider between the hosts and the US took place on 13 October and proved as tight as had been expected. The North Americans drew first blood with a close-range effort from Ellis McLoughlin on 38 minutes and went in a goal to the good at the break. However, in the second half, the locals piled on the pressure and finally drew level through Oliva after 73 minutes. Then with just seconds still to play, up popped Nicolas Mazzola to volley home a rebound and hand his side the title (93').
After the match, Hackworth made no attempt to hide his disappointment: "We played some great football against one of the best teams in the world in this category, but we made the mistake of letting them come back at us in the final 20 minutes. It's very frustrating, although we learned a lesson out there and need not blame ourselves."
For his part, Tojo used the moment to highlight how well his players had responded: "They never gave up. We struggled slightly with our passing, but when we started playing a bit, we managed to turn the game round. On the whole I think it's extremely positive."
Consolation for the Kiwis
In the third-place match, New Zealand finished on a high after goals by Jacob Mathews and Corey Chettleburgh gave them a 2-0 win over Peru. Kiwi coach Colin Tuaa was delighted his side had overcome the Andean outfit, the only team to go home without a win. "We're thrilled with this victory, which should motivate us even more as we go into the (Oceania) qualifiers (for Korea 2007) in Tahiti," the coach said, before singling out his keeper Jake Gleeson for particular praise.
Argentina and Peru will be hoping to secure a berth at the FIFA U-17 World Cup when their continent's qualifiers get underway in Ecuador next March, while the New Zealanders will be chasing a similar outcome in Tahiti. The USA, for their part, will have to wait until April, when the CONCACAF qualifiers get underway, to try and book their place in the Far East.
Final results in San Luis
Tuesday 10 October
Argentina 4 - 0 New Zealand
USA 1 - 0 Peru
Friday 13 October
Argentina 2 - 1 USA
New Zealand 2 - 0 Peru