Providing a stark contrast to Argentina's repeated success at U-20 level, the FIFA U-17 World Cup crown has thus far remained steadfastly out of reach. Korea 2007 offers the perfect opportunity for coach Miguel Angel Tojo's charges to set the record straight and become the first Albicelestes to win the category's premier competition.
The squad have already demonstrated their potential by coming through a tough South American qualifying tournament in Ecuador. With the pressure firmly on them after their predecessors' failure to qualify for Peru 2005, Tojo's boys did not disappoint and return to a competition they last graced at Finland 2003, where they finished third.
Armed with a degree of tactical order and discipline not often seen at such a tender age, Argentina have talent running through the squad and a number of highly technical individuals. Nor are they lacking in experience with the likes of Alexis Machuca and Pablo Musacchio in their ranks. The talented twosome have already tasted first-division football with Newell's Old Boys and River Plate respectively, and give Argentina a clear advantage over many of their rivals. "It's always good to have players with competitive experience, given that this is formative yet extremely demanding category," says Tojo.
Argentina confirmed their place at Korea 2007 after a 1-1 draw with fellow qualifiers Peru on the last day of the U-17 Sudamericano in Ecuador. It should also be noted that the Albicelestes' third-place finish was secured with several important squad members out injured, including striker Federico Laurito of Serie A side Udinese.
In the first phase, Tojo's charges won Group B courtesy of two wins and two draws to proceed to the decisive six-team final phase. There the team showed all its fighting spirit to bounce back from an opening-game defeat to Brazil (2-0) to stay in contention with back-to-back wins over Colombia (2-1) and Ecuador (2-0). Squad fatigue and the team's injury problems were evident in their final two games, but battling draws against Venezuela (1-1) and Peru (1-1) made sure of their participation in Korea.
In total, Argentina played nine games, recording four wins, four draws and just one defeat. In the process they conceded 7 goals and scored 13, with Nicolas Mazzola and Eduardo Salvio emerging as joint top-scorers with three apiece.
Born on 6 July 1944, Miguel Angel Tojo faces one of the biggest challenges of his international coaching career: to steer the Albiceleste to their first FIFA U-17 World Cup title and atone for the disappointment of missing out on Peru 2005. A native of Argentina's Santa Fe province, Tojo's playing career took in spells at Ferrocarril Oeste, San Lorenzo de Almagro, Racing Club and Peru's Defensor Lima, earning two senior caps with Argentina in 1971. As a coach, he led the Albiceleste U-20 side to victory at the 2003 PanAmerican Games in Santo Domingo after beating Brazil in the Final.
Federico Laurito is, without question, the standout member of the Argentina side. However, he was limited to just one game at the Sudamericano tournament after rupturing the cruciate ligament in his right knee, an injury that will almost certainly rule him out of the finals in Korea. His natural replacement is Eduardo Salvio, who deputised admirably for the stricken Laurito in Ecuador. The Lanus striker showed skill, speed and plenty of bravery, emerging as one of Argentina's most dangerous players and their joint top-scorer at the tournament with three goals. "I'm happy with the goals, but they're a mere detail. What really matters is achieving our objective, and we hope to do that in Korea," he says.
What they said...
"We showed in the South American qualifiers that we are able to overcome adversity. In spite of injuries and other problems, we qualified [for Korea] and played good football in doing so. That's why I believe that in Korea, without all these problems, we'll be fighting for the top spots."- Argentina coach Miguel Angel Tojo.
|21||Jose Luis CORNALO|
|TOJO Miguel Angel|