Late heartbreak for Albiceleste
© Getty Images

With long faces and teary eyes, the Argentina team walk past in single-file, ignoring calls for comments from the local press pack. They have just been dramatically knocked out of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009 and the young players, still shell-shocked, depart the stadium with frustration writ large on their faces.     

A short distance away, in the dressing rooms of the Gateway International Stadium in Ijebu-Ode, Jose Luis Brown is still lamenting Colombia’s impressive last-gasp comeback as the press listen on: "I came to this press conference out of respect for the media, but to be honest I feel like crawling into a hole."

We respect Colombia, but we weren't expecting to be going home so soon. Our goal was to go all the way to the final. We had a bad day, and when you make mistakes at this level, you pay for them.
Argentina coach Jose Luis Brown

And his sentiments are understandable. His charges, 2-0 up and in control of the game, were pegged back to 2-1 and then ended up losing after conceding twice in the last three minutes. "We respect Colombia, but we weren't expecting to be going home so soon. Our goal was to go all the way to the final. We had a bad day, and when you make mistakes at this level, you pay for them," he said with admirable dignity.

The coach gave then his thoughts on what he felt to be the turning-point of the second half: the handball which saw captain Esteban Espindola received his second yellow card on 65 minutes. "We weren't able to recover from being a man down, that's where we lost the game. But we can't pin the blame on Espindola, it was simply bad luck. He's not our captain by chance - he's a lad with a promising future in Argentinian football. We mustn't blow things out of proportion."

Lessons to be learnt
In their illustrious history, Argentinian teams have won every major honour with the exception of the FIFA U-17 World Cup. Whether by coincidence or otherwise, El Tata insisted his players must not be blamed for the early exit, and that the team must look to the future.

"We shouldn't lose our perspective because of one bad result. We're talking about lads who are only 17. They have long careers ahead of them, and a lot to learn. Playing in a World Cup gives them fantastic experience, and I'm sure that they won't ever repeat the mistakes they made against Colombia. We had a bad game, that's all there is to it," he said.   

His expression says it all. Sadly for Argentina, Nigeria 2009 is already over. "Now we've got to keep working with the team and get back to producing footballers for the future. We mustn't lose sight of the fact that, though we came here to win the trophy, our main aim is to coach the young players so that one day they can become full senior internationals. Several of the players on this team will go very far."   

Brown, for his part, was upbeat about the future. "I'm sure we'll meet again in other circumstances. In football, you always get another chance, and these players deserve one. We'd like to thank everyone in Nigeria for their great welcome and hospitality over the past few weeks," he concluded.