“It was a battle of crosses and shots on goal,” joked Argentina goalkeeper Augusto Batalla after La Albiceleste overcame Côte d'Ivoire to seal a spot in the semi-finals of the FIFA U-17 World Cup for the first time in 10 years.
Batalla is the Spanish word for battle, and young Augusto was the standout performer for the South American side which featured in defence his River Plate team-mate Emanuel Mammana, who has played in all five games so far at UAE 2013. “Augusto and I know each other well. We have played together since the age of eight. Here at the World Cup we are playing very well in defence," Mammana told FIFA.com after the match. "Augusto always tells me we have to keep a clean sheet before a game and we work so hard at the back to avoid letting in any goals.
Standing 1.81m tall, Batalla has let in five goals so far in this tournament and plays alongside Mammana in the sixth team at their club in Argentina. “I have played with Emanuel for many years and that helps a lot,” he said. “We won the South American championship in San Luis and with River we won the U-17 Club World Cup in Spain. I know how he is going to move and when to be alert. Playing with him gives me peace of mind and makes me feel secure.”
The pair are on a high thanks to Argentina’s passage to the semi-finals. They embrace, laugh and joke, but quickly focus on the task that lies ahead. “We are very happy. To get this far is something unique, Argentina haven’t been here very often. We have the chance to become champions, to make history. We have to remain calm because there are still two games left, but this is a moment to savour,” Mamanna explained.
Batalla agreed. “It was a very tight, very intense match,” he said. “We usually end up with a narrow win, giving it everything. That’s how it finished and the most important thing is that we are in the semi-finals. We controlled the game well in the first half. The coach’s plan was a very good one, the team responded perfectly and we got the result. The early goal helped us because they were forced to change the way they play and also because it relaxed us.”
Suffering makes it more fun
Argentina were under pressure at the end of the game against the Baby Elephants. “We suffered a lot at the end. We knew Côte d'Ivoire were going to be a tough team because they always play at a great pace and never stop running," said Mammana. "But we got through it and now we are enjoying it. We defended well and were able to hang on to our lead once we got in front. The key was to keep moving for the 90 minutes. Not one of us stopped running.”
Argentina now look ahead to a meeting with defending champions Mexico in the last four and Mamanna has nothing but respect for El Tri. “We know Mexico are a hard team and we will have to be at our best right until the last minute,” the defender said. “But we have a very good team with great players and we can win the competition if we play like we did today.”
Batalla also called for caution ahead of the meeting in Abu Dhabi on 5 November. “Mexico are world champions, they have been improving as the tournament has gone on and they have just knocked out Brazil – one of the big favourites to win the competition and a team that were looking unstoppable,” he warned. “It will be another battle, but we came here to be champions and I believe in this team very much because we have a spectacular group of people.”