“Argentina have unfinished business at World Cups,” is the honest assessment of Jose Carlos Borrello, the coach of La Albiceleste’s U-20 team who will lead his side into battle this month at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Japan.
Speaking at a press conference last May ahead of squad trials in the Santa Fe city of Reconquista, the coach was upbeat about his side’s chances at Japan 2012. “This group can cause a stir, and that’s not just wishful thinking. I felt that way before the South American qualifying tournament, and I feel the same way now. That’s because we possess a quality that is fundamental for major competitions, and it’s called character."
Borrello’s comments, as well as the location for that round of trials – Reconquista is some 800km from the capital Buenos Aires – are revealing as they illustrate the process his staff and the Department of Women’s Football at the Argentinian FA are implementing to widen the player-base and promote the game in the country’s hinterland. Both policies are key to helping Argentina women’s football develop and become a continental force once again.
One of their objectives, at least in this age category, would seem to have been achieved. After qualifying for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup at Russia 2006 and Chile 2008, La Albiceleste missed out on the last edition at Germany 2010. Moreover, in the Sudamericano that served as the qualifying tournament, they failed to even reach the semi-finals. Now, though, they head to Japan as regional runners-up, having only being pipped in qualifying by continental powerhouse Brazil.
The unfinished business that Borrello spoke of last May can be traced to results at their last two appearances in the competition. And while Argentina did win their final group game at Russia 2006 against Congo DR (4-0), they were emphatically beaten in their opening two fixtures by France (5-0) and USA (4-1) and failed to reach the knockout phase. Two years later in Chile, it was déjà vu for the South Americans, who again lost to the Stars and Stripes (3-0) and Les Bleuettes (3-1), making their opening 1-1 draw against China PR count for nothing.
“Our teams need more international playing time and more experience of major competitions. It’s vital and something they simply have to be exposed to,” said Borrello.
With this in mind, the coach organised a series of recent friendlies as part of their preparations for Japan. There they can expect a very tough test against Group C opponents Canada, Korea DPR and Norway, whose senior sides were ranked 7th, 8th and 13th respectively in the last FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking.
Argentina faced Mexico (24th in the Ranking) twice as well as Italy (11th), two countries that will also be in Japan. El Tri provided stiff opposition, prevailing 1-0 and 2-0, while Italy, who they met on a mini-tour of Europe, were no less committed in their 4-3 victory. The South Americans did, however, end the tour on a high with a convincing 5-0 rout of Slovenia.
Those last two fixtures also enabled the team’s two strikers to make their mark, with Yael Oviedo (two in each game) and Betina Soriano (one in each) finding their range. Speaking recently about her side’s prospects, Oviedo said: “If we can improve our marking and the accuracy of our passes, we could have a very good campaign.” And if they manage to do that, who is to say Argentina won’t cause a stir in Japan?