Boasting no fewer than six titles, Argentina are the most successful nation in FIFA U-20 World Cup history. However, La Albiceleste have not been at the imperious best recently, having failed to qualify for Egypt 2009 and only finished third at this year’s South American U-20 Championship in Peru. Having first lifted the global U-20 trophy under FIFA World Cup™-winning coach Cesar Menotti in Japan 1979, thanks in large measure to an uncontainable Diego Armando Maradona, it would take 16 years before Argentina did so again at Qatar 1995. Yet that triumph was soon followed by success at Malaysia 1997, Argentina 2001, Netherlands 2005 and Canada 2007, during the coaching reigns of Jose Pekerman, Francisco Ferraro and Hugo Tocalli. What is more, that golden period also unleashed the likes of Juan Riquelme, Pablo Aimar, Javier Saviola, Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero onto the global stage. Will Colombia 2011 produce more names to add to that illustrious list?
Though without the same swagger as previous Albiceleste U-20 sides, Argentina did manage to secure a place at Colombia 2011 with a game to spare at this year’s U-20 Sudamericano. Indeed, the squad coached by Walter Perazzo, who stepped in after Sergio Batista took over the senior side, qualified despite losing their penultimate encounter of the final round 1-0 against Uruguay. This came after qualifying for the decisive six-team final round in some style, finishing their Group A campaign unbeaten and in first place, only for inconsistency to consign them to an eventual third-place finish, outside the qualifying berths for the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012. The only team to beat champions Brazil (2-1) at the competition, an overall record of six wins, one draw and two losses - scoring 15 and conceding nine - was not enough to allow La Albiceleste to defend the Olympic crown won in 2004 and 2008.
Just like his predecessors in the post, coach Perazzo is able to call on a squad of players used to the cut and thrust of top-flight football. Intriguingly, however, among the players who most caught the eye on Sudamericano duty were those getting little first-team action at club level, such as Juan Manuel Iturbe. One of the youngest members of the squad, the fleet-footed forward has already drawn comparisons with Messi and is set to join Portuguese giants FC Porto once he turns 18 in June. Argentina also impressed at the back and in goal, but a lack of presence and cohesion in midfield arguably cost them a higher-placed finish. “Qualifying for the (U-20) World Cup was by no means a consolation prize, and we’ve already gone one better than the class of 2009 did,” said Perazzo. “Next up is to go to Colombia, iron out a few flaws and fight for the title", added the coach who expects Erik Lamela, former River Plate’s and recent AS Roma signing, adds more value to his team at Colombia 2011.
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