Boasting a mightily impressive four title wins and one fourth-place finish from the last six editions of the FIFA U-20 World Cup, Argentina have firmly established themselves as serial contenders for the coveted trophy. At this year's event on Canadian soil, the task before the latest batch of talented Albicelestes is to uphold their country's proud tradition and defend the crown won by Lionel Messi and Co at Netherlands 2005.
While Hugo Tocalli's squad may not contain the kind of household names who wore the blue-and-white stripes with such distinction at previous tournaments, they are certainly not short on competitive spirit and will to win. Tocalli's young charges are determined to write themselves into the history books up north in Canada by following in the footsteps of players like Messi, Juan Pablo Sorin, Juan Roman Riquelme, and Pablo Aimar, and cementing Argentina's place at the pinnacle of world youth football.
For the second consecutive FIFA U-20 World Cup, Argentina approach the tournament without having first won the continental title. Faced with a raft of genuine big-name absentees ahead of January 2007's qualifying competition in Paraguay, the Albicelestes showed remarkable resilience in finishing second behind arch-rivals Brazil, and ahead of Uruguay and Chile.
Having squeezed through the first round of group matches, Tocalli's solid if unspectacular side drew 2-2 with eventual winners Brazil in the first game of the six-team final phase. A narrow 1-0 win over Paraguay was then followed by 0-0 stalemates against Chile and Colombia, the Argentines needing a headed goal from Lautaro Acosta in the second minute of injury time to defeat Uruguay 1-0 in their final outing and snatch second place from the Charrúas' grasp. Overall, Argentina scored 15 goals and conceded just 8, with keeper Sergio Romero ending the tournament with a run of 390 unbeaten minutes.
At the age of 58, Hugo Tocalli can rightly claim to have played a major role in the history of Argentina's youth sides. The former goalkeeper turned coach joined the Argentine Football Association as assistant to his friend Jose Pekerman, and was part of the coaching staff that led Argentina to victory at the FIFA World Youth Championships in Qatar 1995, Malaysia 1997 and on home soil in 2001. Tocalli made the step up to head coach in 2003, guiding the young Albicelestes at that year's FIFA U-17 World Championship in Finland and the FIFA World Youth Championship in the United Arab Emirates, also in 2003.
After an enjoyable interlude working with Pekerman and the senior side up to and including the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, Tocalli subsequently went back to the U-20s where his run of success continued. At January's Sudamericano in Paraguay, Tocalli's boys not only guaranteed their involvement at Canada 2007, but booked a coveted berth at the Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008.
With blistering pace, amazing technique and a killer instinct in front of goal, Sergio 'Kun' Aguero will be Argentina's best hope to match Lionel Messi's star turn at Netherlands 2005 and lead the side to a second straight U-20 world title. Breaking into the Argentine top flight at a tender 15 years old, Aguero - now 19 - is a regular starter for Spanish giants Atletico de Madrid and has already lined up for the senior Argentina side. Alongside Mauro Zarate, Aguero will be one of the most potent attacking weapons on show in Canada. "Some people might think that I would be sad because I was not chosen to play at the Copa America, but the truth is that I am thrilled be here in Canada. There is a lot of prestige to this competition and I have a lot to prove," the player recently remarked.
What they said…
"A lot of people thought that this team wasn't going to qualify, and if I'm honest, we really struggled along the way. But these boys have got tremendous spirit, so with a couple of new players, they'll be capable of achieving great things in Canada." (Hugo Tocalli, Argentina coach)
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