The whole of South America is keeping a close eye on events in Holland with the continent's four qualifiers all successfully negotiating the group stages at the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005. Colombia and Argentina face each other in a fascinating clash in Emmen at 17:30 CET, ensuring that there will be at least one South American representative in the quarter-finals.
Cafeteros skipper Abel Aguilar told FIFA.com that they know their rivals well following their clash in the South American qualifiers: "They're a quick, tough, compact side. They've already shown here how strong they are, but what we've got to do is concentrate on our game and not worry too much about them."
The Colombians are riding high at the moment and know exactly what they need to do to halt the Argentine juggernaut: "We have to really concentrate at the back and be well-organised. We also need to be sharp up front and I think that's one of our strong points - our speed," said the Deportivo Cali midfielder.
Colombia were consistency personified in the group phase, securing a hat-trick of 2-0 victories over their three rivals: Italy, Syria and Canada. "We were excellent in the group games and put in some solid performances. We only gave away about three chances in those games. That's all in the past now, though, and we've got our minds set on reaching the quarter-finals."
Thanks to the journalists following the team, the players know the whole of Colombia is supporting them as the expectation and excitement mounts following a triumphant start to their campaign in the Netherlands. "The people back home are right behind us and expect great things from the team. We played superbly in the South American qualifiers and we just hope things keep going well for us and that the fans carry on supporting us," adds the captain.
Recent history appears to be on their side: in the FIFA World Youth Championship UAE 2003 the Colombians edged out the Albiceleste in the third-place play-off. While wary of statistics, Aguilar feels there are plenty of reasons to believe the Cafeteros will come out on top: "You can't compare the UAE team with this one. We have a lot more football under our belt, and the opportunities the players are getting in Colombian football have really helped us mature. I see that maturity and experience as our strong points."
Argentina coming to the boil
Blocking the Colombians' path to the quarter-finals is a fast-improving Argentina side that have bounced back from a shock defeat to the USA in the opening game and are gradually finding their range. Wins over Egypt and Germany showed that the Albiceleste machine is starting to run more smoothly, although they will need to be sharper in front of goal. "We have to improve up front. We're creating lots of chances but we're not putting many away," skipper Pablo Zabaleta told FIFA.com.
Keen for revenge following the UAE 2003 reverse, Zabaleta and his men have paid close attention to coach Francisco Ferraro's tactical appraisal of their opponents: "Colombia are a great side that play well as a unit but also have great players who can cause real problems." No doubt coach Ferraro has singled out Wason Rentería and Hugo Rodallega, the leading scorer in the South American qualifiers, as the Colombian danger men.
The stage is set then for a titanic duel between two of South America's big hitters. May the best team win.