An inspired Argentina dumped Spain out of the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005 to set up an enthralling all-South American semi-final against archrivals Brazil. Iñaki Sáez's Spanish side, imperious thus far and one of the favourites to lift the world crown, saw their dreams go up in smoke after two minutes of lapsed concentration midway through the second half - sufficient time for the ruthless Lionel Messi to put the game beyond their reach.
"It was a tough game, and one in which we were outplayed at times, especially in the second half. But that was when we called on our tireless running and fighting spirit. We were able to keep our shape. I have to congratulate my players for the way they finished off the game," said Francisco Ferraro in a serious tone that was in stark contrast to the euphoria all around him.
Spain looked a little taken aback with the ferocity of Argentina's early running. Archubi and Torres dominated proceedings in midfield, setting up an effective supply line to their front men. As early as the 4th minute, the South American forwards were creating havoc in the Spanish defence.
Argentina fired a warning salvo on ten minutes when Lionel Messi curled in a magnificent free kick from the edge of the area that was disallowed for offside. Argentina's enfant terrible left his calling card again minutes later, this time sending his header narrowly wide after a measured cross by Archubi. But there was to be no respite for Spain. From out on the right, Cardozo whipped in a low ball that made its way to an unmarked Pablo Zabaleta. The captain skilfully caught it with his left leg and steered it into the roof of the net from close range (1:0, 18').
For the first time in the tournament Spain found themselves behind and unable to dictate the rhythm of the game. Zapater and Cesc, starved of possession, could do very little to orchestrate the plays. The Argentines' tireless harrying in midfield saw them win back a lot of loose balls to set up their skilful and pacy front men Messi and Cardozo.
Spain gradually began to assert themselves as the half wore on just after the half-hour, Molinero swung in a cross from the right that picked out Llorente on the edge of the six-yard box. With his back to goal, the towering centre-forward laid it off to Zapater, who fired it across the keeper into the corner (1:1, 32').
There were chances at both ends in the final minutes of the first half. First a shot from Messi shaved a post when he only had the keeper to beat. Then Llorente almost found a way past Ustari at the other end.
Argentina lost their stranglehold on midfield in the second half as Spain seized the initiative once again. Their wingers were having more and more success, though clear-cut chances were few and far between. A shot dragged wide by Cardozo and a break from Cesc that took him too wide to shoot were about the best of the early exchanges.
Then, against the run of play, Argentina scored twice in two minutes to put the game out of reach. First Messi threaded a clever through-ball from midfield for Oberman to run on to. The Argentinos Juniors' striker beat the offside trap and deftly chipped the ball over the advancing Biel Ribas (2:1, 71').
Almost before Spain had time to recover from the blow, Francisco Ferraro's hit them again. Messi - who else - picked up the ball on the edge of the box and, with a couple of neat touches, went past two Spanish defenders before slipping it past the keeper (3:1, 73'). It was to prove a mortal wound for the Spanish, whose heads immediately began to drop.
Iñaki Sáez's last roll of the dice was to throw on fresh legs up front. With nothing short of desperation the Furia Roja piled forward, but the South American rearguard stayed firm. Argentina seemed content to let the Spanish come at them, but there was no way through to goal.
"We made mistakes and there is no obvious explanation why. We hadn't made any up until now. The game could have gone either way. We were playing well in the second half, albeit without creating many clear chances, and then Argentina's clinical finishing turned the game. They were worthy winners because they took their opportunities better than we did," said the Spanish coach after the match.