Argentina edged out arch-rivals Brazil with a stoppage-time winner at the Galgenwaard Stadium in Utrecht in Tuesday's first semi-final at the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005. Once again, Argentina's indomitable midfielder Lionel Messi made the difference in a South American classic that made up for in emotion what it lacked in sparkle.
"It was a tough game and really hard work with a lot of emphasis on strategy. We gave up a lot of possession to Brazil but only in their half. Once they came at us, we pressed them hard and hit them on the break," explained a smiling Argentine coach Francisco Ferraro. "I have to congratulate all the players who performed so well. Now we're going to celebrate, but in moderation, as we still have a final to come," he added.
Brazil enjoyed all the early possession and had the Argentine defence under siege from the very first minute. Then, having scarcely been out of their own half, the Albiceleste dealt the reigning champions an early body blow thanks to their midfield tour de force Messi. Picking up a loose ball from just outside the area, the Barcelona starlet darted to his right to make space, before rifling an unstoppable shot waist high into the keeper's left-hand corner (0:1, 7').
The same player almost doubled his side's advantage five minutes later, but he failed to get a shot in after some fine approach play. Brazil kept their composure and continued building from the back, but they struggled to find a way past a resilient Argentine midfield. Service was scarce for front men Bobo and Rafael Sobis, who were both kept well under wraps by the opposition rearguard.
As the half wore on, the Argentine attacks became less frequent but no less dangerous. On 20 minutes Oberman was picked out by Messi and would have made it 2:0 were it not for a touch by Cardozo, who had come from an offside position.
The 60% of the possession for Brazil seemed to suggest that they had wrested the initiative from their rivals, but the Auriverdes' chances all seemed to stem from set-pieces or speculative shots from long range. The best of these was from a counter-attack in which Renato crossed for Bobo, who was unable to direct his header on target.
Chance to level goes begging
Rene Weber's men did have a chance to equalise five minutes before the break, but Rafael Sobis headed Renato's centre well wide. From that point on, the game became a much more even affair with neither side dominating possession. The Auriverdes seemed to be lacking their usual creative spark, and were consequently unable to cause much trouble for the Argentine defence.
Though Argentina tried to raise their game with Messi, Oberman and Cardozo breaking with more frequency and enjoying good support from midfield, the game went off the boil somewhat, as witnessed by a noticeable lack of noise from the crowd at the Galgenwaard Stadium.
Brazil were not finished yet, and a high ball floated in from a free kick produced an unexpected equaliser. Rising above the Argentine defenders, Renato managed to get his head to the ball and direct it past Ustari (1:1, 75').
Messi then tried to get his side back in front with another foray down the right, but Fernando Gago wasted his through ball, shooting high and wide from the edge of the area. The final minutes of normal time were pulsating, with Argentina showing the greater hunger, and their efforts would be spectacularly rewarded at the death.
Just as they had done in their last 16 tie against Colombia, Argentina settled a South American derby on Dutch soil in added time. Messi battled his way to the left by-line before sending a cross into the six-yard box. The loose ball fell to skipper Pablo Zabaleta, who fired home unerringly to put Argentina on the brink of the final (1-2, 93').
Brazil then made one desperate last attempt to salvage the match, even sending their keeper up for the game's final corner. But there was to be no miracle reprieve. For the Auriverdes, the only consolation now will be the chance to redeem themselves in the third place game.
"I feel frustrated because the goal was more a result of our lapse in concentration than Argentina's superiority. It wasn't a great game as our opponents concentrated on sitting back and waited for us to make a mistake instead of trying to play good football," said a dejected Brazil coach Rene Weber. "It will be tough now to lift my players for the third-place game because a defeat like this in the dying minutes is that much harder to take."