Argentina coach Francisco Ferraro's first task as the countdown to the final of the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005 got underway was to bring his team back down to earth after their pulsating last-minute victory against Brazil, and get them to focus on Saturday's crucial encounter.

"Nigeria are a very tough, energetic side. They're full of running and fight for every ball. They've also got some gifted players. I hope we make a good start on Saturday and that the boys are as fired up and as organised as they were against Brazil," said the poker-faced Ferraro.

His team are still all smiles as they bask in the afterglow of their dramatic semi-final win. With Argentines and Brazilians sharing the same hotel, Ferraro's players have been trying to conceal their joy for obvious reasons. The task proves beyond them, however, whenever they are interviewed by the many journalists following the competition.

"We've calmed down a bit now and we're thinking about Saturday and Nigeria. It's going to be very tough," says battling midfielder Fernando Gago, who was outstanding against Brazil. Defender Lautaro Formica concurs with his team-mate: "We're in great shape mentally. We know we've got a lot of quality players and we're doing what we came here to do. People back home must be delighted with our progress here," adds Gago.

Gustavo Cabral and Neri Cardozo, two of Ferraro's key men, are not smiling quite as much as the rest of the side as both will miss the final having picked up two yellow cards in the previous rounds. Cabral can count himself particularly unlucky to miss the big game after receiving his second yellow just two minutes from the end of Wednesday's semi-final.

Argentina's task in the final will be far from easy. Fresh from downing Morocco 3-0 in the semis, Nigeria are determined to become the first African side to lift the FIFA World Youth Championship. "They're a very strong, powerful side. We can't afford to switch off for a second when they're in possession, because they can hit long balls and put us under pressure. We're very well organised at the back, though, and we can break quickly," explains Formica. 

Argentina forever
Despite kicking off with a defeat against the US - the only game that Messi started on the bench incidentally - the Albicelestes have slipped smoothly through the gears as the competition has progressed to take their customary place in the final stages.

"We seem to have an endless conveyor belt of young players with great technique. Our footballers also grow in stature whenever they put the blue and white jersey on," observes coach Ferraro.

"In Argentina you're given a ball as soon as you're born, and when you're a kid all you want to do is play football.  So when you play for the national side you're fulfilling a dream and you fight for every ball as if your life depends on it. It's true what they say: when you pull on the albiceleste you're transformed, you feel stronger," says Formica with passion in his eyes.

It is this passion and determination that has seen the Argentines eke out last-gasp victories against Colombia in the quarter-finals and Brazil in the semis to claim a coveted place in the final. Suddenly, Formica and his team-mates now find themselves with a chance to emulate the success of their heroes: Maradona in 1979, Sorín in 1995, Aimar, Riquelme and Cambiasso in 1997 and Saviola in 2001.

"We're just a step away from glory," says skipper Pablo Zabaleta, clearly excited by it all. The blonde midfielder's voice is still shaking hours after speaking on the phone to Diego Maradona in Italy. The legendary number ten rang to congratulate the boys and urge them to take the cup home, without making the fans suffer until the final minute this time. Maradona also found time to ring Lionel Messi. Suitably dumbstruck, the star of the tournament stepped away from the lights and the microphones and mumbled: "Thanks Diego, thanks."

The latest crop of Argentine talent is on the verge of history and the country's fifth FIFA World Youth Championship. Will the proud Albicelestes prevail? All will be revealed at Utrecht's Galgenwaar Stadium at 20.00 on Saturday.