It is getting to be a habit. Another Fernando Cavenaghi golden goal, this time a penalty, assured the Argentines a place in the last four of the FIFA World Youth Championship UAE 2003. Their quarter-final clash with the United States at Abu Dhabi's Mohammed Bin Zayed stadium ended in a 2-1 triumph for the South Americans. The brave States side were literally a matter of seconds from making history, but a late, late equaliser by Javier Mascherano in the fourth and last minute of time added-on meant the game would be decided by Cavenaghi's sudden-death strike. Hugo Tocalli's charges now face Brazil for a place in the Final.
The opening quarter of an hour was all Argentina. The South Americans, spurred on by a sizeable gathering of Albiceleste faithful in the stands, soon stamped their authority in midfield and looked the more dangerous side. Osmar Ferreyra found himself in space on the end of a Germán Herrera cross to the heart of the box. When it seemed odds-on we were to get an early goal, his header went well wide of the left-hand post (3').
Argentina were still in the driver's seat, but looking slightly shaky at the back. A Bobby Convey shot heading for the bottom corner forced Gustavo Eberto to parry. Freddy Adu failed to make the most of the rebound (9').
Fernando Cavenaghi was working hard in the midfield engine room, but it was all too far from the opposition's area. His well-directed free-kick after being fouled gave Steve Cronin a chance to shine (23'). This was to be the last attempt on goal at either end for the remainder of the first 45 minutes. Thomas Rongen's young Americans ventured out of their own half and saw more of the ball, but they lacked firepower up front. Argentina, meanwhile, were having a hard time just stringing passes together.
After the break, Argentina decided it was time they settled the tie and went all out to break the deadlock, leaving holes behind at the back as a result. First, Cronin was equal to Cavenaghi's placed effort (48'), then Walter Montillo shot wide from the edge of the area (56')
And just when it was least expected, Adu popped up in space and took on the two men the South Americans had left behind in defence. The little man laid off a neat pass for Convey who, arriving in the area, fooled Eberto with a left-footed strike down the middle of the goal (1-0; 59').
Needing to pull one back, Tocalli threw on all the forwards he had on the bench. Franco Gangele was soon on the prowl and came close to bringing the scores level, but Cronin's positioning was text book stuff (62'). Herrera tried his luck with a right-footed attempt a minute later, but the keeper did well once again (63'). The North Americans dropped back, battened down the hatches and made ready to weather the storm, sending Adu, Convey and Ed Johnson through on dangerous counterattacks to keep the Argentinians on their toes.
Cavenaghi led from the front for Tocalli's protégés and almost had an equaliser after a nice move down the right. His shot was on its way to Cronin's bottom corner, but the US keeper got down well (69'). Two minutes later, Argentina were to finally find the back of the North Americans' net, but the goal did not stand because Herrera was ruled to be offside (71'). And while the South Americans were camped around the States' area, a cross in from the left found Johnson unmarked on the penalty spot, but his headed attempt went high over Ebert's goal (75').
The United States were clearly having a hard time as the clock ticked down. Cronin made a spectacular save to deny Cavenaghi from a free-kick (77') and then Herrera fluffed his chance of glory with only the keeper to beat (80'). At the other end, Johnson could have put the game beyond the Argentines had he not failed in his duel with Eberto (90'). On the counterattack from that near miss, Argentina dealt the first of two lethal blows: Javier Mascherano, a lion in midfield all night, drifted into the box and rose to meet a Cangele cross and send the stands into raptures - and the match into extra time (1-1; 94').
The sudden-death duel revealed two teams bent on taking glory, fighting both their rivals and their aching legs. Argentina had all the possession and the United States, now without Adu on the field, held back in disciplined formation in their own half. Cavenaghi tried a heroic long-range effort that flew just wide. But the captain's date with destiny was only moments away: Cangele made a fresh incursion into the North Americans' area and was involuntarily bowled over by Drew Moor. Spanish referee Eduardo Iturralde González promptly pointed to the spot. Cavenaghi did not shirk the responsibility and slotted home with a right-footed shot to Cronin's right. The keeper guessed right and even got a hand to the ball, but he could not keep it out (1-2; 100').
"I have mixed feelings. It's hard losing a game the way we did tonight, but I couldn't be more proud of the way we played. We showed we have nothing to fear from the big sides," said a sad but satisfied Thomas Rongen. Tocalli, meanwhile, reflected: "Argentina deserved to win without suffering so much, but we wasted a lot of chances. It was a cliff-hanger of a finish, but now we have to think about Brazil, the side we always want to play."