A classico, a pinnacle, a bill-topper. Whatever you choose to call it, the semi-final of the FIFA World Youth Championship UAE 2003 between Brazil and Argentina is a bewitching prospect. For apart from their traditional struggle for South American supremacy, these two teams hold all the records at the ultimate U20s event. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that everyone connected with the Brazilian camp is awaiting the showdown at Abu Dhabi’s Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium on Monday evening with baited breath.
Marcos Paqueta is not overly fond of endlessly discussing matches before they have even been played. After his team’s stirring victory over Japan in the quarter-final (5-1), the Brazilian tactician was at pains to emphasise that there “will be plenty of time to talk about the semi-final tomorrow.” But in spite of this habitual reluctance to share his thoughts about the opposition, the boss of the Samba Boys was more forthcoming on the status of the match awaiting his charges against Argentina: “it will be like a final for us, as it’s a meeting between the two best teams in the world.”
The two nations certainly know all about each other, as they have already met four times in the final phases of the World Youth Championship. Brazil prevailed in the first two meetings (1-0 in 1983 and 1989), while Argentina won the latter two (2-0 in 1995 and 1997). The Albicelestes have four youth titles in their trophy cabinet, the Brazilians three.
While the endless trotting out of such statistics is little more than a distraction for the two South American superpowers, it is nevertheless worth nothing that the Argentines will be playing their sixth semi-final at this event, and the Brazilians their eighth - a record, needless to say.
The Brazilian players are genuinely itching to get to grips with their arch enemies, not least their captain, Adailton. Scarcely had the dust settled on their crushing victory over Japan than the Vitoria central defender’s thoughts were turning to the semi-final: “I am delighted. We played very well and scored a lot of goals, the most in the tournament so far, so I am very proud. Now we are ready to take on the Argentines. It will definitely be a great game.”
b>A story of continental supremacy
Courtesy of their historical continental power struggle, the players will need no motivating. “It’s a derby game, which is very special to us. They are always very tough, fiercely contested matches. We know that to win it, we are going to have to play even better than in our last game,” Adailton explains.
The big defender is dismissive of any risk of over-confidence after the Seleçao’s goal avalanche against Japan. “Even though we put five past Japan, there’s no risk of us being complacent against Argentina. Maybe if the United States had got through, yes, we might we subconsciously thinking that we would win easily after our great performance against the Japanese, but we know the Argentines much to well to fall into that trap,” Adailton insists.
In any case, this particular Brazilian youth team have something of a score to settle with their Argentine cousins, albeit a minor one. The two sides have already met twice this season, the first time at the South American Youth Championship, which the Albicelestes won 1-0. In their second meeting, in the final of the Pan-American Games, it was again Hugo Tocalli’s boys who brought home the bacon (1-0).
The Brazilians are still smarting from these defeats. “I don’t believe we will have revenge on our minds when we play them,” reasons Adailton. “But this is definitely ‘the’ match that we want to win. At the Pan American Games, we equalised when we were 1-0 down but the referee ruled the goal out. We looked at the pictures on television and it was clearly a wrong decision, so we do feel a sense of injustice,” the auriverde captain nonetheless admits.
But the Brazilian reluctance to pick out any individual opponents stems from the knowledge that all the Albiceleste players will need to be closely watched. “They are all good players, so we won’t be focusing on any individuals but on all of them! And if we play as we did against Japan, we’ll have a good chance,” asserts Paqueta. “We will have to be vigilant in all areas of the pitch and maintain total concentration,” adds Adailton. Realistically, they will need to do all that and more to get the better of an Argentina side on a run of no less than 12 matches undefeated at this level.