Abu Dhabi's Mohamed Bin Zayed stadium, 15 December 2003. Mexican referee Benito Archundia has just blown for full-time in the most passionate of semi-final clashes between Brazil and Argentina at the FIFA World Youth Championship UAE. Javier Mascherano, a rock for the young Albicelestes so far in the tournament, cannot contain his grief and bursts into tears, while Osmar Ferreya slumps to his knees in despair as captain Fernando Cavenaghi tries his best to console him. The Argentines have just been felled by their eternal rivals and know their dream of extending the national side's string of championship successes in this category lies in tatters. The winners of three of the last four editions of the competition will see this year's Final from the stands.
Dudu's headed goal and the ensuing defeat at the hands of the Brazilians may have shattered Argentinian hopes and dreams but coach Hugo Tocalli, was a picture of composure at the post-match press conference: "I want to congratulate Brazil, who are a great side and deserve to be in the grand finale. I also want to express my wish for a fantastic Final. Good luck to those fortunate enough to be in it."
The coach said it had been an evenly-balanced match, though he acknowledged certain defensive failings on his charges' part: "We knew they could do us damage from dead-ball situations, but we didn't get our marking right on that corner and they got the goal. Neither side was on top in the first half, though they were all over us just after the break. As the game wore on, we had to push up to try and bring it level so we took a few risks, but it wasn't to be."
The Argentines had come from behind to take the game on three out of five occasions on their way to the semi-finals. And once out of the group stage, they had to magic up extra-time golden goals in both ties. The way Tocalli sees it, however, it was not a matter of luck: "A lot of people said we were lucky to beat some of our opponents. Well I don't agree with at all. I believe we were missing that little bit of luck today to bring the scores level. Particularly in the last few minutes, when Franco Cangele hit the post." The coach now has the unenviable task of raising the spirits of a sunken Argentina side if they are to stand a chance of snatching third place from Colombia.
Leaders through thick and thin
Few players were in the mood to talk to the press after the game. Understandably so, considering they had just watched their dreams fall apart in their hands. Some, the likes of Javier Mascherano, Fernando Cavenaghi and Leandro Fernández, agreed to share their feelings with FIFA.com.
"We're all so very sad. We knew it was easy to lose a match like this, but it was anyone's game. They made it count from the dead ball and luck wasn't on our side this time. Sadly, we're going home empty-handed," said Mascherano through the tears. "We have to get over this, no matter what it takes, so we can take third place. We're representing Argentina in a World Championship and we have to pull ourselves together for this game."Fernández, meanwhile, said: "The lads are gutted. We came here to be champions and we've had our dreams snatched from out of our hands." The goal-grabbing defender who netted three times in the first two games of the competition looked to the Albiceleste commitment for a more positive note: "We're going home satisfied in the knowledge that we gave our all. We have to concentrate on third place now."
Last out of the changing room was Cavenaghi: "Whoever scored first was going to win the game. In the South American Youth Championship we got the goal, this time it was their turn. Now we have to make the third- and fourth-place play-off tie our final. We all wanted to be champions, but it wasn't to be and it hurts."
The Argentinians will have four days to recover before going into a gruelling game against Colombia, in a repeat of the tie at this very stage of the FIFA U-17 World Championship Finland 2003. And the idea, of course, is to repeat victory: "Lifting these lads' spirits is the most difficult job the coaching staff have. Their tears in the changing room were a moving sight, but at the same time it's comforting to see the pride these boys have in their shirts," said Tocalli.