Backed by the incessant drumbeats of their colourful band of supporters, Colombia edged out Argentina 2-1 at the Zayed Sports City stadium in Abu Dhabi to take third at UAE 2003. Though Osmar Ferreyra’s searing free kick evened Erwin Carrillo’s earlier strike, the Argentines could not keep the party going, losing out after Jamie Castrillon hammered home from close range in the second half to earn the Colombians a historic third-place finish.
Colombia came out looking the brighter of the two sides, pouring forward early in attack. And without their inspirational leader Javier Mascherano, the Argentines were having trouble finding a rhythm.
But always dangerous on the counter-attack, Argentina began to find some holes in the Colombian defense with ten minutes gone. A chipped ball over the top from Cardozo found River Plate striker Fernando Cavenaghi racing in on goal. But after controlling well with his chest, he ran out of time as Jose De La Cuesta slid in brilliantly to tackle (10’).
It proved only a blip though as the Cafeteros continued to take it to their pedigreed neighbours. And the crucial spark came from an unlikely source in the form of little Harrison Otalvaro – playing in his first match of the finals. An inch-perfect floated pass from the 17-year-old midfielder found Erwin Carrillo alone at the far post. Still with much to do, the striker popped his header from 12 metres out, over the head of Gustavo Eberto and in at the back post (1-0, 16’).
Argentina, stunned into response, did their all to get back into the running. And when German Herrera found himself face-to-face with Colombian keeper Hector Landazuri it looked like a goal was in the making. But the keeper dived brilliantly to pull off an acrobatic save (28’).
A flurry of attacks near the end of the half nearly saw the Colombians double their lead. After Abel Aguilar’s volley slipped just over the bar (40’), Carrillo came within inches of rounding Eberto, but the keeper did well to get down to ground (43’).
ut just when it seemed that the half was up, Argentina found their equaliser. Osmar Ferreyra curled his free kick over the wall and into the corner from 20 metres. It was his second set-piece goal of the finals, and one of the strikes of UAE 2003 (1-1, 45’+).
The Argentines kept up the momentum after the break. Herrera’s header had Landazuri flailing and somehow Mercelo Carrusca failed to steer the rebound into the back of the net (49’).
With the game developing an end-to-end edge, Colombia struck back again. And one more time, Otalvaro was involved. Breaking in down the right, the young midfielder put a low pass across the mouth of goal. Edixon Perea’s shot took a partial deflection but the alert Jamie Castrillon was there on the doorstep to ram the ball into an open net (2-1, 62’).
TheAlbiceleste did their brave best to drag themselves back into it yet again but Landazuri was having the game of his life in between the Colombian posts – denying each and every attack they threw at him. And when Ferreyra managed to slam another free kick past the keeper, his woodwork was there to save him (78’).
In the end, the Colombian keeper’s heroics proved the difference as the holders had to settle for fourth place at the finals.
After the match, Argentina boss Hugo Tocalli had mixed emotions. “Sure there is some disappointment,” he said. “But our main goal was to play seven matches at the finals, and we did that. Even in the two games we lost, we played well. But today we just missed too many chances.”
“But the future of football an Argentina is still strong,” he added. “There are no major problems.”
Colombia coach Reinaldo Rueda was understandably thrilled. “Coming into the finals we did not expect to come this far, honestly,” he told reporters. “But as we began to win and play well, we began to dream…and here we are.”
On the fact that the same three South American teams that reached the Last Four at the FIFA U-17 World Championship Finland 2003 did so again in the Emirates, Rueda pointed to focus and feeling.
“All of the federations in South America focus heavily, and do good work when it comes to youth football,” he said. “But also in South America the passion for football is great…it is a special thing and everyone loves it.”