It is almost a year since Argentina's painful first-round exit from the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007, where they not only had to contend with three defeats in three games, but also the ignominy of a crushing 11-0 reverse at the hands of Germany in the tournament's opening match. Now, as the Albiceleste gear up for their return to the far east, the expectancy in the build-up to their maiden appearance at an Olympic Football Tournament is tempered with a steely resolve to bury the ghosts of twelve months ago.
Defender Eva Gonzalez summed up this determination explaining to FIFA.com: "We'd just started training for Beijing in earnest when our coach Carlos Borello gathered the more experienced members of the team. He told us we owed it to ourselves and to our families to go back to China to restore some pride. That's what we're working towards."
"We know that the Olympics is the ultimate for any sportsperson, and lots of people tell us we're privileged to be making history as the first to represent Argentina at women's football there. Maybe after a few years we'll look back at this with a bit of perspective, but for now, all we want to do is go out there, perform, and win," adds Gonzalez.
Youth and apprehension
This anxiety to settle old scores is understandable in a 20-year-old participating in her third FIFA competition. The first of these was the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Russia 2006, followed by the FIFA Women's World Cup last year - two competitions in which Argentina were knocked out at the group stages. So what does Gonzalez see as the problem? "
The player's sentiments may also be a reaction to Argentina's showing at the recent Peace Queen Cup, where they lost their three games to Canada (5-0), New Zealand (1-0) and Korea DPR (2-0) - all fellow qualifiers for Beijing 2008. The Boca Juniors star, however, insists the experience had its positive aspects: "It proved useful for the players in terms of gaining experience and time on the pitch, and for the coach in looking for the right blend of players for the Olympics."
Going back to the defeat to Canada, who will be one of their Group A opponents in Beijing, Gonzalez finds reason for optimism: "I know this sounds strange, but although they beat us 5-0, the scoreline didn't reflect how close the match actually was. We played quite well in fact and there was a time when we felt the game was there for the taking. But as we were trying out new things with the team, there was always going to be an element of risk involved, and also luck was not on our side that night. But we learnt a lot from it," said the Buenos Aires native.
Turning her attention to their other group rivals, China PR and Sweden, Gonzalez is equally frank in her assessment. "We played two friendlies against the Chinese: we lost 1-0 in one and drew the other, so there's not all that much between us. As for the Swedish, we don't know much about them," she admits.
Hope springs eternal
Argentina qualified for the Beijing Olympics in November 2006 by beating Brazil for the first time in their history. That victory, however, seems like a distant memory now. "Yes, it feels like a long time ago, especially as we haven't won a single friendly since the Pan American Games last year. But we've been working together as a group for a long time and have had a period of regeneration, so we're in good shape," says the Argentinian.
Although doubts linger about her team's chances of glory, Gonzalez, a player equipped with a powerful shot and an excellent aerial game, has not lost faith. "The aim is to give a good account of ourselves and at least get past the group phase. After that, if we can get into contention for a bronze medal, all the better. We're certainly not lacking in self-belief and motivation. Whatever happens, you can count on us giving everything we have for Argentina."