Argentine strides apparent
© Foto-net

The weight of the light and blue vertical stripes of the Argentine national team jersey is a heavy burden for the Albiceleste women. Underfunded, written off even before their debut Olympic Tournament began, Jose Borrello's side have quietly shown a great deal of commitment, skill and grit after two matches here in Tianjin.

While Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano and the Argentine men hungrily eye Gold in the Far East, their female counterparts are fighting for pride and respect against heavy odds.

"There has been improvement," Marisa Gerez told after a slim 2-1 loss in their opener with Canada. "We have gotten better since previous tournaments and we are here to try and show that we can play football and compete with the other countries."

Compared to the 11-0 hiding they took at German hands in their first match of last year's FIFA Women's World Cup, the Canada defeat must have felt like a moral victory. "There has been a lot of growth in this team," coach Borrello added after seeing his girls score their first-ever Olympic goal. "We came here to show we are not the disaster some people think we are. My girls have changed perceptions a little bit."

Another slim defeat in their second match on Saturday, this time 1-0 to Sweden, spelled a likely early exit for the Argentines. Even so, the play of defensive dynamo Gerez, fabulous midfield creator Mariela Coronel and goalkeeper Vanina Correa has been lively, and a far cry from the form that saw them score one goal and concede 18 in three straight losses in China last year.

"The Argentines caused us some big problems," said Swedish coach Thomas Dennerby. "I am a bit relieved to finish the game with three points."

"We came here with a point to prove," added the long-time Argentine boss, always eager to look on the bright side. "We are a young team in women's football. But we have talent and now we need to develop our organisation and come back next time even stronger."

The South American outsiders are technically still in with a shout to reach the quarter-finals, but in truth it would take something akin to a miracle. Hosts China - aiming for first place in Group E - will not be keen to do them any favours in their third match on 12 August.

Whatever happens, there is no doubting that Argentina's reputation as easy beats and doormats in women's football will have to be slightly revised.