As the stars of Argentine women's football hugged each other in joyous celebration of a historic victory, their beaten Brazilian opponents were left to wonder just how their continental title had slipped from their grasp.

For the Albicelestes, there can surely have been no sweeter possible way of cementing their place at the  FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007  than by dethroning their eternal rivals on their way to their first-ever South American crown, all in front of their ecstatic home fans.

To put the win into perspective, Argentina's  dramatic 2-0 win  in the tournament's final match signalled the end of an era that had lasted for 15 years. Until Sunday's decisive showdown, Brazil had triumphed in all four South American tournaments to date, winning every single game. This astonishing run of success had seen the Canarinhas score an incredible 173 goals, with just nine in reply.

While the samba stars can take consolation in already having booked their ticket for China 2007, the defeat against their biggest rivals was a real body blow to Jorge Barcelos and his talented charges. The Auriverde may have travelled to the Argentine city of Mar del Plata without star players Marta and Katia, but they remained the red-hot favourites to retain the trophy.

"We knew that Brazil were not as far ahead as they once were, and that our determination to 'challenge them for the title' was not just empty posturing. After three years of hard work we felt that the time was right to spring a surprise and that's what we did," revealed the Argentine coach Carlos Borello in an exclusive interview with "We're really happy and it's an achievement well worth celebrating, although we'll need to get back to work soon and start focusing on the World Cup." 

Consistency the key
The victorious Argentines ended the tournament unbeaten, recording six wins and one draw from seven games played. Their only dropped points came against Paraguay in the first game of the final round of qualifying.

"We had a quite understandable dip in form after a comfortable but intense first phase," reflected Borello, his voice still hoarse after the raucous victory celebrations. "Luckily we were able to bounce back quickly with a good win over Uruguay which helped settle the girls' nerves. Everything went just as we'd planned against Brazil. The girls were focused and didn't make any mistakes. They also attacked well and took their chances."

What did he feel was the team's best feature during the tournament? "Consistency. We were solid at the back and took our chances up front, although we did make rather too many mistakes. Besides which, they are a young side with a great team spirit and have plenty of room for improvement."

Argentina racked up an impressive 21 goals throughout the tournament on home soil, their solitary goal against coming in the opening-game win over Uruguay. Making a vital contribution to her team's success was four-goal top scorer Maria Belen Potassa, one of five members of the U-20 squad to start for the senior side against the mighty Brazil

Brazil given food for thought
"My objective is to win the tournament and guarantee our place in China," were the confident words of the Verdeamarelas' coach Jorge Barcelos in the days leading up to the competition.

On the positive side, Barcelos' side  booked their ticket to China with a game to spare , although their failure to retain their title was a bitter pill to swallow. With next year's event on Chinese soil in mind, the flamboyant Brazilians can take heart from the team's overall performance in the absence of Marta and Katia, as well as the explosive form of striking sensation Cristiane Rozeira - the tournament's top scorer with 12 strikes.

Prior to their earth-shattering reverse against Argentina, the Canarinhas had stormed to six wins from six games, scoring 30 goals and conceding just two. They continued their good form into the opening half-hour of the Argentina game, taking the game to their opponents and forcing Albiceleste keeper Romina Ferro into two fine saves.

Brazil would eventually pay the price for three minutes of slack defending, lapses of concentration at the back allowing Eva Gonzalez and Maria Potassa to fire home in the 66th and 68th minute respectively. As Barcelos well knows, moments like these would prove fatal to Brazilian hopes at China 2007. 

Uruguay causing a stir
Perhaps the team making greatest strides on the South American scene turned out to be Uruguay, with a young squad packed with players from the U-20 side.

Coach Juan Jose Duarte has built a solid, hard-to-beat outfit, who picked up third-place with an exciting 3-2 final game win over Paraguay. The Celestes' success was built on outstanding displays between the sticks from Luciana Gomez, voted the tournament's top keeper, and the deadly finishing of Angelica Souza, scorer of all her side's goals against the Guaranis.

Paraguay, meanwhile, took the Fair Play Award to go with their fourth-place finish, and were the only team to take points from the victorious host nation. Defeat against their Uruguayan neighbours failed to take the shine off an impressive showing by Agustin Cabrera's squad, with attacking duo Irma Cuevas and Monica Vega to the fore. The evergreen Cuevas forged a fearsome partnership with up-and-coming talent Vega, scoring four goals to her partner's three. The deadly double act were the tournament's third most effective strike pairing, notching 7 of their side's 13 goals.

Finally, a special mention must go to both Venezuela and Ecuador for their promising first-round performances, although a place in the final round proved to be a bridge too far. In contrast, Peru and Colombia failed to build on their performances from 2003, when they reached the final phase, the two teams heading home empty-handed after the first round.

For more information visit the official CONMEBOL site , available in Spanish and English.