Fearless Argentina out to shine

Whereas Argentina's men are regarded as one of the world's major powers, their female counterparts still have a long way to go if they are to take their place in the women's elite, literally so in one respect. This Monday, Carlos Borrello's side will board a plane for a gruelling 30-hour flight to China PR, where they will look to translate the improvement they have made in recent years into tangible results.

The upwardly mobile South American champions will take off on Monday afternoon with high hopes of making the grade. Even the jet-lag that awaits them when they touch down on Chinese soil will not dent the aspirations of a squad determined to show that their continental qualifying success was no one-off.

The expectant Borrello has been here before, having coached the Albiceleste girls at the FIFA Women's World Cup USA 2003. And after losing all three games back then, the coach is backing the class of 2007 to produce the goods. "The team has picked up plenty of experience," he says. "Naturally there's always room for improvement in this game, particularly in women's football. But the younger girls have come on leaps and bounds and that's made us more ambitious and flexible. It's the best thing that could have happened to us."

The burden of expectation
Before jetting off to the Orient, Borrello also spoke of the almost religious fervour with which the game is followed at home and the pressure that puts on his charges. "Argentina have always been a world power in the men's game, and people seem keen therefore to compare us with them. We've still got some way to go obviously, but it's just something we have to put up with. If you look at the United States, the reverse is true. Their men aren't among the world's best, but the women are right up there."

The Argentinians could hardly be facing a tougher start to their Chinese campaign. First up in Group A are defending champions Germany, who beat the South Americans 6-1 back in 2003. Despite the odds, Borrello is confident his side can come good. "The players were happy when they heard they'd been drawn against Germany. Just as they wanted revenge against Brazil, they now want to get their own back against the Germans. They won't have an easy time against us I can tell you."

The girls in blue and white then do battle with England and Japan, another side to put six past them four years ago. "I think we'll be fighting to be among the top ten within the next four years," continues Borrello, undaunted by the challenges ahead. "This team is capable of anything, though. Once we get to China we'll be out to win each game."

Experience and youth
One of the reasons behind Argentina's sudden emergence in the women's game and their qualification win over Brazil last November is the seamless combination of old and new faces in the squad. Borrello has kept faith with eight of the veterans of USA 2003, while the rest of the squad earned their spurs in a number of youth tournaments and the recent Pan-American games in Rio de Janeiro.

Mariela Coronel, one of the survivors from four years ago, is better placed then most to identify the differences between then and now. "The prospects are good. The team has improved a lot in the last few months, both collectively and individually, and our first objective is to get past the first round. I think we can do that because there's not that much difference between us and anyone now. We've closed the gap on the strongest sides."

And who can argue with her? Brazil for one can vouch for that improvement, and more than a few observers believe there could be a surprise or two in store in the Far East. Germany and Japan, Argentina's six-goal conquerors in 2003, are their first targets in China, and Borrello's girls are itching to exact revenge.