It was over almost as soon as it began. Argentina ventured to the Far East determined to show their South American triumph at the end of last year was no flash in the pan. Alas for the Albiceleste a record of two defeats, 12 goals conceded and none scored quickly brought them down to earth and showed that even with a continental title in the bag, a place among the world elite is still some way off.
"We haven't seen the real Argentina here at all," said coach Jorge Borrello. "The real Argentina was the side that beat Brazil in the South American qualifying tournament and then took on China in the friendlies leading up to the World Cup. Like I said before, this team still has a long way to go."
Borrello, the man who has shaped and moulded the team, is perhaps better placed than anyone to identify the reasons behind their disappointing showing. "We are not looking for excuses or anything, but Marisa Gerez, our captain and midfield organiser, couldn't join us for personal reasons. To make matters worse, Mariela Coronel picked up an injury just hours before the first game. We had to ask other players to step in and play in a key area and that obviously affected us."
One positive the coach can take with him was the huge improvement his players made from one game to the next. The calamitous 11-0 loss to Germany was followed by an agonising last-minute reverse against Japan, a rapid turnaround that has at least given Borrello something to smile about. "By the second game you could see the girls had started to shake off their nerves. There was a huge difference in terms of attitude and performance between both games, and I think we can get even better and go out on a high against England. In that respect I'm more than happy."
England next on the horizon
Although out of the competition, the young Argentinians are still hopeful of departing China on a high. And what better way to sign off than with victory over England in their final game? As Romina Ferro, the experienced keeper who returned to side for the Japan match, explained to FIFA.com, it is that enticing prospect that is spurring the team on. "The most important thing for us was to bounce back after the Germany match. When you're a bit older you can perhaps see things in a different light: the problem's not losing, but how you lose. You simply can't play without the pride that Argentinian football is known for. We got that back against Japan and we hope to carry on by getting a result against England."
The 27-year-old custodian was also a member of the squad that travelled to USA 2003, and is well qualified to elaborate on the failings that have led to Argentina's early exit. "We have come on a lot in terms of the way we play. We retain the ball more, we play it short and put good moves together. Sometimes though, you need something else. We were very nervous and we paid the price. That said, the Germany match aside, you can see this is a different team to four years ago. A lot of the girls are still young and they've got a lot of football in them."
One of the members of this bright new generation is fellow keeper Vanina Correa, who was on the receiving end of Germany's 11-goal salvo last week. Ferro, who is also her room-mate, has only words of sympathy for the youngster after a harrowing ordeal. "I feel very sad about what happened. Letting in 11 goals, that's the kind of burden us keepers have to bear sometimes. We spoke about it and I told her not to get too down, that she'd soon get over it. You have to remember that the level in Argentina is different to here. Over there crosses tend to loop into the box, which gives you plenty of time. But here they really whip them in low and hard and you've got powerful strikers looking to get on the end of them. It's a different game altogether."
All the same, Ferro knows that it is those very differences that may work in her side's favour against England. "We've got nothing to lose now and England are trying to qualify," she said. "We'll try to be as positive as we were against Japan and leave China on a high. One thing is for sure; we have learned our lesson and the younger girls will come on a lot thanks to this. I just hope we can make the most of it for the future."