Still reeling from the despondency of having missed out on a historic berth at the FIFA U-17 World Cup final, Argentina and Sweden lock horns on Friday at the Mohamed Bin Zayed Stadium with a creditable third place – and the chance to return home with their heads held high – at stake.
While this consolation prize might represent a disappointment for La Albiceleste, who had entertained real hopes of reaching the final and lifting the trophy for the first time ever, the Swedes, who are making their maiden appearance in the tournament, are likely to view such a placing in a different light.
Sweden progressed from the group phase as one of best third-placed teams, finishing behind Nigeria and Mexico, the two finalists at UAE 2013.
Their two subsequent triumphs in the knockout stage – versus Japan in the Round of 16 and Honduras in the quarter-finals – saw Roland Larsson’s men arguably accomplish the most significant feat for Swedish football since the senior side claimed third spot at the 1994 FIFA World Cup™ in USA.
In order to achieve a similar ranking and pick up a fourth win in a row, Sweden’s coaching staff will likely place their trust in the players who have most contributed to their fine results thus far: forwards Valmir Berisha and Gustav Engvall, as well as the midfield triumvirate of Elias Andersson, Erdal Rakip and Anton Saletros.
As for Argentina, their loss to Mexico was unexpected given their excellent performances in the competition up to that point. By recording four consecutive victories after their opening draw with Iran, the South Americans were, prior to their semi-final, just one of two unbeaten teams (alongside Nigeria) left in the competition.
Taking into account the discouraging nature of the reverse, coach Humberto Grondona will have his work cut out for him when motivating his players, but will doubtless stress that the previous result was nothing more than the proverbial bad day at the office.
Two Argentinian players are sure to miss the match with Sweden: captain and goalkeeper Augusto Batalla and defender Joaquin Ibanez, who were both sent off during the semi-final versus Mexico.
Player to watch
Elias Andersson (Sweden)
The Helsingborg midfielder is regarded as one of the most effective and influential performers in the Swedish XI. The only player to have played every minute of Sweden’s six matches at UAE 2013, the skipper got off to a remarkable start by setting up three goals in his country’s 4-1 opening-day victory over Iraq.
5 – Friday’s duel will be the fifth time (in 12 appearances) that Argentina have taken part in the play-off for third place, which constitutes a new record at the U-17 event. The South Americans have emerged victorious from the bronze medal match on three occasions (the last of which came ten years ago in Finland), and have lost just once, going down 2-0 to Burkina Faso at Trinidad and Tobago 2001.
“The defeat by Mexico has not dented our motivation. We’re intent on finishing third and we’ll approach this match with the same attitude as usual. I’m very confident that we can obtain a positive result on Friday,” Argentina coach Humberto Grondona.