In football, joy and ecstasy are inevitably accompanied by pain, anguish and bitter tears. As Brazil and Spain shouted to the heavens in understandable rapture at the final whistle of their semi-final matches, their vanquished foes - Argentina and Colombia - slumped to their knees and cried their eyes out. Now, with an all-CONMEBOL third-place match at the Zayed City Sports stadium on 19 December staring both beaten competitors in the face, they will need to summon some motivation with a bronze medal up for grabs.
Following a gutting 0-1 loss to archrivals Brazil in their semi-final in Abu Dhabi, Hugo Tocalli’s young Argentines will have a tough task ahead as they build themselves up for one more match here at the finals.
“I have a hard job now,” Tocalli told reporters after his side’s Dudu-inspired loss to Brazil. “It will be no easy task to build these players back up mentally, emotionally and spiritually after such a devastating loss.”
Most devastated of all was River Plate’s Javier Mascherano – without question the passionate soul of the Albiceleste squad here at UAE 2003. Screaming, shouting and dragging his team back the eleventh hour of their quarter-final with the States, he looked a born leader. And his glancing header four minutes into stoppage time proved the turning point, sending the match into extra time where club team-mate Fernando Cavenaghi sealed the deal from the spot.
If Argentina are to overcome continental neighbours Colombia in the third-place match, they will need to do so without the ample services of Mascherano - who returned home straight away to play in River Plate’s Copa Sudamerica clash with Cienciano in Peru. With two yellows to his name he would not have been able to play in the third-place match.
“There was a lot of pain in the changing room,” Tocalli added. “There were many tears and the boys are absolutely gutted. But at the same time, these players take tremendous pride in wearing the blue and white shirt of Argentina, and they will do all they can to earn the bronze medal.” P>“We have nearly four days now to recover before the third-place game and we will come out to finish off on a positive note,” the boss continued.
Deflated Colombia eye bronzeArgentina will no doubt be disappointed with the current state of affairs as it is their first time to a FIFA World Youth Championship semi-final without reaching the Final. Five times previously they have soared to the Final, never once partaking in a third-place match. But Colombia can take heart. Regardless of the result, UAE 2003 will be their best-ever finish in a FIFA World Youth Championship. Although Reinaldo Rueda and his young men will be thinking back at just how close they came to a spot in the rarefied air of a world final.
Even at 0-0 and in control for large chunks of the match, it was not until minute 86 that the Cafeteros finally came undone. When Spanish creator Iniesta’s pass found the hand of defender Yulian Anchico in the penalty area, the Belgian referee reluctantly pointed to the spot even in the face of the midfielder’s tearful appeals.
Iniesta, typically, made no mistake as he stepped up to the spot and rifled past Hector Landazuri to vanquish the brave Colombians.
But despite the bitter disappointment Rueda sees reason for hope and pride. “For Colombia to be back at the World Championship after ten years out has been a tremendous experience,” Rueda told FIFA.com in the run-up to the third-place match. “But not only just being here, also the way we performed has been phenomenal. To reach the semi-finals and be in the Last Four with such great, accomplished nations as Spain, Argentina and Brazil has been a tremendous boost for Colombia and Colombian football.”
Facing a tough test with Argentina and a chance to take the Bronze, Rueda – like Tocalli - foresees a tough task in motivating an emotionally drained group of youngsters.
“I am just trying to build the players up at the moment,” he said. “Their confidence is in tatters and mentally they are just drained. So now the most important thing is to make sure they are ready for Argentina. The pride they take in wearing the Colombian jersey should be enough motivation; their desire to represent the Colombian people should be enough motivation and the prospect of achieving third place against an old foe like Argentina should also be enough motivation. We will be ready…”