Argentinians and Uruguayans certainly know each other well. United by the Rio de la Plata estuary and the same passion for football, the first ever FIFA World Cup™ finalists have been involved in some of the game’s most important matches. However, for the latest generation of fans, one encounter in particular will stand out among all others. On 17 July 2011, at the quarter-final stage of the last Copa America, Uruguay defied the odds to send Lionel Messi and Co crashing out of their tournament.
Fifteen months have passed since that 5-4 penalty shoot-out defeat, which was Sergio Batista’s final game as Argentina coach, yet the scar it left has yet to properly heal. “Is this a revenge match for us? Of course, but that defeat is a thorn in our side that will always be there,” Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero told FIFA.com as he prepared to face La Celeste once more.
Chiquito (Tiny), the ironic nickname given to the giant custodian, is well aware of the national team’s run of 19 years without a major title. The 2011 Copa America on home soil represented the ideal opportunity to put that to rights. “I was really annoyed because I’d studied all their penalty takers. In fact, apart from [Diego] Forlan and [Andres] Scotti, I went the right way for every kick. That stayed with me,” said Romero.
Nevertheless, the Sampdoria shot-stopper is also keen to move on. “It’s in the past now and it was very painful, but this is a World Cup qualifier and it’s something very different.” Argentina currently top the South American standings, unbeaten at home and with one of the most resilient defences on the continent. Such a backdrop provides the ideal base to meet an Uruguay side just two points behind, but keen to improve their position after two games without victory.
Romero earned his place in the team through hard work and perseverance. Shunning the temptation to pursue a career in basketball as a youngster, he won the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007 before earning a gold medal at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament in Beijing in 2008. It was under the guidance of former national team coach Diego Maradona that he became the country's No 1.
“It’s said that goalkeepers only mature once they reach 28, but personally I’m very happy because for both club and country the coaches have put their trust in me. My task is very clear: to give peace of mind to the defence and to keep things tight at the back, because we know we could score at any moment with the giants of the game we’ve got up front,” said Romero.
The 25-year-old appears to be doing an excellent job. Argentina have conceded just six goals thus far (Romero five), giving them the joint-best defensive record in South American qualifying alongside Colombia. “We’re relaxed because we’ve had some very good results and you can feel that. There’s a sense of calm and confidence as soon as we step on to the pitch,” said the keeper, who will nonetheless need to be on high alert to keep out Forlan, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani among others.
“Uruguay have a great team. You can see why they had a fantastic World Cup and won the Copa America, but I don’t think the differences are that big between South American sides now. We face Chile afterwards and we’ll have to be very careful. Two matches ago we beat Paraguay convincingly and everyone thought we would easily win in Peru. But just three minutes in we conceded a penalty and the whole stadium was against us,” said Romero, who saved Claudio Pizarro’s spot-kick, helping Argentina earn a 1-1 draw in Lima.
Romero made the most of his trip back to Buenos Aires to visit his one-month-old daughter Chloe. As to whether raising two daughters or fending off the advances of Uruguay’s formidable strike force presented greater difficulties, Romero responded in no uncertain terms.
“I’m not concerned about the girls’ upbringing because they have a wonderful mother who has managed by herself all this time. It’ll be much harder in goal than raising them,” he said, laughing. “But let there be no doubt, I’m going to do everything possible to make sure we keep a clean sheet, to help us win and continue our path towards qualification. We want all six points, we’re Argentina and we have to show that and win every game.”