Olympic Football Tournaments Athens 2004 - Men

Olympic Football Tournaments Athens 2004 - Men

11 August - 28 August 2004

Olympic Football Tournaments 2004 - Men

Italy gear up for Argentinian onslaught

In Tuesday's Olympic Football Tournament semi-final at the Karaiskaki stadium in Athens, European U-21 champions Italy meet Copa America finalists Argentina in a game most observers rate worthy of the Final itself.

The sides have pursued very different routes to the last four. Argentina have earned rave reviews with their dazzling attacking football, which enabled them to win their group by a street with nine points and no goals conceded. Italy, in contrast, have been pushed all the way. They opened with a fortunate 2-2 draw against Ghana before narrowly defeating Japan 3-2 and then falling 1-0 to Paraguay. The Europeans only snatched second place from the dismayed Africans by virtue of scoring more goals.

The Italians were hardly more convincing at the quarter-final stage either, failing to find the net for 116 long minutes against Mali, before Cesare Bovo popped up to seal a semi-final place for the Azzurri with just four minutes of extra-time remaining.

The Italians failed to put on much of a show that day, appearing short of ideas and unwilling to take risks going forward. Alberto Gilardino worked hard to create chances for himself, but the Parma striker failed to convert no less than four decent opportunities.

"It's true we missed a few chances, but we're just delighted we won the match," Italy coach Claudio Gentile declared. "If you take the heat and my players' weariness into account, it was OK."

The Italians have had three days to recover before facing up to the Argentinian threat on Tuesday. "There's no time to revel in the victory, we have to focus on the next match. The team's very optimistic now," Gentile remarked.

The Italians will need to step up a gear against the powerful South Americans. The Argentinian forwards have bristled with intent so far, Tevez and company netting an impressive 13 times in just four games. "Argentina are the favourites," Gentile observed. "They've shown they have some wonderful players."

Even in a side oozing quality all over the field, Carlos Tevez has caught the eye. The Boca Juniors striker has six goals to his name so far, almost half his side's total, and sits proudly atop the tournament scoring chart. "We're not frightened of them, but we respect them," Gentile continued. "They're very strong, but they don't have a Maradona this time round."

The Italians will be hoping for a repeat of the goalkeeping heroics which denied Mali on a number of occasions in the quarter-final, including a saved penalty and follow-up effort. Gentile was realistic about his side's prospects: "This game is between a full international 'A' team and an Olympic selection," the Italian boss said, describing the match as a David v Goliath encounter. The underdogs are always in with a chance in football though, and as Gentile says: "It'll all be decided on the field of play."

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