Following their surprising and frustrating failure to qualify for the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012, Argentina were determined not to let the Games pass them by for a second time in a row.
Though only one direct ticket to Rio 2016 was on offer at the recent South American U-20 Championship, a talented and determined Albiceleste side made it theirs by winning the continental crown, becoming the first team, aside from hosts Brazil, to secure their place at the next Olympics.
The Argentinians atoned for their ill-fated qualification bid four years ago with a superb campaign. After winning their first-round group and then beating Brazil in the final phase, Humberto Grondona’s side needed only a draw in their last match against tournament hosts Uruguay to win the title.
Yet despite going a goal down to La Celeste in front of a 50,000 crowd, they claimed the trophy in the best possible style, producing a fine comeback to win 2-1.
With the Olympic Tournament being an U-23 event and the rules allowing for three overage players to feature in each squad, some of the youngsters who helped secure the South American title will, in all probability, not be making the trip to Rio.
The players that do will have an impressive record to live up to. Silver medallists at Atlanta 1996, La Albiceleste then won back-to-back golds at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008. Finalists also at Amsterdam 1928, they will be treading the Olympic stage for the eighth time next year.
“It’s great that we achieved all our objectives at the South American championships, one of which was to qualify for the Olympic Games,” said Grondona following his side’s triumph in Uruguay. “As I’ve said before, though, the full national team coach should take charge of the team. I hope a few of these U-20 players can make it.”
Senior Argentina coach Gerardo Martino is certainly interested in the job. In praising the U-20 team’s achievements, he said: “Though we’ve got the Copa America in the USA 40 days before the Olympics and the senior team are in action again a week after it, I’d really like to take the U-23s to the Games. I’d be looking at the whole U-20 squad and a few other players who are in with a chance of making it.”
Martino will have been impressed with some of the individual performances in Uruguay, not least the contribution of Atletico Madrid forward Angel Correa, who chipped in with four goals and four assists and was named Player of the Tournament.
No less a threat was River Plate striker Giovanni Simeone, who top-scored in Uruguay with nine goals, while the likes of goalkeeper Augusto Batalla, defender Emanuel Mammana and striker Sebastian Driussi, all of whom featured in the Albiceleste side that reached the last four at the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013, also excelled.
Whoever is charged with the task of selecting the squad for Rio, they will have a seemingly endless list of players to choose from, one that also includes stars of the calibre of Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero, who struck gold at Beijing 2008, and Javier Mascherano, the only Argentinian footballer with two Olympic gold medals in his possession.
Delighted to be back at the Games, a strong-looking Argentina will be chasing medals again when they roll up in Rio.