ANGEL GONZALEZ ALPUCHE / AIPS* in SHARJAH: Argentina coach Humberto Grondona takes his team into Tuesday’s semi-finals at the FIFA U-17 World Cup AUE 2013 with particular respect for their next opponents.
Grondona worked in Mexico with the national youth squad a decade ago and it is the under-17 champions who now stand between Argentina and a place in next Friday’s final in Abu Dhabi.
“I learned a lot in Mexico,” said Grondona, thinking much further back than the 2-1 win over Cote d’Ivoire in the World U-17s quarter-finals. “I have a special affection for my time there and many of my old players have worked with me since on my coaching staff.
“I expect a tough match; we will be facing the world champions. The fact that I was fortunate to work in Mexico for over four years means I know they have great players and coaches.”
Grondona – son of the veteran head of the Argentinian federation and FIFA vice-president Julio Grondona – was pleased with his team’s first half against Cote d’Ivoire when they took a commanding two-goal lead.
He said: “We made an excellent first half and we knew that, in the second half, the Ivorians would pressure our goal. In the end we beat the African champions, a great team, I am very proud of my players.”
Grondona said he felt the refereeing at these finals had not been of the required standard.
German referee Wolfgang Stark issued eight yellow cards, five to Cote d’Ivoire and three to Argentina.
His players were also already thinking ahead to the semi-final,
Midfielder Lucio Compagnucci said: “The Mexicans beat one of the favourites, in Brazil, and they may be a little over confident against us. We could take advantage of that.
“They play a similar style to us. They run and work hard. It will be a beautiful game. We just have to keep calm.”
Team-mate and striker Matias Sanchez acknowlegded what awkward opponents Cote d’Ivoire had been. He said: “I think all the teams in this World Cup have all been very much worth it and our next game will equally as tough as this one.”
Sanchez thought that, considering the aggressive play of the Ivorians in the first half, Argentina had been fortunate to emerge from the match with no serious injuries.
Lack of focus
Cote d’Ivoire midfielder Digbo Maiga blamed a lack of focus and concentration for a poor performance in the first half which saw them go in 2-0 down at half-time.
He said: “Losing the first goal so early complicated our task. In the second half we improved but it wasn’t sufficient and we weren’t precise in front the goal.
“We could have gone further in this tournament but we are satisfied with what we have achieved and proud of ourselves.”
The Ivorians headed for home with a new challenge in mind – qualifying for the finals of the next FIFA U-20 World Cup.
* AIPS, the international sports journalists association, is running a Young Reporters course at the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 with the support of the local organising committee and FIFA
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