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  1. A few anger management classes go a long way, don't they?
  2. The next match was going to be the greatest test, by far. Playing the hosts in the final. A host squad that had played marvelously all the way to the final. Marcelo had faith in his squad, however. If Ramírez performed half as brilliantly as he did against Mexico, with everyone else playing like they did against Tunisia, they had a good chance of shocking the French in their own home. Training showed a side that could stand head to head against anyone in the U23 category. Ramírez was an impenetrable wall. Ibañez, not so much. For Marcelo, there was no doubt that the Udinese keeper was going to be displaced again by the understudy. On the eve of the match, Marcelo could not sleep, so he decided to watch something. He settled for The Mandalorian. He was halfway on episode 4 when someone began knocking frantically at his door. He got up and opened the door, to find Adrián ahead of him. Over the course of the Olympics, Marcelo had learned what face that was. That was the bad news face. “Adrián? What happened?” Marcelo asked. “It’s Ezequiel. His father’s had a heart attack.” Adrián said. Then the sound of a loud crash could be heard. It was the TV. The AT-ST had fallen into the heroes' trap and came crashing to the ground. Turning the TV off, Marcelo followed Adrián to the room Ramírez shared with Emiliano Lluy. The manager and assistant manager talked with the keeper for close to an hour before going back to their rooms. Both had reached the same conclusion. Ramírez could not play. He was entirely fit physically, but in that state of mind, he wouldn’t do well on the pitch. The news had completely demoralized him. Ibañez would get to play again, by a trick of fate. By morning, everyone knew of what had happened and had given their best wishes to their teammate. Coming into the stadium, suddenly, all was pictures and flashes. Even the press, that had up to then ignored Marcelo completely, had wanted a statement out of him. All he said was a bland statement about trusting that his players had the quality to win. After one question, the reporters focused on the names that would sell papers. Ibañez, Yanzi, Amarilla. The reinforcements could speak to the press. But Marcelo was drawing the line at Ramírez. The last thing the young keeper needed was a flock of vultures trying to profit off of a personal situation. Marcelo paced back and forth through the locker room. “Boss? The team talk?” Yanzi asked. “Right, the team talk. Lads…win or lose, you've gotten medals for Argentina. The first Olympic medals for our country in twenty years. Last time Argentina won an Olympic medal in football, yours truly was about as old as you were. Whether or not those medals will be gold is up to you.” Marcelo said. The players stayed in silence. “I remember what an old coach of mine used to tell the team. That there are two kinds of boxers. There’s the one that sees blood and recoils. But there’s the one that sees blood and moves in for the knockout. He'd tell us that he went ahead to the pitch and could guarantee us that there was blood. That would get us fired up. But I have this for you. You've played a great tournament and you deserve to be here. Some of you may be feeling the pressure. All I'll tell you is this. Leave everything out on the pitch.” Marcelo said. “Boss, with all due respect, we got this far. We’re going for the win. We'll bring back the gold.” Riquelme said. Marcelo stayed silent for a second. “In that case, go out and bring that gold back, because you deserve to win! Let’s go, lads! Viva la Argentina!” Marcelo said, getting loud cheers from the players and the staff. Argentina U23 XI: Ibañez; Crivaro (c), Sablich, Lluy, Yanzi, Martínez; Riquelme, Cabrera; Grecco; Archubi, Galbiati. France U23 XI: Guillaume(c); Lebreton, Flament, Henry, Gauthier; Rodriguez, Faïnké, Nedelec; Thomas, Haddou, Hajji. The French moved the ball first, but it was Argentina who got the first chance. A throw-in by Lebreton was intercepted by Martínez, who knocked it down the line with a volley for Galbiati, who controlled the ball and passed it through to Cabrera. Cabrera moved it to Riquelme, who passed it to Grecco. Galbiati was running parallel to the ball, just a few meters to the left. A one-two with Archubi left Grecco close to the box. Seeing Galbiati run to his side, Grecco sent a through pass to Galbiati, who was free in the area. Guillaume attempted to close down, but Galbiati had no mercy. He shot at the far post. The keeper's dive was rendered useless. The ball went into the goal and hit the side of the net. Fifty-five seconds in and Argentina was ahead. Marcelo couldn’t believe it. He could believe his lads scoring. But this soon? Hard to believe. But even if it was difficult to wrap his head around that, it had happened. France was fired up by this. Shocked by being behind, they turned to Ibañez's goal en masse. Faïnké, Lebreton, Haddou, Nedelec, Hajji, Thomas, Faïnké again. For twenty-five minutes after the goal, the French put the Argentinians on the back foot, keeping them locked up in their half of the pitch. Ibañez, to his credit, was showing all the security he should’ve shown against Spain, rejecting all comers and keeping Argentina ahead. France was the better team by far, but Argentina was ahead. Marcelo wasn’t complaining. Sometimes wins aren’t pretty. But then Cabrera lost the ball and Haddou was quick to send a pass forward to Thomas. Thomas sent a through pass for Lebreton, who ran down the touchline. He whipped a cross into the box, but Yanzi cleared it. Unfortunately, the ball was cleared in the general direction of Nedelec, who only had to pass the ball a few yards forward for Hajji, who, like Galbiati before, was alone in the area. Sablich, who was in charge of marking the PSG striker, had given him too much space. Hajji fired a low shot that Ibañez couldn’t reach. France had equalized and Hajji had scored his ninth goal in the Games. But despite being level, France didn’t let up. They kept overrunning the defenders, who were only saved by the inaccuracy of the strikers' shots and timely interventions by Ibañez. Even worse, it seemed like Argentina's strikers had lost the spark that gave them the first goal. Crivaro pumped a cross into the area that Galbiati received without a problem, but he couldn’t direct his shot towards the goal. The last chance of the first half also came from France. A throw-in was sent to Rodriguez, who tried to score with a long range effort, but his shot went over the bar and into the stands. The teams returned to the locker room. The Argentinian team waited for a nugget of wisdom from their manager. “Are you tired, lads?” He asked. The squad nodded or replied yes. “Good.” Marcelo said. Several players looked at him like he had grown a second head. “Because I can guarantee you that they'll be as tired as you are, if not more. If you keep it up, you'll get there. The job is halfway done. Go out there and finish it.” As the players left the locker room for one last time, Adrián turned to Marcelo. “Are we really betting on the lads outlasting the French?” He asked. “Have any better ideas? I'm open to suggestions.” Marcelo said. “Wish I could say yes.” Adrián said. “I wouldn’t take the risk if I wasn’t sure that it'd be worth it.” Marcelo replied, saying the phrase for the umpteenth time. “Yes, yes, I know. That’s what you always say.” The assistant manager said. Marcelo laughed heartily. “Well, if I always say it, it's only because I've yet to be proven wrong!” He said. Starting the second half, the French picked up where they left off, putting Ibañez's goal under siege, but without anything to show for their efforts. Galbiati nearly scored after fifteen minutes of the French sweeping through the Argentinian defenses, with a through pass by Grecco leaving him in the penalty spot. His shot moved past the keeper, but it went a mere twenty centimeters wide. Argentina, despite France playing better, nearly scored again. Just a minute later, France returned the favor with a shot just barely outside the box by Haddou that Ibañez could only turn away. Argentina couldn’t clear the ball well, so France recovered it quickly. Nerdelec attempted another shot from outside the box, but it went wide. Hajji also tried from long range, but it went extremely high. Nothing that would trouble Ibañez. The first change came on the 69th minute. Faïnké left the pitch, leaving his place to Bertrand Henry, not to be confused with his brother, defender Jimmy Henry. France would use the other two changes it had left on the 72nd, taking out Jimmy Henry and Haddou, putting Geoffrey Vincent and Ali Arfaoui in their places. France changed from a 4-3-3 to a 4-3-1-2, with Thomas and Hajji on front. On the 78th, Marcelo used all his changes, taking out Sablich, Cabrera and Archubi. The three men were tired and this was a perfect opportunity to put some fresh legs into the match. In their place came Salvaggio, Amarilla and Prandelli. Both teams would come to regret using all their changes. Arfaoui was injured by a challenge from Yanzi and had to be taken off. Nedelec avenged his teammate by injuring Crivaro. Although Crivaro made an effort to continue, the captain couldn’t keep going and had to leave. Without taking a single card, both teams were down to ten men. Another injury would hit Argentina, this time one of its best players. Grecco held the ball in the French half, but was stopped short by a sliding tackle from Flament that left the Boca Juniors man on the floor, writhing in pain. That tackle got Flament the only yellow card of the game. Argentina responded in kind, with Salvaggio making a tackle with both legs on Hajji, whose left leg was caught by Salvaggio, bringing him down. Despite that being a nasty tackle, the referee kept his cards saved. Five minutes to go and both teams were down to nine men. The 89th minute came and both teams were still level. “We are so going to extra time.” Marcelo said. “We can’t ask much more of the lads, Marcelo. They've got no more fuel left in the tank.” Adrián said. Marcelo couldn’t reply. The assistant manager was right. But then Geoffrey Vincent brought Prandelli down. The referee gave Argentina a free kick from 27 yards. Prandelli decided to cross the ball instead of shooting, sending the ball into the box. The Argentinian bench was excited when Galbiati got to the ball and volleyed it. But the ball went wide. The excitement turned to disbelief and frustration. Some coaches would’ve called that champion's luck. Which didn’t bode well for Argentina. The referee gave five minutes of injury time. Which seemed like cruel and unusual punishment for the two extremely exhausted teams that had been running up and down the pitch. Some players could barely stand, let alone sprint. Ibañez caught a cross from Lebreton and Argentina went on the counter. Amarilla headed the ball to Prandelli, but Flament brought him down and the ball was loose. The first man to get it was Amarilla, who passed it to Riquelme. Riquelme played it forward for a recovered Prandelli, who immediately sent it to the left, looking for Galbiati. But when four defenders approached him, he moved the ball back to Amarilla, who then played a beautiful through pass that went past Vincent and straight to Prandelli in the penalty box. Prandelli unleashed a powerful left-footed strike that went into the top left corner. The keeper couldn’t even react. The crowd was stunned into silence, but the few Argentinians in the stands erupted in celebration. Prandelli could not have had a better or more dramatic return to the squad after catching the flu. The French immediately called the goal offside, but the referee wasn’t having it. Prandelli was behind Vincent when Amarilla sent the ball forward, so the goal stood. France was now desperate. Thomas attempted to equalize with a long range effort that went high and wide. The next minutes were just Argentina holding the ball to make time. Eventually the referee blew his whistle, putting an end to the match. All the Argentinians rushed to the central circle to celebrate. A few minutes later, Marcelo couldn’t have been prouder, watching his lads receive the gold medal. Argentina U23: 2 (Galbiati 1’ Prandelli 90+2’) France U23: 1 (Hajji 27') For him, however, that was the end. Argentina already had a U20 manager and he couldn’t wait another four years for the next Olympics. He could only hope that a team was willing to hire him. But right now, the only place that could be in need of a manager was Portugal, who seemed to be about to give André Villas-Boas the boot. Or so it seemed, because a couple of weeks later, they renewed his contract for another two years. But he didn’t know that yet. After sitting through a press conference where he only praised his players for the good tournament they'd played, he returned to the hotel, along with the squad. Getting his things from the hotel, he was already thinking about his imminent letter of resignation. The room's phone rang. Marcelo picked up. “Yes?” Marcelo asked. He could hear the voice of the receptionist. “Mister Silva, we have a…Miss Gheisari waiting here. She says someone sent you a message to inform you she'd come.” The man said, in a rather stilted English. Marcelo checked his own phone. He had a message from Arruabarena. Why it came from him and not the Federation, he had no idea. “Marcelo, you’re getting a visit from the Algerian Federation.” The message read. Algeria? Well, it was worth a shot. “I’ll be right there.” Marcelo said. When he reached the lobby, he was greeted by a woman who appeared to be in her early thirties. The woman before him had a lithe look, high cheekbones, jet black hair kept in a ponytail and hazel eyes. “Mister Silva, I presume?” The woman said. “Marcelo Silva, yes.” He confirmed. “Amira Gheisari. Pleasure to meet you.” She said, extending her hand. He shook her hand. “The pleasure is mine, miss Gheisani. Now, to what do I owe this visit?” Marcelo asked. “Straight to business? Very well, I'll make this quick. First, let me congratulate you for your team's win. Second, I don't suppose you've kept up with the African qualifiers?” She asked. “Thank you, and not particularly, no. My attention's been focused on the Olympics.” He replied. He had heard of a match with Cameroon and one with Nigeria. Those matches may very well have been friendlies, though. Of Algeria, he had no idea how they had done or what they had done. “In that case, allow me to explain. Our manager has decided this next African Cup of Nations will be the last for him before his retirement. It’s not public yet, so I would appreciate it if you don’t spread it. And your team's performance impressed some people high up. So I've been sent here to offer you the role of manager once he retires. Your job would be getting us to the World Cup.” The woman said. This was big. It solved his problem of not knowing what to do and it gave him a job for the foreseeable future. “I don’t speak Arabic. Will that be a problem?” Marcelo said, drawing on what little he knew of Algeria. He wasn't sure on whether to say Arabic or French. “It’s not ideal, but the Federation will provide a translator if you need one. However, you will most likely be required to attend language classes in between international periods.” She said. Marcelo had to think. Sure, he preferred coaching in his native Argentina. But there was no denying that coaching a squad like Algeria wouldn’t be a step-up in his career. The income wouldn’t hurt, either. Besides, before he would’ve been willing to coach Malawi if it would have given him a job. Algeria was decidedly a step-up from Malawi. “Where do I sign?” Marcelo asked. The woman simply smiled. THE END.
  3. Going into the semis, the first change for Marcelo, Ramírez for Ibañez. Despite the team's great, if somewhat anemic in goals, performance against Spain, Ibañez needed a wake-up call and leaving him out was a way for Marcelo to get his point across. Now, normally one wouldn’t risk changing the starter keeper in the semifinals of a tournament. But Ibañez had seemed to have gotten complacent and that had to stop. After making the usual post-match changes to keep the players in decent shape, even if their condition was slowly deteriorating, Marcelo had his XI for the semifinals. With that ready, the squad moved to Marseille. They started at Paris, then to Lille, then back to Paris. The other pair of semifinalists, the hosts and the US team, would play in Paris. Of those two, there was no denying that the French were the bigger threat. They had the breakout star of the Games, Paris Saint Germain striker Mounir Hajji. The Morocco-born man had scored eight times in four games. There was no one who was close to overtaking him. The second place was Germany's Wahler, with five goals, one of them against Argentina and the rest against Australia, in that blow-out that got Argentina the second place in the group. Wahler had bowed out of the Games in the quarterfinals with a 0-1 loss to the US. In third place was Argentina's Galbiati, with four goals to his name. With that done, the team prepared for another match. On the plane to Marseille, Adrián and Marcelo sat with Paolorosso. Coaches Coyette and Theiler sat with keeper coach Romero. “You look worried.” Adrián said. “The Mexican defense concerns me.” Marcelo replied. The reason behind that was that the Mexican defense had conceded three times in four matches. Which would seem unimpressive, were it not because all of those goals came from Hajji when France played Mexico. Without the match against France, the Mexicans had not conceded any goals. The Mexican defense was led by Chivas goalkeeper Javier Castañeda. In the last U20 Sudamericano, Uruguay beat an Argentina squad that formed the basis for the current squad. Of the 18 men, Lluy, Berdún, Riquelme, Gallardo, Álvarez, Sablich, Cabrera, Grecco and Prandelli were part of the U20. 9 of 18. 9 of 15, not counting the 3 over-age reinforcements. That Uruguay team was supposed to be one of the favorites, based on their strong performance in last year’s U20 World Cup, where they reached the finals, losing 1-2 in extra time to the Netherlands. In the quarterfinals, Mexico completely nullified the Uruguayans. In the whole match, Uruguay only managed three shots at goal. Their intentions going forward were obvious. Let the Argentinians tire themselves out, then destroy them on the counter. “If I didn’t know you better, I'd almost say you were scared.” Adrián said. “There is only one thing that scares me and it’s not the Mexicans.” Marcelo replied. “What is?” Paolorosso asked, curiously. “Extra time.” Marcelo answered, fully deadpan. Marcelo could only hope that his squad could manage to break the Mexican defense. To a full Stade Vélodrome, the two teams lined up against each other. Argentina would play a narrow 4-2-1-3. Mexico a solid 4-4-2. Argentina U23 XI: Ramírez; Crivaro (c), Salvaggio, Yanzi, Berdún; Gallardo, Cabrera; Grecco; Amarilla, Archubi, Galbiati. Mexico U23 XI: Castañeda, Santiago, Valladolid, Turrubiates, Garay; Castro, Orozco, Munguía, Rodríguez (c); Aguirre, Sánchez. The first fifteen minutes were a very active period. Two minutes in, Galbiati nearly scored after a corner, but Castañeda was quick to react and pushed the ball away. In the span of three minutes, the Mexicans tested Ramírez twice. First with a dangerous cross from Santiago to a Sánchez who had already left his marker behind. Ramírez was quick to leave his goal and catch the ball before it reached Sánchez. Later, a free kick saw the Mexicans attempt to pump another cross into the area. They succeeded, but the shot by Aguirre was sent to the corner by a quick dive by Ramírez. Argentina returned the favor by visiting Castañeda twice in as many minutes, but Archubi's first effort went too high. He nearly scored on his second try, but unfortunately, his shot hit the post. One inch lower and Castañeda's spectacular move would’ve been just an addition to a beautiful goal from 15 yards. In the next play, a shot by Aguirre rattled Ramírez's crossbar. It took two minutes for Argentina to have another chance, when Archubi left Amarilla alone with Castañeda with a beautiful through pass, but Amarilla's shot was deflected by the keeper. The corner was, keeping in with their usual style, wasted. Then Mexico tried again, this time with a low shot by Sánchez, which forced Ramírez into a save. The ball went out for a corner and a header by Orozco nearly went in, but Ramírez reacted spectacularly, palming it over the crossbar. Then the match slowed down. It took another ten minutes before something happened. Turrubiates was slow to reach a pass by Garay and Amarilla intercepted it, making a run to the area with the two defenders running frantically behind him. His angle was great. All he needed to do was send it to the opposite post of the keeper and it was a sure goal. Or so Marcelo thought. Instead of ensuring the goal with a low shot, Amarilla decided to try something fancy and lift the ball. Had it worked, it would’ve been a beautiful goal, with the ball descending gently into the goal. But instead, Amarilla gave it a bit too much lift and the ball hit the woodwork. As Amarilla ran back, Marcelo called out to him. “Darío, no getting fancy next time, just score!” He yelled. Amarilla had the decency to look ashamed after missing such an easy opportunity for a goal. That was the last action of importance in the first half. Except for another booking. Gallardo. Who had been booked already, against Tunisia. So that was the end of the Games for him. “Lads, I won’t lie to you. This first half wasn’t stellar or dreadful. It was merely mediocre. Fortunately for us, they've been the same. If you had played like this against Spain, I'd guarantee you that we'd be trailing them by three. I want to see more of you in the second half. I don’t care how much more you show, all I care right now is that, by the end of the next half, you've secured your spot into the finals. You can win by one, you can win by four. Just get it done. Understood?” Marcelo said. Only Ramírez seemed to get the hint, because Mexico attempted to steamroll through the Argentinian defenses as soon as the ball started rolling again. A through pass from Aguirre to Sánchez in the penalty spot could have been the first goal, but Ramírez parried it, giving Mexico a corner and a disappointment. Then, two minutes later, Munguía played the ball down the line for Rodríguez, who sent a good cross into the box for Sánchez. Sánchez feinted and Salvaggio bought it, allowing the Mexican striker to watch the defender pass by. He shot at goal, but once again, Ramírez was superb in keeping his sheet clean, parrying the ball straight to Salvaggio, who attempted to make his mistake up by clearing the ball. Mexico could have had a good chance, but Sánchez moved the ball back to Munguía instead of Garay, who was closer and ahead. Munguía had one foot in the box and another out of it, but he had a decent angle, assuming he shot at the far post. He tried just that, but his shot went wide by a country mile. Argentina tried to move towards the Mexican goal, but they were caught flat-footed by a quick Mexican counter. Castro dashed down the line and received the ball, continuing his run. Then he tried to float it in to the far post. To Marcelo’s horror, the ball reached the goal box with three defenders(Berdún, Salvaggio and Crivaro) around the ball, but the one who got the ball first was Sánchez with a header. The ball seemed too high for Ramírez's dive, but to the relief of every Argentinian in the stadium, the ball hit the left post. “Focus!” Marcelo called out from the touchline. To their credit, they did. Cabrera began a back-and-forth with Gallardo that drove the midfielders in green crazy. Then Gallardo sent the ball forward to Grecco. Grecco drew three Mexican players and passed it to Archubi, who drew two. Including the man supposed to be marking Galbiati. So who did Archubi pass the ball to? You guessed it, Galbiati. From his angle and his preferred foot, Galbiati would’ve had to shoot at the far post. But Galbiati took a second, repositioned himself and shot at the keeper's post. Castañeda didn’t even raise his arms. Galbiati ran to his teammates, celebrating like a mad man. To be fair, Galbiati wasn’t very different from the men in the Argentinian bench who were also celebrating like crazy. And Mexico collapsed. Their attack section crumbled and they just couldn’t get the ball out of their half for long. Suddenly, there was only one team in the game, and it was Argentina. Ahead of them, it was Javier Castañeda and another four men in green. As for the other six men in green, they were the best placed spectators in the whole stadium. To give Castañeda credit, he and his defenders were the only reason Mexico didn’t concede again. But it’s also worth noting that they would’ve had it rougher, had Amarilla not had an absolutely dreadful game. Five minutes close to the end, the last good chance of the match came, and it was from Mexico. Not surprisingly, it didn’t come from the midfield. It started with Garay moving down the line, then sending the ball to the middle, where Turrubiates came rushing in to strike the ball with power. His strike was superb and could have drilled a hole into Ramírez's goal, had the goalkeeper not managed to barely tip it over the bar. The commentators would describe that save as acrobatic. Ramírez was having a brilliant game and Marcelo felt validated in replacing Ibañez. His performance would get him the award for Player of the Match. Argentina then went back to trying to get another goal, but to no avail. “That was closer than I would’ve liked, but you got the job done and that’s what counts. Congratulations, lads. You’re in the final. No matter what happens next, you'll come home with a shiny medal. I'd like to say something profound here, but right now, all I can manage is this. Go get some rest.” Marcelo said. “Hear, hear!” Cabrera said. Despite Cabrera leaving the pitch on the 64th minute, he was still the one who needed the most rest. Argentina U23: 1 (Galbiati 55’) Mexico U23: 0 Now they had only one match to go. All that stood between them, gold and olympic glory. Argentina versus France.
  4. The day before the match, Elvio Paolorosso, the delegation's one fitness coach, would come to Marcelo with a horrible piece of news. “Franco caught the flu. He can’t play against Spain.” Just what he needed. Just as Riquelme returned from his injury, Prandelli caught the flu. Worst of all, the flu would keep him out of action until the final, assuming Argentina got that far. Looking at his squad, Sablich and Yanzi were exhausted and in need of a rest. But both of them were in better shape than the alternatives. To make matters worse, Sablich, Gallardo and Grecco had all been booked. Plus, Cabrera took a knock. Now he had to pray for avoiding cards and injuries. “Pick up where you left off against Tunisia and this match is yours.” Not much, but it was true. Playing like they did in the previous match, Spain would be swept aside with ease. To a full Stade de France, the two teams came out of the tunnel, looking for their way to the semifinals. Argentina U23 XI: Ibañez; Lluy, Sablich, Yanzi, Martínez (c); Riquelme, Álvarez, Gallardo, Grecco; Amarilla, Archubi. Spain U23 XI: H. Romero; Valero (c), Lago, Sáenz, García; Laínez, P. Romero, Casanova; Muñoz, Delgado, Luque. But, unfortunate, things started out poorly, rather than the team picking up where they left off. Argentina kicked off, but in the first action of any possible danger, not even three and a half minutes in, Pedro Romero shot from 18 yards. The shot was low and weak. Shouldn’t have been a problem for any keeper, let alone one like Ibañez, the national squad's best. But shockingly, he couldn’t just get the ball. The ball was deflected to the side. Straight towards Luque. Ibañez tried to recover, but Luque shot the ball. Ibañez put his hands up, but all he managed to do was deflecting the shot into the goal. Marcelo's right hand went to his face. “Para qué te traje…” He said, frustrated. (Why did I bring you?) Spain dominated the first minutes of the match. Thirteen minutes in, a pass by Delgado left Muñoz alone with Ibañez, who had no response for the powerful shot Muñoz unleashed. Marcelo was beginning to seriously consider swapping the goalkeeper out. But fortunately for Ibañez, the linesman's flag was down. Argentina had been saved from a second goal. Now the squad reacted. It seemed like the fact that they had been so close to a repeat of the first half of the last friendly had finally kicked in. Now Argentina was on the offensive. The Spanish attempted to get the Argentinians out of their half time and time again, but were stopped short every time. A series of swift, direct passes from near the center of the pitch saw the Argentinians move to the area. Riquelme, Gallardo, Grecco, Archubi. Then a through pass to the area for Amarilla. Amarilla had no mercy and stuck the ball in the top right corner, well away from the keeper’s reach. Minutes passed. Everything was even. The first half ended, with nothing of importance happening, except for a booking in the 37th minute. The man who got the booking? Lago. “Come on, lads! Last time, those guys got away with a tie. That was a game you could’ve won and should’ve won. Nothing’s changed. You can still go out there and get the win you deserve. Because we can do that, or we can go back to Argentina. What’ll it be?” Marcelo said. Crivaro stood up. Even benched and without the armband, he was still the team's captain. Marcelo could already see him one day as the captain of the normal Argentina squad. “He’s right. We came here to win. We’re not coming back to Argentina without medals.” Crivaro said. The squad left. Those in the bench got out of the locker room. “Sebastián, wait.” Marcelo said. Crivaro stopped and turned around, waiting for Marcelo to say something. “You did good by saying that. Whatever happens, you should know this. I couldn’t have picked a better captain for this team.” Marcelo said. “Thanks, boss.” Crivaro said, nodding and leaving the locker room, heading back to the bench. Marcelo and the others in the staff left shortly after. Coming into the second half, Marcelo found that the Spanish had just brought Riera in. Obviously they hoped he could repeat his performance from the friendly here. Fazio was also brought in, since the Espanyol star was in bettter shape. Luque and Muñoz wouldn’t come back for the second half. At the very start of the second half, an advance by the Spanish was cut short by a foul by Martínez. The attempted cross into the box was headed away by Yanzi. Álvarez carried it forward and sent it to Archubi, on the left. Archubi kept going, leaving four men in red behind him. Then, Lago put a stop to the Boca man with a dangerous two-footed tackle. The bench was ready to stand up, outraged, but the referee beat them to the punch by blowing his whistle and showing Lago his second yellow, following it up with the appropriate red. With Spain down to ten men, the Spanish changed tactics and decided that parking the bus would be appropriate. Unfortunately for the Spanish, the play that followed was too quick for them. A quick pass to Grecco. Grecco to Amarilla in the area. Amarilla moved forward, drawing the keeper and four men after him. Then a pass to the left to Archubi, who only had to nudge the ball into the goal to put Argentina ahead. Despite being behind now, the Spanish tactic remained the same. The bus was now parked firmly. Amarilla nearly had the third on the 62nd minute, but the keeper, through some extraordinary effort, managed to turn his shot to a corner. Marcelo used all his changes in the 71st minute, taking out Riquelme, Gallardo and Álvarez for Cabrera, Crivaro and Galbiati, changing the formation from a diamond 4-4-2 to an offensive 5-2-3 but things didn’t change. It must be noted that around the 75th, the crowd began to “Olé!” whenever Argentina held the ball and made a pass, with the Spanish not bothering to put much pressure on the Albiceleste. Archubi almost scored again on the 79th minute, but his shot met the same fate as Amarilla's last good chance. Argentina tried and tried, but the defense wouldn’t budge. On the 88th, Pedro Romero dispossessed Cabrera and cleared the ball, making it a long pass for Riera, who was now effectively the only striker for the Spanish. Riera made a run, after Sablich's jump proved insufficient to reach the ball. But when Lluy caught up, Riera had to shoot and his shot was easily contained by Ibañez. When the referee gave four minutes of injury time, it seemed like the game would end without another event of relevance. But that was not to be. Lluy stole the ball from Riera, who sent it forward to Amarilla in a long pass. Amarilla held the ball and waited until Crivaro ran down the side. Amarilla sent the ball to him and crossed it. Grecco received the ball and sent a pass to Galbiati, who was free and in the box. The Spanish asked the linesman to declare Galbiati in offside, but the linesman did nothing. Galbiati hit the ball with power and the ball went in, hitting the side of the net. The Spanish kicked off, but only 28 seconds later, the referee blew the whistle. Argentina was through to the semifinals. Argentina U23: 3 (Amarilla 18’, Archubi 50’, Galbiati 90+4’) Spain U23: 1 (Luque 4’, Lago s/o 49’) Only one team stood between Argentina and the final. Mexico.
  5. (Making this one a double feature to finish off the group stage!) Before 79,000 people, Argentina would field an improvised squad. Whether or not this would work was anyone’s guess. Argentina U23 XI: Ibañez; Lluy, Sablich, Salvaggio, Yanzi, Martínez (c); Álvarez, Cabrera; Amarilla, Prandelli, Galbiati. Germany U23 XI: Schmidt; Nowak, Klein, Jelic, Bärwolf; Wallner, Schweinsteiger, Twyrdy, Sezgin; Strehmel, Weller (c). Germany kicked off. Just a minute in, a cross from Wallner found Weller's head. The ball sailed harmlessly over Ibañez's goal, but it could easily have been a goal. The German squad continued to threaten the Argentinian goal, but to no avail. Unfortunately for Marcelo, just twenty minutes in, he had to suffer something worse than a tired player. An injured player. After a challenge by Nowak, Galbiati was left on the ground, with a hurt ankle. Marcelo ordered Grecco to come in for Galbiati. Argentina switched from a 5-2-3 to a 5-2-1-2. Grecco's entry into the game gave Argentina a much needed boost. Immediately afterwards, Grecco started a play that ended in Schmidt having to stretch to save a strike from Amarilla. Argentina's first dangerous play. Twenty five minutes in. Amarilla had to get attention from the physios afterwards, to Marcelo’s ever growing frustration with him. The following play had Weller win a high ball against two defenders. It would’ve annoyed him more if Weller hadn’t been taller than both defenders. Fortunately, Ibañez had no problem in blocking his shot. Amarilla then had a free kick. Marcelo didn’t expect much. Despite being the best free kick taker in the squad, his free kicks had been less than good in the matches he had played, which contributed to Marcelo’s frustration. But the free kick was good, rattling the crossbar. Had it been an inch lower, it would’ve been a beautiful goal. But Amarilla finally gave Marcelo a reason to celebrate, four minutes shy of halftime. Sablich stole the ball from Weller, then sent it to Álvarez. When Twyrdy tried to cut him off, he sent it to Cabrera, who sent it back as soon as Twyrdy turned. Álvarez sent a long ball ahead, into the box. Amarilla rushed to the ball and struck it as soon as he could. Schmidt couldn’t reach it. Despite Germany having control of the match, Argentina was ahead. This did wonders in getting Amarilla back in his good graces. The referee brought the first half to an end and the players returned for their locker, waiting for their manager to say some words of wisdom. “Keep doing what you’re doing. You've played very well. More of that and we'll have this win in the bag.” Not very complicated, but this wasn't complicated. The players seemed ready to defeat the whole world, if need be. But right now they only needed to beat Germany. Martínez took the ball from Weller and sent it as far as possible. To the Germans' horror, the player who was there to get the ball was Prandelli. Who was alone. And had a clear line to the goal. Prandelli rushed towards the goal. A defender managed to get to Prandelli, but he dribbled past him and was left alone with Schmidt. Unfortunately, instead of shooting, he moved the ball back, trying to reach Grecco. Grecco, who expected Prandelli to shoot, had kept moving and the ball instead found Klein, who cleared the ball away. The second goal had been so close. “What a bad time to be a generous player.” Marcelo said to Adrián, who could only nod. A counter by Germany saw Twyrdy kicking the ball forward to Weller, who cut inside, but was stopped by a tackle from Cabrera. The ball was loose and heading to Ibañez's goal. Even worse, Strehmel had moved past Yanzi and was about to be alone with the keeper. But Argentina had a lucky break, because Strehmel couldn’t hit the ball cleanly, sending it wide. Strehmel left the field, being replaced bt Daniel Wahler. Unfortunately, the next play would be very bad for Marcelo’s team. Wahler sent a cross to Weller, but Yanzi headed it away. Unfortunately, Lluy let it past behind him, where Wahler recovered it. Now moving past Yanzi, he passed it to Waller who shot, but the shot was blocked by Salvaggio's body. Unfortunately, Ibañez was down and the ball bounced to Wahler who had no problem in scoring against an empty goal. Germany had equalized. Things almost worsened when a long pass from Wehler to Waller moved past the defenders and Weller received it, only to miraculously send it wide of the mark. Marcelo used his remaining changes to take out Cabrera and Amarilla, who were exhausted. Gallardo and Archubi took their places. Twenty minutes to go. Those twenty minutes passed quickly and it was apparent to all that the match would end in a tie. Argentina began to press the Germans and put them on the defensive. But despite Argentina showing a good amount of talent in the last minutes, the Germans were more than happy to park the bus. A tie against Germany wasn’t a bad result. Especially with an improvised squad. Argentina U23: 1 (Amarilla 42’) Germany U23: 1 (Wahler 67’) “You didn't have a bad match. But we need to learn to hold a lead when we have one, otherwise, we might as well take the plane back to Argentina.” Fortunately, Tunisia and Australia had tied, so just one point would guarantee Argentina's place in the quarter finals. Even a loss would do, assuming Germany tied or defeated Australia and Tunisia only won by one. Marcelo was then informed of someone who wanted to see him. Rodolfo Arruabarrena, the manager for the adult squad. Arruabarrena had been there to watch Ibañez, Yanzi, Amarilla and Prandelli. They shared notes and they had reached a similar conclusion. Ibañez and Yanzi had a decent game. Amarilla had a very good one, but Prandelli not so much. But they disagreed on who they thought was the best player on the pitch. For Marcelo it was Álvarez. For Arruabarrena, it was Amarilla. After an hour discussing things, they parted ways. Having to mind the players' condition, he had to improvise a 5-2-3 again. Their condition was good. Marcelo fully believed that they could win. He was also glad to know that Galbiati wasn’t hurt badly and would be able to play against Tunisia. For their final group stage match, they would play before another sold out crowd in the Stade Pierre Mauroy. Argentina U23 XI: Ibañez; Crivaro (c), Sablich, Salvaggio, Yanzi, Berdún; Gallardo, Cabrera; Archubi, Prandelli, Galbiati. Tunisia U23 XI: Damoussi; Nefzi, Sassi, Jelassi, Nasri; H. Ghazouani, Mo. Ghazouani, Ramzi; Ma. Ghazouani, Salhi; Naffati. The Tunisia team must have been a commentator's nightmare, not because of pronunciation, but because they could very easily be in the position to have to say that Mohamed Ghazouani gave the ball to Mohamed Ghazouani. An unenviable task for any commentator. Argentina kicked off. Seventeen seconds was all it took for Argentina to reach the Tunisian area. One second was all it lasted, before Nasri dispossessed Prandelli with a dangerous tackle. However, the ball was loose and Gallardo was the one that got to it. He moved back to Crivaro, who then passed it to Prandelli. Prandelli turned around and attempted to send it to Galbiati, but Nefzi reacted quickly and sent it to the stands for a throw-in. Crivaro put the ball back in play to Prandelli, who sent a cross for Archubi, but Jelassi got to it first. Tunisia began a counter, but Naffati's shot was easily contained by Ibañez. Then Argentina began a quick counter that saw quick, rapid passes leading to the penalty box, where Archubi fired a powerful shot that Damoussi could only send to a corner. The corner was headed away, but Gallardo got the ball. Gallardo sent it to Prandelli, who then sent it to Archubi, who shot again, but his shot was blocked by Sassi's body, which sent the ball for another corner. Sassi headed it away, but Archubi got the ball outside of the box. He sent it to Prandelli, who crossed the ball into the area, looking for Yanzi to head it in. But the ball was too forward and Nefzi headed it, only for the ball to go to a throw-in. Crivaro sent it to Gallardo in the area. Gallardo held the ball for a second and then sent it to Cabrera, who was free. Cabrera tried to shoot, but his shot was blocked by one of the Ghazouanis. Argentina then moved the ball in the area, driving the Tunisians crazy. The problem was that Argentina kept going for high crosses and the Tunisians got to all of them. Fortunately, all their headers seemed to go straight towards a man in blue and white. Only five minutes had passed and Argentina was looking more dangerous now than they had in any other match. Marcelo liked it. The players were playing confidently. Like they were winning by ten goals, rather than being 0-0. But Argentina looked unstoppable. All they needed was a goal. Ten minutes in, a header by Archubi forced Damoussi to dive to the ball. Five minutes later, another play by Argentina had the Tunisians around their area. Nine Tunisians defended a play against seven Argentinians. Argentina had their opponent under siege in their area. Another shot by Prandelli could only be turned away by Damoussi. The corner was headed away by Sassi, but Gallardo got the ball. “We aren’t doing much damage with these corners, but we sure are getting a lot of them.” He said to Adrián. “Yes, but at this rate, the goal will come in no time.” Adrián said, as Crivaro attempted another high cross that was headed away. Adrián wasn’t wrong. Three minutes later, Crivaro sent a throw-in to Prandelli, who went into the area, and was then brought down hard by Nasri. The referee didn’t hesitate to blow his whistle and point to the spot. Galbiati stood before Damoussi. Damoussi guessed the direction of Galbiati's shot and dove spectacularly, but to no avail. The ball was shot with a lot of power and went into the top left corner. Now Argentina was ahead. But the squad wasn’t letting up. The siege on Damoussi's goal continued. Galbiati nearly scored again on the 22nd minute when a shot of his rocked the crossbar just under Damoussi. Had Prandelli been quicker, he could have had the second goal. But one of the Ghazouanis got there first and sent it to the side…where Berdún lay in wait. Berdún's cross found Prandelli, who held the ball and attempted to send it to Archubi, who had a clear line to the goal. But the ball went a little to behind for Archubi and the play was wasted. Sassi sent the ball to a corner. Salvaggio got to the ball, but he headed it wide. On the 28th, Archubi got to a cross by Crivaro and hit the ball on a half volley, but Sassi's leg changed the ball's trajectory to yet another corner kick. The initial cross was headed away by Nasri, but Berdún got to it afterwards. Sassi then dove in with both legs to bring the Argentinian down. He achieved this goal, but the referee blew the whistle and pointed to the spot again. The Tunisians surrounded the referee and argued that Berdún took a dive. Upon checking, the foul was clear. But Berdún had definitely sold it a bit too much. Galbiati stood before Damoussi again. He didn’t change his side, but he shot another missile that Damoussi couldn’t stop. Now ahead by 2, Argentina slowed down, letting the pressure down. But Tunisia was no closer to getting a goal. Minutes passed without anything of importance happening until the 44th minute. Salvaggio sent it to Cabrera. Gallardo sent a low forward pass to Prandelli, but Nasri got to it first. The defender played the ball back to the keeper. Damoussi sent it to the central circle, but Cabrera headed it to Gallardo. Gallardo sent the ball forward for Crivaro to run for it and make a play. Crivaro sent a high cross into the area and it seemed like an easy ball for the keeper. But the ball bounced away and everyone scrambled for the ball, but the one who got to it was Galbiati, who shot at an empty goal. 45 minutes in and Argentina was ahead by 3. This was looking very good. The referee blew the whistle to mark the end of the first half and Marcelo was very pleased with his team. “Excellent work, lads! This match has been all you. Keep it that way, because I want you to keep the pressure up. Go out there and show no mercy.” Starting the second half, it seemed like a repeat of the first. Argentina attacking, Tunisia only managing to turn the Argentinians away to a corner kick that would be wasted, rinse and repeat. Tunisia finally had an opportunity when Nasri dribbled past Crivaro and headed into the box, but his shot went horrendously wide. It had taken Tunisia 55 minutes to get a chance that good. They wouldn’t get another. Prandelli almost had the fourth when a lovely move by Cabrera left him unmarked in the area, but his shot hit the crossbar and was cleared for another corner kick. With Gallardo and Cabrera exhausted, Marcelo took them out to put Grecco and Amarilla in. “Another goal would be lovely right now.” Marcelo said, while Berdún advanced down the side. “Getting greedy, are we?” Adrián replied as Berdún sent the ball to Grecco, who then passed it to Amarilla. “Well, the Germans are beating Australia. I want to make sure we end up in first.” Marcelo said, while Amarilla held the ball. “Well, you might get your wish.” Adrián said because the Argentinians were close to the goal. The bench looked at the play in silence and were frustrated when Hassen Ghazouani cleared it away. But then the play started again and all eyes were on Prandelli. He sent a pass to Crivaro, who tried to cross the ball, but it was blocked by Nasri. Twice in less than a minute, Argentina had been frustrated, but the ball was still in play. The ball was passed around. Amarilla, Grecco, Berdún, Galbiati. Galbiati got the ball in the box. Then he sent a low pass to the right, looking for Archubi. The ball went past the keeper and straight to Archubi, who only had to push the ball to give Argentina the fourth goal. Third time was the charm. Five minutes later, Berdún began another play, by sending the ball to Grecco in the center of the pitch. Argentina began to advance slowly. The ball was sent to the right for Crivaro, who got it and advanced at a half mile an hour. But then Crivaro sent another cross and Sassi couldn’t reach it. Galbiati and Archubi headed for the ball. Galbiati preferred to block Sassi's way, for Archubi to push the ball to the near post, as Damoussi tried to get the ball. Archubi had scored again. The Argentinian bench celebrated loudly. With Germany ahead by 3, this put the South Americans a bit higher on the top of Group A. And it seemed like a solid lead. Argentina had a two-goal advantage on the Germans now. The very next play saw an attempt at a Tunisian counter, but Yanzi got rid of any danger and Berdún began yet another play. He cleared the ball away and Galbiati got the ball slightly ahead of the center of the pitch. Three Tunisians went after the striker, but Galbiati kept advancing, even as they tried to cut him off. When another defender joined in, Galbiati sent a long pass to the right for Archubi, who was marked by one of the Mohammeds. Archubi fired from 20 yards and the ball went into the top right corner. It was a beautiful goal. After that, the match slowed down. The Tunisians were tired and demoralized, while the Argentinians were just tired. Prandelli almost had the seventh in a free kick, but his effort went wide by inches. To everyone’s horror, Germany had decided to wake up and was battering Australia. In the span of ten minutes, the Germans scored three times, all goals by Wahler. Now the group was leveled. Marcelo urged the lads to go forward and score another goal. Grecco almost had it with a long-range shot from 35 yards, but Damoussi tipped it over. The referee gave one minute of injury time and that time went into one last play from the corner kick Damoussi had given Argentina. As the Argentinians tried to score again, the Germans did. Straight from a kick-off by the Australians, the Germans began a counter that ended up in a goal by Crist. Argentina had won and qualified, but their win was overshadowed by the bigger win that got the Germans the top of Group A. Marcelo couldn’t be prouder of his lads, but thought that they deserved better. “You played a terrific game, lads. You should feel proud of it. Playing like that, we will go far. But make no mistake, it's do or die from now on, gentlemen. Be ready.” Argentina U23: 6 (Galbiati 20’ pen, 30’ pen, 45+1’, Archubi 65’, 72’, 75’) Tunisia U23: 0 They headed for the hotel and would wait for the end of Group B to tell them which squad would be their foe. Ending only a half hour afterwards, Group B saw Nigeria and Iran eliminated with three and zero points respectively. Germany would face the USA, which ended second in Group B with six points. In first, with nine points, was a familiar foe. Argentina would have a rematch with Spain.
  6. Overall, the group Argentina got was pretty good. Australia, Germany and Tunisia. One tough opponent and two who shouldn't be a problem. The following day, Marcelo was once again treated to a statement by one of his players and one of their last opponents. The latter, by Martí Riera, said that the Spanish were lucky to get away with a draw. The one by his player, reserve goalkeeper Ezequiel Ramírez, to ESPN was that he was confident that the team could win the gold medal at Marseille. After the last match, Marcelo had to be skeptical. The team from the first half? Not a chance. The team from the second half? Now that was a team that could go far. What worried him especially was the fact that Argentina had scored five goals in two matches, but the strikers had scored only one of those goals. That same day, he submitted the squad numbers. 1. Luis Ibañez – Udinese – Goalkeeper 2. Federico Martínez – Colón – Defender 3. Sebastián Crivaro – Bayern – Defender 4. Martín Yanzi – Udinese – Defender 5. Emiliano Lluy – Lanús – Defender 6. Leonardo Riquelme – Argentinos Juniors – Midfielder 7. Mario Archubi – Boca Juniors – Midfielder 8. Germán Gallardo – Vélez Sarsfield – Midfielder 9. Darío Amarilla – Inter – Striker 10. Martín Grecco – Boca Juniors – Midfielder 11. Franco Prandelli – Independiente – Striker 12. Ezequiel Ramírez – Lanús – Goalkeeper 13. Ramiro Berdún – Tigre – Defender 14. Matías Cabrera – Lanús – Midfielder 15. Ignacio Galbiati – Olimpo – Striker 16. Francisco Álvarez – Corinthians – Midfielder 17. Edgardo Sablich – Tigre – Defender 18. Horacio Salvaggio – Boca Juniors – Defender Hopefully, the kinks could be worked out during training. Regardless, changes would have to be made. After another day of training, he was met by another comment by one of his players to the media that said that the feeling within the squad was that they could win the gold medal. Amarilla this time. And Ramírez had gone to the media again to say that the squad was feeling confident that they could beat Australia. Now he shared Ramírez's confidence, but he didn’t like the fact that Ramírez had gone to the media twice in three days. He wasn’t there to talk to the press, he was there as a back-up to Ibañez. During training, he decided to ask Adrián, his assistant manager. “What do you think about moving Mario to the strikers?” After all, Archubi could play as a midfielder and as a striker. And his performance as a midfielder had been somewhat lacking. Adrián looked at Mario and then at Marcelo. “You have a plan.” Adrián said. “I haven’t been impressed by Mario as a midfielder and Federico hasn’t done the same, either.” “Well, Franco and Darío haven’t been as effective as we'd like. Maybe another striker could do the trick. But is now really the time to experiment?” “Worst thing scenario, we lose and that puts us on the wrong foot, forcing us to depend on the results of others, which then leads to my career being ruined. Best case scenario, we finally get some firepower up ahead.” Marcelo said, nonchalantly. “Well, it is your career at risk. And you are the manager. If you’re willing to take the risk, then you'd better hope it works.” To a full Parc des Princes, the Australian and Argentinian sides came from the tunnel. Argentina U23 XI: Ibañez; Crivaro (c), Lluy, Yanzi, Berdún; Cabrera, Gallardo; Grecco; Amarilla, Archubi, Prandelli. Australia U23 XI: Piraccini; Le Page, O'Neill, Di Paolo, Pavez, Azevedo; Green, Peacock, Cumming; Taylor, Williams. The Argentinians kicked off and immediately began to build a play towards Piraccini's goal. Seventeen seconds in, Archubi showed more as a striker by dribbling past O'Neill to shoot. The shot went wide, but it wasn’t a bad play. Argentina put Australia on the back foot. It seemed like a goal by Argentina was imminent. And it was. Gallardo stole the ball from Peacock and sent it forward to Archubi. Archubi continued the play with a through pass to Prandelli. Prandelli moved the ball to the center for Grecco. Grecco turned around in the area and fired off a powerful shot to the top left corner of the goal. Piraccini managed to tip it, but his intervention was useless. The ball hit the back of the net. Grecco nearly scored another goal after a header by Yanzi following a corner hit the crossbar. But his shot went wide. Australia then decided to park the bus and let Argentina come to them. The Albiceleste obliged, taking its time in trying to pick the Australians apart. Grecco had another chance, but the keeper caught it. Amarilla then had a chance, but it was tipped away. The match was slow, but the Australians were presenting no threat to Argentina. The first half ended still at one-nil, but Argentina was the clear dominator. “You’ve played a great half, lads. But we've seen teams pull off greater comebacks, so get out there and finish them off!” He told them in the locker room. His talk seemed to have fallen on deaf ears, because twenty minutes passed, Argentina was still dominating, but was completely unable to present any danger to the keeper. Marcelo grew only more frustrated with Amarilla, who seemed determined to get chance after chance, only to waste them all. It seemed like the only ones putting any effort in were Crivaro, Yanzi, Berdún, Grecco and Archubi. The second half seemed to be a boring affair. But then, something finally happened. Grecco recovered the ball in the midfield and passed it to Archubi. Archubi sent a long ball to Amarilla, who moved past O'Neill and seemed to be moving towards the goal. When Pavez and Di Paolo closed Amarilla off, they missed two things. One, Pavez had placed Prandelli on side. Two, Di Paolo had stopped marking Prandelli. Amarilla sent a through pass to Prandelli, who struck the ball with his left foot and sent the ball to the back of the net, putting Argentina even further ahead with fourteen minutes to go. Five minutes later, Marcelo would use two of his changes, by taking out Yanzi and Gallardo, to put in Sablich and Galbiati. This changed the formation. Argentina went from a 4-2-1-3 to a wide 4-1-3-2, with Archubi and Amarilla moving backwards. Yanzi and Gallardo were exhausted and Marcelo couldn’t afford to tire his players out with a schedule of matches every three days. He had to be very mindful of the condition of his players. The changes were ineffectual, but the changes were made to keep his players in good form moving forward, not to make more goals, although they would’ve been appreciated. Nonetheless, the match ended. Argentina two, Australia nil. And the team had played very, very well. His notes were highly complimentary of all but Gallardo, who had a rougher day at the office. But Marcelo could rest easy for today. His little experiment worked and Argentina had three points in the bag. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Germany defeated Tunisia by the same score. So Argentina and Germany were at the top of the group with one match in. The next match would be between those two. That was going to be another important test for the Argentinian squad. Argentina U23: 2 (Grecco 9’, Prandelli 79’) Australia U23: 0 Unfortunately, the players were already feeling the effects of the short rest times. So he had to make an XI of the players who were in better shape, instead of one composed of players chosen by the manager. That would be a problem.
  7. Unfortunately, two days before the match with the Spanish squad, Frías sprained his ankle, leaving him out for six to seven weeks, which would make him unable to play in the Olympics. That same day, Frías said goodbye to the squad and left. The young man was very disappointed. Riquelme strained his neck the same day, but he would only be out of action for eight to eleven days. That meant he could be back on the last match of the group stage, or the quarterfinals, should Argentina qualify. But Marcelo needed a new man for his squad. Not convinced by Lluy, he called up Edgardo Sablich from Tigre. The following day, he was surprised to find Crivaro on the news, having told the media that he felt the squad was capable of defeating the Spanish squad. The pundits disagreed with Crivaro, favoring the Spaniards. In Granada, for the match, only 311 people attended the match between Argentinians and Spaniards. Argentina U23: Ibañez; Crivaro (c), Salvaggio, Yanzi, Martínez; Álvarez, Gallardo, Archubi, Grecco, Prandelli, Amarilla. Spain U23: H. Romero; Valero (c), Lago, Sáenz, García; P. Romero, Acosta, Villa; Gómez, Fazio, Riera. The pundits gave Spain a better chance and Marcelo had to agree. The Spanish squad had several wonderkids, most of them from the youngsters of Real Madrid. The best hopes for Argentina were in their veteran players. The Spanish team began the actions, but for the first twenty minutes, the Spanish team had no response to the pressure of the Argentinian side. Six minutes in, keeper Romero rushed forward to punch the ball out of the box. But the keeper was barely inside the box and the ball found Grecco. Grecco decided to pass the ball to Prandelli rather than to shoot from 32 yards away. Prandelli eluded the keeper and scored. But the joy was short-lived, because the linesman's flag was down. Argentina began to pour pression on the Spanish squad. A shot by Crivaro went high. Then a shot by Gallardo went wide. The only dangerous action by Spain was a through pass to the box by Valero. The ball found Gómez, but the striker didn’t have a good angle, so he fired a powerful shot that Ibañez could only tip away. The following corner was easily cleared away by Gallardo. Then, a cross by Amarilla found Gallardo, who sent it forward to Grecco, who attempted a half volley, but the ball hit Sáenz and went out for a corner. Like the corner before that one, it was easily cleared away. But to Marcelo's horror, Spain would draw first blood. A throw-in by Valero was headed by Pedro Romero into to Gómez, who immediately sent a low cross to Acosta, who was alone and unmarked. Álvarez and Gallardo went after Acosta, who retained the ball. Acosta lost the ball after a tackle by Gallardo, but Pedro Romero reclaimed it and sent a pass to Martí Riera. Salvaggio, who was supposed to be marking Riera, was way to the left of Riera, who immediately fired a low ball that Ibañez was powerless to stop, despite his best efforts. The ball went in, hitting the side of the net. Suddenly, the balance had changed. The Argentinians were demoralized by the goal and started playing badly, leaving Spain in control of the match, with Argentina having no response. Despite Argentina having played better, Spain was ahead. Five minutes before half-time came another opportunity by Argentina. A shot by Yanzi after a Prandelli free kick, but Romero easily caught it. Things were looking bad and they were about to get worse. In just three moves, the Spanish had a man headed straight for goal, with the defenders struggling to catch up. First, Lago dispossessed Amarilla and played a long ball from inside the box to the half of the field. Fazio headed it forward, where Gómez was headed. The only two defenders on the scene, Martínez and Salvaggio, were way off to the side. Gómez received the ball and Salvaggio tried to cut him off, but the Real Madrid striker dribbled past him and then hit the ball with the side of his right foot. Ibañez managed to touch it, but all he could do was change its trajectory somewhat to the right. It went into the goal, nonetheless. The Argentinian bench was stunned into silence. The last important play of the first half was also by Spain. Pedro Romero sent a long ball upfield to Riera, who immediately sent through Yanzi and Álvarez to Gómez. Gómez advanced a few yards before sending it left to Fazio. Fazio kept going, but with Salvaggio and Crivaro closing in, Fazio attempted a long shot that went wide. Marcelo wanted to make changes at halftime, but decided not to and sent them back to the field, asking them to put in more effort. It seemed like they hadn’t listened, because fifteen minutes had passed and there was no sign of them breaking the Spanish lock. For nearly twenty minutes, the Argentinian offensives smashed themselves against the defense, getting absolutely nothing for their effort. Marcelo had had enough and ordered changes. By then, the Spanish had made only one. The only Barcelona man in the Spanish squad came in for one of the many from Real Madrid ones. Aitor Casanova replaced Ángel Villa. Marcelo ordered Berdún, Lluy and Sablich to prepare. Just as he did, a throw-in by Martínez found Archubi, who sent it left for Amarilla. Acosta, who had been marking Archubi, went for Acosta. Amarilla simply passed it back to Archubi, who was now faced by three Spanish defenders. Archubi sent it back to Amarilla. Amarilla crossed it to Grecco, who immediately shot at goal, but his volley hit Sáenz. The Spanish keeper dove to his left, but the body of the defender sent the ball to his right. Argentina had finally broken through. Now they had to see if they would be able to pull ahead. Argentina had a good opportunity to rush to goal just four minutes later, but they moved slowly and the opportunity was wasted. Spain then used three of its changes. After that, a play slowly built between the Argentinian players until Amarilla was left alone with the keeper. But the keeper performed admirably and prevented a goal from the Inter man twice, first by blocking a shot with one of his feet, then by parrying the second shot away. Things were back to how they were during the beginning of the game. Argentina was playing better than their opponents, but with nothing to show for it. And they were still behind in the scoreboard. Archubi and Prandelli left. Cabrera and Galbiati came in. Right after that, a throw-in by Berdún in Argentina's half of the pitch was cleared away by Yanzi. Valero cleared it back to the point where Yanzi sent it from. Gómez got the ball, but he was dispossessed by a well-timed tackle by Berdún. The ball was loose. Cabrera, in his first action, moved the ball to Grecco, who moved forward and then lost it to Lago. Once again, the ball was headed towards Gómez, but Yanzi easily stole the ball. The ball quickly changed hands. Yanzi, Sablich, Lluy, Galbiati, Lluy again, Gallardo, Cabrera, Grecco. Grecco sent the ball to Amarilla and then ran forward. Amarilla got the hint and sent a through pass to Grecco, who had all the time in the world to get himself a second goal, with the keeper unable to reach it. The two teams were now level. Just two minutes later, Grecco once again threatened the goal. He shot and the keeper dived to get it, but the shot hit Lago and bounced away to Cabrera. Cabrera shot immediately, but wasted a perfect opportunity by shooting the ball out by mere inches. If he had taken a second to control the ball, he would have had no issue in giving Argentina the winning goal. The last minutes of the game were spent with the two teams trying to get a last-minute victory, but without any luck for either of them. The referee blew the whistle and it was all over. Argentina and Spain had tied. Argentina U23: 2 (Grecco 62’, 83’) Spain U23: 2 (Riera 27’, Gómez 43’) Marcelo had mixed feelings on this match. His lads had done a great job in coming back from a 0-2 disadvantage, but when they were bad, they were bad. It was a match of very good highs and insufferable lows. His notes were good for Grecco, Yanzi, Berdún and Amarilla. Salvaggio, Lluy, Martínez and Álvarez were not good. The notes on the rest were, in a nutshell, needs improvement. “Well done, lads. You pulled off a good comeback. But if you had played as well as you did for most of the match, you would have won. This was just a friendly. The margin of error stops here. After this, any mistake can cost us dearly. We have to do better.” He told them. Now Argentina had four days to prepare for their next match. But this time, they were favored to win.
  8. February 2028, Buenos Aires... “I would like to announce Mister Marcelo Silva as the manager of our U-23 team for these Olympic Games in Marseille.” The president of the AFA (Asociación de Fútbol Argentino), Julio Braun, said. So, how did a former player from Huracán get appointed as the manager for an Olympic squad? Let’s rewind a bit. Marcelo Silva was born in Buenos Aires on 1987. Born into a relatively wealthy family, to an Argentinian father and a Uruguayan mother, Marcelo had wanted for nothing in his early life. Then 2001 came. Argentina had been in a recession since 1998, but in 2001, everything went to hell. Riots becoming widespread. Looting, truck-robbery, street-blocking, strikes. President de la Rúa had to resign. Images of his “escape” in a helicopter the day after declaring a state of siege were shown all over the country. The Silva family, heavily affected by the crisis, moved to Montevideo, in nearby Uruguay. For the next three years, the Silvas lived in Uruguay. But Marcelo, who had always lived behind the football, did not waste time. He was briefly part of the U-19 team for Racing de Montevideo. In 2004, the Silva family moved back to Buenos Aires. That same year, he was signed to the U-19 of Huracán. There he remained, languishing in the bench before being sent on loan to Temperley. His time at Temperley would have been hard to remember for anyone but the most die-hard fans of El Gasolero. He played 12 matches that season and scored one goal. A header from a corner against Almirante Brown. Temperley ended up 12th that year, four spots away from the Torneo Reducido for a chance at promotion. His surprise at the end came when he learned that the coach, Salvador Pasini wanted to buy him from Huracán. So, he stayed at Temperley. The campaign that followed was a great one. At first. Temperley was the leader for most of the tournament, coming up first in the Zona A, but its performance decayed in the latter parts of the campaign, sinking little by little. They lost their chance at direct promotion, but had to go to the Torneo Reducido. After failing to be promoted, Pasini and several players left. There, the seeding helped Temperley, placing the 3rd placed Temperley against 8th placed Estudiantes. Or so they thought. Now reduced to a team that relied on youngsters, Temperley tied 2-2 with Estudiantes and was eliminated on penalties 5-4. Marcelo had to watch from the stands, suffering an injury in the match before that. Had they qualified, he would’ve been on the pitch for the next match, which would’ve been against Central Córdoba. Being one of the few players who stayed, Marcelo was rewarded with the vice-captaincy. Nonetheless, it didn’t do much good. Temperley came in 12th again. Now Marcelo left. This time, to Los Andes. It also failed to achieve direct promotion, but it reached the Torneo Reducido. He scored another goal with a long shot from 30 yards against Comunicaciones. That match ended 3-1. Then it left Deportivo Armenio behind in the semis. In the first leg of the final against Sportivo Italiano, Los Andes tied 1-1. But then it managed to get a win away from home, achieving promotion to the Primera B Nacional by then defeating Nueva Chicago. First 1-0 at home and then 2-0 away. Los Andes was relegated, but Marcelo was signed after the season by third-placed Atlético Rafaela. The following season, Atlético Rafaela was promoted to the top-tier division of Argentina's football. There he remained until 2015, when he returned to Huracán, who had been promoted. Rafaela had been relegated. Thanks to Huracán winning the Copa Argentina while in the Second Division, that meant that he would play in the Copa Libertadores. There he would score the third goal of his career, against Cruzeiro. Huracán would win that match 3-1, but its irregularity got El Globito knocked out on the group stage. Thanks again to the Copa Argentina win, Huracán could play the Super Cup against River Plate. It won it by 1-0, with a goal by Edson Puch. That made Huracán able to play the 2015 Copa Sudamericana. Despite its previous performance in continental competition, Huracán performed admirably, leaving behind Tigre, Sport Recife, Defensor Sporting and River Plate. But it lost the final on penalties 3-1 to Independiente Santa Fe. For Marcelo, the most important match was the away match against Sport Recife. There, while on a stroll, he met Aline Ferreira. She was a photographer and Marcelo quickly made a friend of the Brazilian girl. Marcelo's career continued without much distinction. He was an adequate defensive midfielder, but overall, nothing to write home about. The most noteworthy incident was the crash in which the bus carrying the Huracán squad and staff was involved in Bogotá in 2016. The bus went belly-up, thanks to a risky maneuver by their driver. Marcelo was injured, like most of the others, but his injury were just fractured ribs and a dislocated shoulder. He was back a few months later. On 2018, he married Aline. Six months later, the couple welcomed a son, Jorge. He retired on 2021. After a few years, tensions rose within the couple and a messy divorce ensued. Aline moved back to Brazil, taking young Jorge with her. He then began to study to become a manager, getting his license in 2027. But jobs were slow. He attempted to take the Peruvian national team, but he wasn’t even considered. The job went to Lucas Orban. Door after door was closed in his face. A particular low point was sending his resume to the Malawi national team and getting rejected without even the courtesy of a call or email. But suddenly, with Uruguay and Argentina needing a U-23 manager, Marcelo applied for both. To his surprise, both of them offered him the job the very next day. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he picked his home nation. Rules were simple. Eighteen men. Three were allowed to be over twenty-three. Marcelo had the three names the very next day. Thirty year old goalkeeper Luis Ibañez from Udinese. Twenty-four year old center-back Martín Yanzi, also from Udinese. And Darío Amarilla, a thirty year old striker from Inter. All three were part of the first squad for the national team. As for the rest, he had names in mind. The first one was Sebastián Crivaro from Bayern. The twenty-three year old right-back was barely under the age limit, so he was one of the first. From the national sides, came Federico Martínez, Leonardo Riquelme, Horacio Salvaggio, Germán Gallardo, Mario Archubi, Martín Grecco, Franco Prandelli, Ezequiel Ramírez, Ramiro Berdún, Emiliano Lluy, Matías Cabrera and Ignacio Galbiati. He was looking forward to calling up Atlético's young promise, center-back Matías Barcia, but Barcia rejected the call, preferring to wait for a call from Spain. Maximiliano Frías from Besiktas came in to fill the spot that Barcia hadn’t wanted. So far, he had seventeen men. Francisco Álvarez from Corinthians was called to the under-20s squad that would play the French Invitational, so he couldn't call him. Not yet, at least. The Argentinian squad completed an absolutely dreadful tournament in France, losing to Spain, which would win the tournament, then tying with Belgium and Iraq. It ended up third in its group, two points short of Belgium, and only one ahead of Iraq. Not a good omen for Argentina's hopes in the Marseille Olympics. Finally, on July 20th, Marcelo finally had a full squad for the Olympics. The very same day, they left for France. Marcelo had fourteen days to prepare the squad for its first match in the Olympics, against Australia in the Parisian Parc des Princes. But before that, the Argentinian Olympic squad had a first test. Against one of the clubs of the host nation, Amiens. Argentina U23 XI: Ibañez; Crivaro, Frías, Yanzi, Martínez; Álvarez, Gallardo, Archubi (c), Grecco; Prandelli, Amarilla. Amiens SC XI: Sánchez; Cancelo, Boussoufa, Gierszewski, Hajji, Berthet; Chauveau, Vallee, Poletanovic (c); Jonatas, Ruiz. The match started off with a scare for the South Americans. Jonatas moved the ball to Ruiz, who gave it to Vallee. Vallee passed it through Grecco to reach Poletanovic. Poletanovic moved the ball forward, looking for Ruiz, who immediately played it right to Jonatas, who was now facing Frías, Martínez and Yanzi. Yanzi moved first and Jonatas moved past him. Frías retreated, but Martínez began to put pressure on the Brazilian striker, allowing Yanzi to recover and move backwards. The Brazilian man decided to fire off a shot, which rattled Ibañez's crossbar, before going out. The whole play lasted twelve seconds from kick-off to end. The eight thousand people who went to the stadium that day were pleased. Then Yanzi brought Jonatas down in the semicircle with a sliding tackle, getting himself booked four minutes into the match. Cancelo took a free kick that hit Crivaro and went out for a corner. Chauveau took the corner. Berthet volleyed it to the goal, but Ibañez reacted quickly, parrying it away. Crivaro then cleared the ball away. Another four minutes later, Gierszewski began another play. He passed the ball backwards to Chauveau, who launched a long pass to Jonatas, who ran past Martínez and Yanzi. Yanzi dispossessed Jonatas and cleared the ball, but the ball went back to Gierszewski. Gierszewski launched it into the box. Ruiz had snuck in between Yanzi and Frías, firing at goal from the penalty spot. Ibañez saved, and only then did the referee blew the whistle to inform everyone that Ruiz was offside. Eight minutes in and the French side had looked dangerous, while the Argentinians had only managed to defend themselves. Marcelo was not happy. Fifteen minutes in, Ruiz took the ball, but lost it to Frías, who had advanced a bit too much. Frías moved the ball backwards to Álvarez. Álvarez sent it to Archubi, who immediately moved it forward to Grecco. Grecco then immediately lost the ball to Vallee, having tried to show off instead of just dribbling. But the ball moved towards Amarilla, who was quicker to the ball than Vallee. The Inter man sent it to Prandelli, who moved to the right, drawing Hajji and Vallee behind him. Prandelli then passed it through to Gallardo, who was left alone in the box with Sánchez. With Gierszewski closing in, Gallardo put the ball neatly in the lower right corner. Now Marcelo was pleased. Perhaps the French side had had a better start, but goals were goals and Argentina was ahead on the scoreboard. The first half then continued without incidents. The only noteworthy event afterwards was a free kick by Amarilla that went wide. The players returned to the locker room. Marcelo was clear. Telling them that they had done well to get the advantage, but that they needed more than that if they were to have any hope in the Olympics. They returned to the pitch. Amiens had made three changes. Boussoufa, Chauveau and Vallee left their places to Bailleul, Gautier and Leveque. The first play of the second half saw Argentina create a good play through some good short passes, inching slowly towards the goal defended by American keeper Richard Sánchez. Leveque then committed a foul, by bringing Amarilla down in the semicircle. Amarilla took the free kick, but it went high and wide. Marcelo's squad was putting pressure on the French side. The following play saw Argentina immediately reclaim the ball and attempt to move forward, being stopped by Prandelli receiving the ball while offside. But that didn’t stop the pressure. The play after that also saw Argentina immediately take the ball and move forward. Grecco then gave Amarilla a small opening towards the goal, but it went high and wide, straight for the stands. Then Amiens used almost all of its remaining changes, sending in Lejeune and Kolbon. Marcelo had not used any of his changes. The new blood seemed to bring new life to the French side, who then moved towards Ibañez. Frías cleared the ball with his head, but the ball found Poletanovic, who immediately passed it to Ruiz. Ruiz shot and Ibañez dived, but the ball hit Frías. The ball bounced off and Ruiz tried again while Ibañez was still down. Frías blocked again, but this time the ball bounced off to Jonatas. Ibañez was back up and just in time, because Jonatas shot the ball high, to make it more difficult for Ibañez, but the keeper had no trouble in catching the ball. Three shots in four seconds. Argentina had barely avoided a goal by Amiens, purely by having a body in the general direction of the ball or good reflexes by their keeper. Marcelo ordered some changes. Yanzi, Álvarez and Amarilla would come off, leaving their places to Salvaggio, Riquelme and Galbiati, respectively. Two minutes later, Poletanovic brought Grecco down with a tackle. The referee gave the Argentinians a free kick. Prandelli tried his luck by shooting at goal. Sánchez avoided a goal with a save, but he couldn’t get the ball, which went to Salvaggio, who had no trouble in sending the ball in while the keeper was down to make it 2-0 for the Argentinians with thirty-six minutes left. The last change from Amiens came after the second goal. The former American international keeper left the field, leaving the goal in the hands of Antoine Dumont. Dumont was tested almost immediately by a header by Galbiati. But the keeper didn’t have an issue. Dumont then put the ball back in play. Amiens began to carry the ball down the right. Lejeune crossed it into the box and Ruiz headed it, but the ball went wide by mere inches. For the next ten minutes, nothing of note happened. The match had stalled. Marcelo used his remaining changes in the 72nd minute, sending in Berdún, Lluy and Cabrera for Frías, Martínez and Gallardo, respectively. The only man in the bench who wouldn’t see action in this match would be substitute keeper Ramírez. And the match certainly stopped being stalled, but things didn’t exactly go Marcelo's way. Poletanovic crossed the ball to Jonatas. Salvaggio brought the Brazilian down and cleared the ball, but the referee's whistle stopped everything. The referee pointed to the spot. Ibañez was faced by fellow Argentinian Jorge Ruiz. Any hope of national cooperation from Ruiz were dashed when he fired off a missile into the top left corner of Ibañez's goal. The Udinese keeper couldn’t even react. But Marcelo's team did react. A one-two between Grecco and Prandelli saw the two leave Galbiati alone with Dumont. Galbiati controlled the ball and then sent it in with a powerful strike while Dumont rushed forward. Between the last two goals, only two minutes passed. Four minutes later, a cross by Lejeune found Ruiz's head, but Ibañez parried it to a corner. There was something funny in the greatest threat to the Argentina squad was another Argentinian. Poletanovic sent the ball to the near post but Salvaggio cleared it with his head. Archubi then moved forward with the ball. He found Prandelli, who then kept going until Kolbon brought him down just outside of the box. Prandelli took the free kick, but he didn’t strike the ball cleanly, sending it high and very wide. With just three minutes left in the clock, Berdún tried to send a throw in to Galbiati but Gierszewski headed it back to Berdún. A back and forth between Berdún and Archubi then had the latter send a low cross into the penalty area, where Grecco volleyed it, but the ball bounced off the crossbar. Galbiati then volleyed it, but Dumont sent it away. The play that followed the corner saw Argentina attempt to cross the ball three times, but on the first two Gierszewski beat Salvaggio to the ball and on the last one, a cross by Galbiati bounced on Ruiz and went out for a throw-in. The Argentinian team then put the French side under heavy pressure, but nothing came of that pressure and the match ended with a victory for the South Americans. Argentina U23: 3 (Gallardo 16’, Salvaggio 55’, Galbiati 79’) Amiens: 1 (Ruiz 77’ pen) The lads had passed their first test, but the results didn’t convince Marcelo. They had another opportunity to show what they had before the Olympics, against Spain's U23 squad. A Barcia-less squad, because the manager for the Spanish squad hadn't even considered him, drawing mostly from the inferior categories of Real Madrid. So the Atlético man would miss the Olympics altogether. After the Amiens match, Ruiz came to the Argentinian locker room to wish them luck. But Ruiz also remembered Marcelo. Ruiz had played four matches with Boca Juniors before making the leap to Europe. One of those was against Marcelo's Huracán. They talked a while about that match between Boca and Huracán before Ruiz took his leave. As for the match and the manager’s opinion, Marcelo's notes were highly complimentary of Grecco, Prandelli and Galbiati. Amarilla, however, had not impressed Marcelo. Not impressing the manager was bad for someone like Archubi. For the man who was supposed to be the leading star of the team? Horrendous. Next up: Spain. (Notes: As usual, going with my old warhorse, FM15. Argentina loaded, with several other leagues put on watched.)
  9. Yeah, but they already had a 2nd place in Copa Libertadores(1993) so this just adds another 2nd place to their already impressive amount of 2nd places. There's a reason why there's a joke about Chilean gear sticks having 'UC' instead of a 2.
  10. Bahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Another tournament for Católica to end up second in! I'll be waiting, then.
  11. ...Maybe I should remember to switch my team more often. I won the Cup? What the actual hell. Even last and all, I'm still gonna be happy with this season.
  12. Are you kidding? Past the knockout stage and not facing Brazil in it. That alone is grounds for celebration. And the answer is simple. Wasted opportunities to get points. Paraguay in Santiago was a complete rout and we would have classified if only Díaz(again!) screwed up at La Paz.
  13. 6-2...I'm not even mad. 4th is miles ahead of not going at all.
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