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Last Updated: Monday, 23 July 2007, 11:01 GMT 12:01 UK
Tim Vickery column

Tim Vickery
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

Argentina celebrate their Under-20 World Cup victory
Argentina's Under-20s provided some compensation

Argentina's 3-0 defeat to Brazil in the Copa America final means that it is 14 years since they won a senior title.

But at Under-20 level the picture could not be more different.

Sunday's 2-1 win over the Czech Republic brought the blue and whites their sixth World Youth Cup, and their fifth in the last seven tournaments.

The architect of this extraordinary recent run of success is the man frequently criticised for Argentina's failure to win last year's World Cup, Jose Pekerman, who stood down as senior coach after the quarter-final defeat on penalties to hosts Germany.

Some of Pekerman's decisions were questionable, such as not including Javier Zanetti in the World Cup squad, taking off Juan Roman Riquelme and not bringing on Lionel Messi in that quarter-final against the Germans.

Saying that, the presence of all three on the pitch in Venezuela for the full 90 minutes was not enough to hold off Brazil in the Copa America.

Whatever Pekerman's mistakes, they are more than compensated for by his contribution to Argentine football, especially at youth level.

Pekerman was a surprise choice when he was placed in charge of Argentina's youth sides in the mid-1990s, especially as coaches with higher profiles were interested.

But Pekerman got the job because he presented a project, based on an idea as simple as it was brilliant.

He foresaw the effects of globalisation on football. The reality of the worldwide marketplace was ever greater concentration, with the best players from the corners of the earth congregating in the major European leagues.

In Argentina, promising youngsters were going to be lured abroad at an ever earlier age. There was only one way to secure these players for the future of Argentine football - through the youth sides.

Pekerman scoured the country for talent, brought his players to the Argentina training camp near Buenos Aires airport and gave them a crash course in what he saw as the footballing identity of the country.

His sides would play passing football, constantly forming triangles on the pitch to create opportunities for the surprise ball to be played. It was a traditional Argentine style, with plenty of chances for the short player with the low centre of gravity to shine.

Jose Pekerman, architect of Argentina's success at Under-20 level
Pekerman has been the architect of Argentina's junior success

And while titles were nice, Pekerman never lost sight of the principal aim of youth football - to mould both men and players.

Pekerman was proud of picking up Fair Play trophies as well, and he stressed that there was little point in winning a World Youth Cup if, say, five years later none of the players had graduated to the senior squad.

In hindsight it is clear that Pekerman's work at youth level consolidated not only the style but also the personnel of the full Argentina side.

It has always seemed a bit harsh to me that Pekerman was blamed for substituting Riquelme in last year's clash with the Germans.

First because Pekerman had been a key influence in Riquelme's rise, grooming him as the playmaker in the team that won the World Youth Cup in 1997.

And second because before Pekerman stepped up to the senior side in 2004, Riquelme had been a full international on and off for seven years without so much as starting a World Cup qualifier.

At senior level, Pekerman left the scene empty handed, and after the Copa America it seems likely that Riquelme's generation will too.

But one of the tests of a coach's work is how things go after he has moved on. If the structure collapses straight after his departure then the whole operation was clearly over-dependent on one man.

This has not been the case with Argentina's youth sides in the post-Pekerman era.

He won the World Youth Cups of 1995, 97 and 2001. He brought in Francisco Ferraro for the 2005 triumph, and now his long-term assistant Hugo Tocalli has taken the 2007 side to victory.

This latest win came in style - 16 goals scored, two conceded, with Banega doing the passing from midfield, Moralez supplying some impish skill further forward and the stocky Aguero providing a Romario-style cutting edge in the penalty area.

When they clicked they were wonderful to watch - but will they be any more successful than some of their predecessors in the search for a senior title?


Got a question about South American football for Tim Vickery? Email him at

I would like to bring up some issues about Argentina's conduct in the U-20 tournament. I am disappointed that a team which should be entirely capable of winning the tournament with the skill of its individual players would rely so heavily on unparalleled dramatics at every opportunity. Even when the tackles were not heavy the Argentines seemingly achieved dives of a standard almost beyond description. I would like to ask what you make of this kind of performance artistry?
Dan Lawson, Scotland

I too thought it was overdone, and I don't particularly like it, but I can't get quite as worked up by this subject.

I had an e-mail in the week from a Brazilian, disgusted with her own national team, who wondered why the Anglo-Saxon world is so obsessed by diving but doesn't seem to be at all bothered by the persistent use of the tactical foul.

So often I come back to the idea that football is a universal language which we speak with different accents - part of this is that different cultures find different things in the game unacceptable.

For what it's worth, I don't like all the diving around, and hate it when it influences the result of the game. But flying elbows and two-footed tackles from behind make me more angry.

How did the Copa America in Venezuela go in terms of stadia and logistics? Some of us would be well-served if the 2014 World Cup ended up there.
Dennis Rogers, Costa Rica.

Not a hope for 2014, as Sepp Blatter made quite clear.

He said that Venezuela could start bidding for a World Cup at Under-17 or Under-20 level, but that there was no prospect of a senior tournament in the foreseeable future.

Some of the new stadiums are very interesting - the one at Barquisimeto is wonderful, like a tight English ground, and it will be fascinating to see if Venezuelan football can capitalise on its new infra-structure.

But there are other areas which are very deficient - the transport network, for example, is poor, and there were also problems with a lack of hotels.

So the big one is out, but maybe we can meet up there in a few years for a World Youth Cup.

Argentina win Under-20 World Cup
22 Jul 07 |  Internationals
Brazil victorious in Copa America
16 Jul 07 |  Football


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