Argentina 4 - Australia 2

Argentina claimed their place alongside Germany in the last four of the FIFA Confederations Cup as striker Luciano Figueroa struck a hat-trick in a 4-2 victory over Australia in Nuremberg's Frankenstadion on Saturday 18 June.

In the build-up to the game, all the signs indicated that this was a match Australia desperately wanted to do well in. The theory was that a solid performance would not only revive their hopes of progressing in the tournament but also boost morale ahead of a possible play-off against a South American side for a spot at next year's FIFA World Cup’Ѣ.

And so it transpired. Undaunted by their opponents, the Oceania side took control of the early play and had the Albicelestes on the back foot dealing with Scott Chipperfield incursions down the left.

Two crosses from the Australian in quick succession put some early pressure on German Lux's goal. The first found Josip Skoko, who could not get his shot on target from just inside the box, while the second picked out Tim Cahill, who also failed to test the goalkeeper with a free header from no more than six yards.

As for Jose Pekerman's side, again they looked to their inspirational playmaker Juan Riquelme to carve out the openings. His front men looked slightly out of sync early on, but it only took one exquisite move to find the back of Mark Schwarzer's net. Riquelme threaded a delightful ball to Mario Santana, who laid it off to Luciano Figueroa. The striker then worked a quick one-two with his team-mate before powering his left-foot shot high into the top corner.

The goal settled Argentine nerves and forced Frank Farina's men to take the game to their opponents even more. Chipperfield again broke down left and this time his cross took a deflection off Fabricio Coloccini, forcing a save from Lux.

This would be the Socceroos' last excursion into their opponent's penalty area for some time. Argentina, controlling the tempo and possession, waited patiently for another opening. It duly arrived after Santana flighted a ball in behind the Australian defence for Javier Saviola to run on to. Lucas Neill was adjudged to have dragged the striker to the ground and Riquelme tucked away the ensuing penalty for his second successful spot-kick in as many games.

Comfortably ahead, Argentina concentrated on keeping possession and moving the ball around. With Farina's men striving without much success to gain control of the midfield, the latter part of the first half looked to be quietly coming to a close.

Then Cahill found space in the Albiceleste area, but just as he was about to shoot, Gabriel Heinze took the ball off his toe. Meanwhile at the other end, Figueroa managed to get between four Australian defenders after a corner but narrowly failed to extend his side's lead when his header clipped the crossbar and sailed over.

Knowing that a defeat would mean the end of the road for his side, Farina threw on another striker at half-time, with the experienced Mark Viduka replacing Kevin Muscat. Argentina, for their part, opted to defend deep and put their faith in their tried and tested counterattacking skills.

It was not long before the chances stated to arrive, with Juan Pablo Sorin's header a sign of things to come. A move started by Javier Zanetti down the right ended with a half-cleared ball in the area falling nicely for Figueroa. Once again the striker showed no mercy, scoring with another left-foot drive that looked to have settled the match.

Refusing to throw in the towel, however, Australia continued to press and finally got their reward after another inspired move from John Aloisi. Just as he did against Germany, the Osasuna man showed himself to be a true leader as he drove his men forward.

First he won a penalty from which he cut his side's deficit, then he was on hand to fire home from point-blank range after Heinze mistakenly chested a back-pass into his path. A string of earlier missed chances were now looking costly as Pekerman's side found themselves scrapping to keep their hold on a game they thought they had won.

The final 20 minutes were pulsating in the extreme, with Farina's men desperately searching for the point that would keep their hopes alive, and Argentina trying to take the sting out of the match with the introduction of Pablo Aimar.

Sorin almost got on the score sheet after another well-worked move, but his deft chip over Schwarzer failed to find the target. Throwing caution to the wind, the brave surges of the Socceroos were leaving wider and wider gaps at the back.

Javier Zanetti almost got Argentina's fourth moments later but his well-struck right-foot shot went narrowly over. However, Figueroa then capped a wonderful individual display with his third and Argentina's fourth when he found space at the far post to tap in.

There was no time for more. Argentina march on to the semi-finals with a group game to spare. Australia bow out with their heads held high. The standing ovation of the 25,000 fans will hopefully be some consolation to the valiant Australians.

Technical study group report - Andy Roxburgh

We saw tonight that Argentina are a very, very creative team. They have one out-and-out striker and then four players behind and their creative play, the way they link from the middle to the front is fantastic and their mobility is spectacular.

The first half was totally dominated by Argentina in the sense they had 62 per cent of the possession. The fluidity of their passing made it so difficult for Australia to get the ball back off them and it was brilliant combination play for the first goal, which Luciano Figueroa scored.

The thing about Argentina is they break forward in a pack of three or four and it's incredibly fluid and in Juan Riquelme, they have someone who passes the ball so well. He is a very elusive player who drifts from side to side; he was very hard to pick up tonight and it was a fantastic delivery for the final goal. Riquelme is really talented and they've got Javier Saviola too and could also bring on Pablo Aimar here so they have quality in depth.

Argentina's approach is the complete opposite to Australia's and this match offered an interesting contrast of styles, which is one of the great things about this tournament. Argentina, for instance, have a structure at the back and use Lucas Bernardi as the holding man in the middle but in defence you also have Javier Zanetti and Gabriel Heinze who are good coming forward. They are capable of losing goals although you also have to say that unlike some teams who play such fluid football, they can also back it up by being tough when they have to.

Australia's structure is much more defined with four at the back, an anchor and then four strung across the midfield and one out-and-out striker ahead of them. Their coach, Frank Farina, deserves credit as with Argentina leading 2-0 he had to do something at half-time and he did just that by sending on striker Mark Viduka in place of Kevin Muscat, a defender. It meant they were playing three at the back effectively as Scott Chipperfield was alone on the left and he worked really hard up that side.

Viduka has hardly played this year but his presence and some of his touches were outstanding and he gave them an extra dimension in attack and they gave it a really good go. That change nearly saved the game for them and Viduka himself thought he had a penalty just before Argentina scored their third.

Farina will have certainly have felt disappointed to have lost that fourth goal at the end after getting back to 3-2, but Australia should be congratulated for a great fightback and the way the team adapted. They have a brilliant attitude and as we saw against Germany they never give up. I thought they might do it but at the end Argentina just had that bit more.

written by