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Greece Olympics 04/Football Notes
Nicolás Burdisso, Argentina’s Olympic talisman
(FIFA.com) 23 Mar 2004
The Olympic Games remains the only major tournament not to feature in Argentina’s otherwise replete honours list. Most recent reversals include a runners up spot in 1996, when the Albiceleste fell foul of a last minute goal by Nigeria; followed by a dismal failure last time out when a star-studded line-up floundered at the qualifying stage for Sydney 2000. This time around, with U-23 captain Nicolás Burdisso marshalling play, Marcelo Bielsa’s cohorts will be out to snatch the only big trophy which has eluded them.
With five months to go till the kick off in Athens, FIFA.com talked exclusively to the Boca Juniors defender, who despite his tender years (22), has already picked up no less than nine major honours. Burdisso, like his team-mates and countrymen, dreams of bringing Olympic gold back to Argentina.
FIFA.com: It is now two months since you won the South American Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Chile. Looking back, how would you sum up the team’s performance?
Nicolás Burdisso: It was extremely encouraging, not just qualifying - which was our objective – but also winning the title. Now that we have got past that hurdle, we have our sights firmly set on the only major honour still eluding Argentina. To win gold however, we must arrive in Athens in the best possible shape. The Olympic qualifying tournament was extremely demanding; you had to play every couple of days and there was so little time to recover between games. That’s where teamwork was important, with everyone pulling together from the team doctors to the kit man.
Missing out on qualification for Sydney 2000 was a huge disappointment for Argentinians. Did that weigh heavily on the players’ minds this time around?
No, not especially, but we were conscious of the fact that they had been a great team with big name stars yet had still failed to qualify. Luckily for us, we had a savvy group of players and fantastic team spirit, we just got better as the tournament wore on. Having said that the team never got complacent or rested on its laurels and in the end, I think that showed.
Were you surprised to see Paraguay qualify?
No, I wasn’t. When we came up against them in the final phase you could see how much they had grown from their earlier games. Along with Brazil they gave us our toughest test. They could well have beaten us if we had not stamped out our errors and turned the game round in the second half. They were definitely one of the teams of the tournament.
Was it particularly sweet knocking Brazil out along the way?
There’s no denying the rivalry between the countries but I would not go that far. It’s certainly nice to know that one of our main rivals for the gold medal will not be in Athens but I think what we achieved was remarkable irrespective of what happened with Brazil.
In Bielsa’s teams, it is the players who choose the captain. How did it feel to be selected by your teammates?
I felt immensely proud and flattered. I can’t deny it. My team-mates chose me to captain them and I tried to do that as best I could on the pitch. What responsibility and what an honour!
What new options will the inclusion of the overseas players and the over 23’s give to the squad?
We know that there will be changes to the squad that played in the qualifiers to accommodate the arrival of the overseas players in Athens. It’s up to us though to continue to perform for our teams to make the squad for the games. The most important thing is for Argentina to have a huge pool of talent to choose from.
Your manager Bielsa does not give exclusive interviews. How would you describe him as a coach.
He is passionate about the game and has very particular ideas on how it should be played. His training methods are novel and extremely intense, for example, working separately with the backs, the wide men and those up front and always trying to recreate match-day situations on the training field. He’s a straight talker and has a great feel for the game, something he is able to impart to those around him.
What are you aiming to achieve in Athens?
We have to bring home the gold, it really is that simple. Our tradition demands it and Argentina demands it. When I say this, I mean no disrespect for the other teams who will be there. Personally, I hope to keep my place in the national team, which for me is the greatest honour that can be bestowed on any footballer.
You are only 22, yet you have already won 9 major honours including the Copa Libertadores and the Copa Intercontinental with Boca Juniors and the FIFA World Youth Championship with Argentina. What’s your secret?
There’s no magic formula. You have to understand that every time Boca or Argentina take to the field, we are expected to win, it is demanded of us. Of course a lot also depends on your coach. I am fortunate to have played under some of the best.
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Last edited by colocolo; March 31st, 2004 at 15:22.