ABU DHABI // Humberto Grondona was in the Mexico dugout in Finland in 2003 when Argentina defeated them 2-0 in the quarter-finals of the Fifa Under 17 World Cup.
A decade later, Grondona is leading the South American age-group champions against Mexico in the semi-final on Tuesday at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
“This game is special for me because the last time the two teams met, I was the coach of Mexico,” he said. “It is normal that you want to win the match with the team you are working for.
“My team lost 10 years ago, but I am in the Argentine camp and do not want to be in the losing side again. I am 100 per cent Argentinian tomorrow.”
Argentina go into the match battered and bruised after a 2-1 triumph over Ivory Coast in the quarter-finals.
Grondona was critical of the referee in that game for not protecting his players from a physical African side.
“Actually, I hope this game against Mexico will not be as physical as it has been in the other games. My players got kicked and hit very hard by our last opponent,” he said.
“We had to face physically strong teams in the earlier matches. I must repeat, I was not happy with the refereeing because they accepted this physical game of our opponents.
“For example, the Ivory Coast received five yellow cards and nothing happened. The referees accepted they were kicking our players badly.
“I am surprised how the teams play more physically at this U17 level. We need to protect the players and not injure them at this level.”
Grondona has faith in his players to deliver again, despite the gruelling quarter-final.
“What I am happy about is our players always deliver on the field of play. We know Mexico is playing well and we will have our players readied for the task,” he said.
Argentina will be without two key players, midfielder Rodrigo Moreira and the forward Matias Sanchez.
Raul Gutierrez, the Mexico coach, said his team’s objective when they arrived in the UAE was to reach the round of 16. They are the defending champions, having won the 2011 edition at home.
“We progressed to the last four, and that itself is an achievement,” he said. “We need to go on to the pitch with lot of conviction and concentration to do everything in a correct way.
“It would be a game where we have to fight every ball. Both teams play good football. We need to keep everything in our hands to get a good result. ”
Last week, Mexico stunned Brazil in a marathon penalty shoot-out, 11-10, in the quarter-finals in Abu Dhabi after a 1-1 draw.
“The match against Brazil is already behind us,” he said. “We need to focus on our next match and next opponent. We have to face the match of tomorrow the best way we can.
“Argentina are well-organised. They have some individual players which we have to be careful. When they have the ball, we have to try and retrieve it quickly. If we have the ball, then they have to be careful.”
5pm, Al Jazeera Sport HD6