Argentines arrive with great expectations

ROB BRODIE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:43 AM ET

You put on the jersey, you instantly know what it means.

What's expected -- demanded, one might even suggest -- from the fervent fans of the sky blue and white.

With a record five titles on its resume, Argentina has much to live up to when the FIFA U-20 World Cup kicks off Saturday. The defending champions open group play at Frank Clair Stadium, facing the Czech Republic at 7:15 p.m. in what has widely been acknowledged as one of the glamour matchups of the opening round.

As far away as Buenos Aires, all eyes will be on the side that has seen the legendary Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi, the star two years ago in the Netherlands, lead it to past glory in this tournament.

Pressure? No doubt. But it comes with the territory the moment you earn the right to wear the jersey, Alejandro Gomez agreed after a team practice at steamy Frank Clair.

"Of course, there's pressure, even at the youth level, because Argentina is Argentina," the Arsenal midfielder said through an interpreter. "But we have to go out and bring our best effort because we are here to win."

It is a testament to Argentina's legacy in this tournament that some consider even taking a point away from the blue and white to be a victory of sorts.

"If we play a draw (against Argentina), that would be fantastic for us," admitted Czech assistant coach Jakub Davolil.

Another Argentina crown, which would be its fifth in the last seven U-20 World Cups, isn't a lock, though. Brazil is said to be bringing a side that has been hand-picked to eventually be the group that will win the World Cup on home soil in 2014.

Mexico or Portugal might wind up being a formidable foe in a July 15 quarter-final in Ottawa, depending how the draw plays out.

But when you are Argentina, you always have reason to play with confidence. History, clearly, is on their side.

"We have to defend our title," said Gomez. "But I'm confident because we have a great team that can achieve that goal."

TALL BOYS

According to FIFA, the Czechs own the highest average height in the tournament (just a shade over six feet). He isn't the tallest, but 6-foot-2 Marek Strestik figures to be among the Czechs who stand out the most. Ask Davolil about the 20-year-old forward and he simply says "we trust him. He's a good player, he's left footed, strong." Also keep an eye on 18-year-olds Tomas Pekhart and Ondrej Mazuch, who helped the Czechs reach the final of the European Under-17 championship last fall.

THE HEAT IS ON

One of the hot topics among the teams here: The scorching weather conditions. More specifically, the energy-sapping humidity that led them all to move daytime practices indoors during the past two days. Imagine how it felt for the Argentines. "It's winter down there, so we're just getting used to this," said Gomez. Fortunately, much cooler, drier conditions are forecast to arrive in the capital today.

QUICK KICKS

Argentine star Sergio Aguero is wearing No. 10, the same jersey Maradona donned in this event in 1979. No pressure there ... Panama, the last team in the Ottawa group to land in the capital (late Tuesday night), finally hit the pitch for its first practice yesterday ... North Korea defender Yong Choi Ri and Panama 'keeper Luis Meija, both 16, are among the youngest players in the tourney.


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