The summer of 2004 was a busy time for Mauro Rosales. He was given an incredible reward in an Olympic gold medal, but it didn’t come easy for Rosales or his teammates with Argentina.
At 23 years old, he was in the thick of things for Argentina as they were in a hectic summer that included the illustrious Copa America tournament in July, the Olympic Games in Greece in August and a World Cup qualifier in September. All the while, he was in the midst of a transfer from Newell’s Old Boys in his native Argentina to famed Ajax in Holland.
“I didn’t have any time to rest. Everything was very fast,” he recalls now with a smile.
In July, they played in the Copa America tournament, finishing with a silver medal while playing six games in 19 days, falling on penalties to Brazil in the final.
Though it was a very trying tournament that left Argentina with just 16 days between the final and their opening match in the Olympics in Greece, it provided Rosales and his teammates with plenty of motivation as they headed into the Olympic Games.
“We wanted our revenge,” he said. “It was also a big motivation for us to be the first team from our country to win the gold medal.”
They opened the Olympic tournament in dramatic fashion, scoring a 6-0 victory over Serbia and Montenegro in their first group stage match and they never looked back.
They would finish off the group stage with a 2-0 win over Tunisia and a 1-0 win over Australia to qualify for the quarterfinals.
There they would meet Costa Rica, who upset Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal 4-2 to advance out of the group stage. However, Argentina would continue their dominance of the tournament with a 4-0 demolition of Costa Rica, a team that included Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio and former USL Sounder defender Michael Rodriguez.
That would put them in the semifinal against a potent Italy side that featured the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi and Alberto Gilardino. Nothing would get between Argentina and their goal though, and they topped Italy 3-0, confirming to them their belief that they would be walking out of Greece with a gold medal.
“There were many good teams to beat,” Rosales said. “When we beat Italy 3-0, we did everything good. It was the perfect game. That gave us the confidence that we could win the tournament. We worked very hard to win that tournament.”
The tournament concluded with a 1-0 win over Paraguay in the final match and Rosales finished the Olympic Games with 452 minutes in six matches over 18 days and an illustrious gold medal.
While Argentina moved into the Olympic Village after reaching the semifinals, it still limited the time Rosales spent with other Olympic athletes. That, however, is one of the things that he cherished about his time in Greece.
“Most of the athletes are amateur, so to share time with them was very good,” he said. “They all have very high dreams for their life and it was fun to share that with them.”
After already missing the opening ceremonies, which took place two days after Argentina played their first match of the tournament, Rosales would miss the closing ceremonies too. Just six days after hearing the Argentine National Anthem on the medal stand, they would play a World Cup qualifying match against Peru. Rosales scored in the 14th minute of that match and Argentina would go on to win 3-1.
Only then, did he finally get to savor the incredible accomplishment, but not for long, as his new club, Ajax, had already started their season.
“I had three days off though and spent time with family and friends and that moment, I will never forget,” he said. “The gold medal was one of the best things I’ve had in my career and it’s something that I’ll remember for all my life. It was a very unique group. We all supported each other and had known each other since we were very young. That was one of the good weapons we had for that tournament.”