9/10/2007 10:36:47 AM
Felipe Contepomi cannot envisage a better time for Argentina to break its duck against South Africa than in the semi-finals of the World Cup.
The Pumas secured a date with the Springboks next Sunday by clinching a narrow 19-13 win over Scotland in a last-eight battle of attrition at the Stade de France on Sunday night.
They continue a relentless pursuit of glory in a World Cup they are taking by storm, and remain unbeaten heading into the semis.
The South Americans have already made history by getting this far, but they will have to rewrite the record books if they are to make the final as they have not beaten South Africa in Test rugby in 11 attempts.
Contepomi told PA Sport he knows it will be tough, but is not discounting his men springing yet another surprise.
"We are still taking it game by game," said the Leinster fly-half, who is playing at centre for the Pumas in the World Cup.
"We are now playing South Africa, statistically one of the superpowers, and we know we are the underdogs."
"We have never beaten South Africa, but who knows? We could do it in the semi-final of the World Cup. That would be magnificent."
"I saw them against Fiji (in their quarter-final). They are physical, have good individuals and have the ability to play different types of rugby."
"Worst of all, their coach Jake White is good friends with our coach and they know each other and our teams well."
"That could make it hard but it's a great opportunity for us."
Contepomi and his team-mates are still coming to terms with their achievements over the past month.
They have won five from five, and after topping a testing Pool D that included France and Ireland, they then saw off another of the northern hemisphere's heavyweights in Scotland.
Their country is going rugby crazy, with even football - the nation's principal sport - taking a back seat.
The 'superclasico' derby between River Plate and Boca Juniors - arguably world soccer's biggest match - was rescheduled so it did not clash with Argentina's World Cup quarter-final.
And Contepomi is still pinching himself, adding: "Nobody would have believed this."
"It means a lot to us because we have never been in the semis. First of all, we have come out of such a difficult pool and now we are in the semi-finals. It is unbelievable."
"The way people in Argentina are living this is magnificent. I am sure people are starting to identify with the team."
"Argentinean people are patriotic and nationalistic, and like to see their teams play with heart and passion."
"In terms of this World Cup, even football people are talking about rugby."
"They brought River-Boca forward so everyone could watch the Pumas, and I'm sure there will be a party back home with people going to the Obelisk or whatever."
"It is something that a few years ago, we would not have even dreamt about."
Contepomi has had a fabulous tournament with the boot, and he added 11 points against Scotland to take his campaign tally to 64.
He kicked two penalties in the first half and one in the second, and booted the conversion after Gonzalo Longo Elia's 33rd-minute try.
The 30-year-old was then part of a gritty defensive effort in the final 20 minutes as Scotland fought back, and although the Pumas conceded one try - to replacement Chris