Football: Lopez strike sinks Brazil

Brazil 0 Argentina 1
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The Independent Online
Brazil 0 Argentina 1

CLAUDIO LOPEZ punctured Brazilian morale as they prepare to defend the World Cup by scoring the only goal in the 84th minute of a prestige friendly at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana stadium on Wednesday.

Brazil's coach, Mario Zagallo, conceded: "The team did not play to my satisfaction and we must improve for France. Argentina also played poorly, but they had much better rhythm, which is very important."

In the early stages, Argentina seemed better organised, keeping the ball in Brazil's half for the first few minutes. But as the game progressed Brazil picked up steam, with the formidable pairing of Ronaldo and Romario taking on and beating defenders with ease.

Argentina hit back, with Gabriel Batistuta breaking into the penalty area in the 27th minute, but he sliced his shot wide. Minutes later, Nelson Vivas's effort from outside the area flew straight at Brazil's goalkeeper, Claudio Taffarel.

Then Roberto Ayala earned himself a yellow card for fouling Ronaldo, who almost exacted revenge with a long-range effort which was off target. Lopez went much closer seconds later, sending the ball inches wide of the post.

Denilson was also close to opening the scoring when he extended the Argentine keeper German Burgos, who was relieved to see the midfielder's shot drift narrowly wide.

The second half began with a series of the physical confrontations which have characterised matches between these two great rivals, and Roberto Carlos was fortunate not to concede a penalty when he knocked over Argentina's play-maker Ariel Ortega in the area.

The Brazilian full-back had a chance to show off his own dead-ball expertise when Ronaldo was fouled, but the free-kick flew straight into the wall.

The home crowd started to get impatient and began chanting "Edmundo" - as if the Fiorentina striker could set things straight. Zagallo thought so too because Edmundo soon went on for Denilson.

Argentina were looking more dangerous and, after Ze Elias had fired a long-range effort straight into Burgos's arms, on the counter-attack Juan Veron's strike bounced out of Taffarel's grasp and the loose ball evaded Argentina's onrushing attackers to let the world champions off the hook.

Pride demanded a home win and Ronaldo tried to rescue Brazil with an impressive dribble which took him past Burgos, but the Inter striker could not take the ball with him.

Lopez then took over, setting his sights with a shot straight at Taffarel before he cut in from the wing and beat the veteran keeper with only six minutes left.

Romario and Ronaldo both created openings in the closing moments, but Argentina held on for a morale-boosting victory.

Brazil: Taffarel, Cafu, Junior Baiano (Cleber, 64), Aldair, Roberto Carlos, Cesar Sampaio, Ze Elias, Rai (Leonardo, 67), Denilson (Edmundo, 69), Ronaldo, Romario.

Argentina: Burgos, Vivas, Sensini, Ayala, Zanetti, Almeyda, Simeone, Veron, Ortega (Delgado, 75), Lopez (Pineda, 88), Batistuta.