Bitter rivals leave Argentina in danger of missing World Cup

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The Independent Football

Not since 1970 have Argentina failed to reach the World Cup finals, but that prospect has moved a step closer following a humiliating home defeat by Brazil. A painful night in Rosario was capped for the home side by their bitter rivals qualifying comfortably for the finals on the back of this victory. "This won't break me," said Diego Maradona afterwards, but for all his bluster his future as coach looks increasingly bleak.

A leftfield choice, Maradona's failings have perhaps been all too predictable, despite a team that can combine the diverse talents of Lionel Messi – who was once again desperately out of sorts – Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano. Two goals from Luis Fabiano and one from Luisao secured Brazil's spot in South Africa next year but the home side are in trouble, some eight points behind in fourth.

"We must go to Paraguay to see if we can win three points," Maradona said, looking ahead to Wednesday's qualifier in Asuncion. "It's going to be tough, complicated and all the more so after this defeat. To lose to Brazil is always bad and we had hopes of winning this match to get near the World Cup."

The top four in the South American group will qualify automatically while the team finishing fifth goes into a playoff against the fourth-placed team in the Concacaf region. Maradona, who has now presided over three defeats and two wins in five qualifiers, refused to blame his players, especially the under-performing Messi. "I'm not complaining about my players... We mustn't jump on Messi because he doesn't play alone," he said. "Overall I'm not bitter, I got very bitter in Bolivia," Maradona added, referring to a 6-1 drubbing at high altitude in April.

His opposite number, Dunga, said that "technique won the day" and his players showed their work ethic. "We have a team with great champions who work hard on the pitch," he said. "They are a young yet very mature team."

Sections of the home crowd at the Gigante de Arroyito stadium in Rosario chanted Dunga's name in the closing minutes to protest against the impotent tactics of Maradona's side. Brazil's first-half goals came against the run of play as they made their few chances pay while Argentina squandered the lion's share of possession.

Argentina dictated the early exchanges and Messi came close with a free-kick, but despite some penetrating moves the Brazil defence managed to thwart them. Brazil caught their hosts cold with their first chance when unmarked defender Luisao, the tallest man on the pitch, was allowed to meet Elano's free kick from the right with a header to the far post that beat the diving Mariano Andujar.

Brazil doubled their advantage with their next chance, Andujar failing to hold a shot resulting from a Kaka cross, allowing Luis Fabiano to touch the ball home just past the half-hour mark. Fabiano scored again after the break, a minute after Jesus Datolo had given the home side a flicker of hope with a snap shot.

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