Sheik, battle and goal as Messi downs Brazil
Argentina 1 Brazil 0
Wednesday 17 November 2010
What a week it has been for fans of South American football, a brace of mouth watering ties taking place in the space of two days.
First off River Plate beat Boca Juniors in a Superclásico high on intensity but short on quality. Now Argentina celebrate their first win over Brazil in five years after a match which was short on intensity but boasted quality all over the park.
The neutral venue of Doha in Qatar, sapped much of the edge off the most keenly contested fixture in international fixture but at last the deadlock was finally broken. Lionel Messi unpicking the Brazilian defence as three minutes of second half injury time began to count down.
A smart one-two with second half substitute Ezequiel Lavezzi left the Barcelona forward with a clear run at Brazil's defensive pairing of David Luiz and Thiago Silva. Messi evaded the challenge of David Luiz and shrugged off the attentions of Lucas snapping at his heels. All that was left to do was place a left foot shot through the legs of Thiago Silva and inside the post.
Messi had been more vocal than usual in the build-up to this friendly and issued his team-mates with the battle cry "Now is the time to beat Brazil." Argentinian football fans still view La Pulga with suspicion after his teenage defection to Catalonia; a winner against Brazil will do plenty to heal the rift between supporters and player.
Brazilians will be as bitter about the result as much as Argentinians will crow about it but as a game of football, the match was instantly forgettable.
The game produced far too few clear cut chances and too many individuals failed to step up to the plate. At the root of this was the 4-2-1-2-1 counter-attacking formation employed by teams, the sheer number of enforcers on the pitch forced the game to become a cagey affair.
Brazil's head coach Mano Menezes was brave to gamble with a forward line of Ronaldinho, Neymar and Robinho, the latter handed the captain's armband. For Ronaldinho the match represented a shot at redemption but the only time he looked threatening was when lining up a free-kick. Like so many of his set-pieces Ronaldinho's performance failed to hit the target.
Neymar and Robinho, team-mates at Santos for a large chunk of this year, did not look dangerous up against an Argentinian defence which featured a 37-year-old. Brazil has too much talent to be carrying passengers so expect a shake-up in attack ahead of their next game.
There were few positives for Menezes to take out of the game but at least left-back André Santos finally looked like he had made the position his own with an all-action first half display. However, when the full-back's game was put under the microscope in the second half with the introduction of Lavezzi the old frailties were soon apparent once again.
Its hard to feel any great sympathy for Menezes after he suffered his first defeat as head coach of Brazil. Things clearly were not working for him in the attacking department early on but he held out until the last 20 minutes before making his first change.
So with Brazil turning in such a limp display why did it take a piece of individual brilliance in injury time to win it for Argentina? The simple answer is because Argentina were not that great either.
There is plenty of hope invested in stylish midfielder Javier Pastore, the weekend before this game he had put away a hat-trick in Italy's Serie A. The long term thought is to mould Pastore into a give-and-go playmaker who can help get the best out of Messi. There were flashes of the masterplan coming together but these glimpses were few and far between.
Elsewhere in the Argentinian midfield Javier Mascherano and Éver Banega did what they do best, protecting the back four. When you have Argentina's two defensive midfielders facing Lucas and Ramires in the middle of the park it does not matter if you dance the tango or the samba, not much is getting through.
Its hard to blame Argentina for plumping for a pragmatist like Sergio Batista after the madness of Diego Maradona and this win over Brazil makes it look like a solid appointment. Its worth remembering though that Maradona plotted a 1-0 win over Germany in Munich in the build-up to the last World Cup.
So who shoulders the blame for the second South American clásico in two days to fall short of expectations? My first instinct would be to say those people who have the expectation of a good game in the first place.
Also at fault is the system employed by both teams - vintage Brazil 1982 it was not nor was it Argentina circa 2006. Its worth noting that both of those teams walked away from World Cups with nothing while this defensive counter-attacking formation has proved successful for many clubs in Europe.
Blame on this aspect should be shouldered by the football associations of Brazil and Argentina who seem happy to cast off their fine traditions in search of short-term success or more importantly, cash.
Its the financial issue that grates most of all, should these two teams meet in the final of next year's Copa América then we will be in for a far different spectacle. Even a friendly in Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro would have had been an entirely different ball game.
Argentinians will gloat and Brazilians will not be best pleased, but come on, a friendly game kicking-off on the other side of the world at two in the afternoon on a Wednesday? That's just not cricket.
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