Ricky Villa: Champions are beatable... if you can get the ball off them

The former Argentina international takes heart after Croatia expose a weakness in the Brazilian armoury but laments his own nation's lack of attacking adventure
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The Independent Football

Brazil were, and still are, my candidates to win the tournament, but they are not invincible as we saw against Croatia.

Exactly a year ago Argentina beat them 3-1 in the qualifiers, having gone three up within half an hour, and constantly ripping their defence apart. And, if there is a weakness in this Brazil team, then it's at the back.

Their full-backs, Roberto Carlos and Cafu, play a long way up the pitch so there are often spaces behind them and I think the way to stop Brazil is to try to attack them, especially down the flanks. Any team that just tries to defend against Brazil is making a big mistake.

Ronaldinho, just for one example, is a clever player who can work things out for himself and, as he has proved playing for Barcelona in the Champions' League, he can break down the best defences eventually.

Maybe Croatia in the second half showed the rest of the world that if you do take the game to the Brazilians and run at their defenders then gaps can open up at the back. You have to try to attack Brazil but, of course, that's easier said than done - you have to get the ball off them first!

As for Argentina, without wishing to sound arrogant, I thought we were very good in the first half against the Ivory Coast. Argentina controlled that period and scored two goals, which were well deserved in my opinion. But the second half was completely different. We couldn't control the play in the same way and the Ivory Coast were superior, above all for their speed and physical potency, which complicated things for us, especially in the last 15 minutes. However, we showed our fight and defended the result.

I look at Argentina's overall performance in two ways. On the positive side, it's important to start by winning and there were some impressive individual performances; like Javier Saviola's all-round play, and the way he read Juan Roman Riquelme's perfect pass for his goal. Goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri and Roberto Ayala looked very confident and secure at the back and I also thought Hernan Crespo looked sharp.

On the negative side was the conservative attitude employed once we had gained the advantage, the surrender of possession in the centre of the pitch and the lack of attacking decision-making. The squad with the highest quantity of strikers - six - played with one up front for the last 15 minutes. Football has these paradoxes. Argentina is a country with a population of 40 million football managers and I'm sure the majority of them would have liked to have seen Lionel Messi or Carlos Tevez introduced, but it's the results that count so we should not complain. For a first game, and against a difficult rival, it was good.

I wrote of my admiration for Riquelme in my last column. Against the Ivory Coast I felt he was conducting the orchestra but without the baton. He played some neat first-touch passes that circulated the ball well but without really lighting up the Hamburg night.

Interestingly, all "three" of our goals originated from Riquelme's feet (Ayala's header had crossed the line and was legitimate - ha, ha, ha). I feel there is a lot more to come from Riquelme.

I'm pleased to see Ecuador have done so well. Historically, there were always big differences between South American and European football but it's a much more homogeneous world game now, especially with so many South American players plying their trade in Europe.

Mexican, Paraguayan and Ecuadorian teams have always had good technique but European teams were often stronger and fitter than some countries from other continents but I doubt now that there is one team in this World Cup that isn't well prepared physically.

In a way, the globalisation of football has seen us all borrowing a little bits and pieces off one other. Some distinctive features still remain though, as I hope the South American teams will show throughout the tournament.