Brazil still has Argentina’s number

Brazil’s mastery over Argentina continued today with a 3-0 victory in the Copa America. Argentina still hasn’t won a major soccer title since 1993. During that span, Brazil has won two World Cups and now four Copa America titles.
This year, it looked like things would be different. Argentina sailed through the tournament while Brazil struggled. Argentina had a veteran team while Brazil started only two starters from last year’s World Cup starting 11, one of whom, Gilberto Silva, was unable to play today. Brazil’s top two stars (Ronaldinho and Kaka) skipped the tournament altogether.
So what happened today? First, Brazil (assuming Argentina’s normal role) kicked, hacked, and fouled Argentina into near submission. According to Soccernet, Brazil committed an almost unheard of 37 fouls. In the early going, Brazil seemed to foul Argentina’s superb playmaker, Juan Roman Riquelme, every time he touched to ball. The fouling knocked Argentina off-stride, causing them to hurry their passes. And they were unable to make Brazil pay with the resulting free kicks.
Second, Argentina failed tactically. Time after time, they eschewed their best attacking options and tried to advance through tight passes down the left flank mostly involving Heinze and Cambiasso, two of their more pedestrian offensive players. Brazil had little trouble absorbing this pressure.
Third, Argentina’s inadequate short passing game created openings for Brazil, who exploited them with nearly flawless mid and long range passing. Soccer would be the dreadful sport some think it is if less talented teams could defeat more talented ones through excessive fouling and counter-attacking alone. While Brazil relied on those tactics today, what ultimately won the match was its crisp passing and great finishing in front of the goal. And what ultimately lost the match for Argentina was its inability to cope with Brazil’s physical play the way Brazil traditionally copes with Argentina’s
Brazil’s hero on offense was Daniel Alves, who scored one goal and created another with a cross that Argentina’s great captain, Roberto Ayala, converted into an own-goal. Daniel Alves was involved in the match only because Brazil’s starting right-side midfielder sustained an injury during the first half. Arguably the best attacking right back in the world, Daniel Alves can’t hold down that position for Brazil due to the superior all-around play of Maicon. But playing in midfield in front of Maicon, he was rampant with the ball. Perhaps we’ll see the two playing together on the right side again.
Meanwhile, it may not be too early to install Brazil and Argentina as co-favorites for the 2010 World Cup which will be played in South Africa. No European team has ever won the World Cup on non-European soil.

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