Someone once said, never resist an opportunity to have sex or to watch Brazil play soccer. The first prong of that advice is terrible and can even be deadly. The second prong holds up well for soccer fans in most cases.
The Copa America has been an exception. This is the tournament that determines the best national team in South America. This year, with North American powers Mexico and the U.S. participating, the winner can claim bragging rights for the entire hemisphere.
The matches have been irresistible, not because of Brazil but because of the overall wide-open play, which has led to an average of more than three goals per match. No World Cup has produced this much offense since 1958. Unfortunately, the U.S., which sent a team of second-tier players, did not contribute much to the excitement as it lost three straight matches.
An Argentine star who also played in Brazil once said, “We use the ball to achieve an objective, the Brazilians use it for their personal pleasure.” At the Copa, though, it is Argentina that’s having the most fun with the ball. Even with three tough-tackling midfielders, Argentina has been a supple scoring machine. Young Lionel Messi is playing like the best forward in the world and Juan Riquelme the best play maker.
Brazil, meanwhile, is experiencing a spasm of pragmatism, as it sometimes does after a disappointing performance (here, losing in the quarterfinals of the 2006 World Cup). Its pedestrian play led to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Mexico (later beaten 3-0 by Argentina). And in the semi-final against Uruguay, a penalty kick that would have sent Brazil home hit the post.
Like Argentina, Brazil uses three defense-first midfielders. But with superstars Kaka and Ronaldinho having opted out of the tournament, there is no Messi (though Robinho comes close) and certainly no Riquelme to add the scoring and excitement.
On Sunday, Argentina and Brazil will meet for the championship. For a change, Argentina will be the favored both to win and to produce most of the pleasure.
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