Does this have anything to do with Barcelona? Besides Messi and Alves possibly being on the pitch at the same time? NO.
Are international breaks boring unless you also happen to be a rabid American college football fan and the season starts today although you still feel emptiness inside due to not watching Barca for a weekend (that’s me by the way)? Yes.
As such, we decided that maybe an Argentina-Brazil preview/game post would be in order if only to help us past the time with no Barca on TV. So, here you go.
As South Africa 2010 gets closer and closer, the blood soaked grinder that is CONMEBOL gauntlet, hands down the toughest group in the world, finds Argentina in real danger of not qualifying. Here’s the table right now.
- Brazil: 27 pts
- Chile: 26 pt
- Paraguay: 24 pts
- Argentina: 22 pts
- Ecuador: 20 pts
- Uruguay: 18 pts
- Colombia: 17 pts
- Venezuela: 17 pts
- Bolivia: 12 pts
- Peru: 7 pts
If that’s not a tough group then I don’t know what is. The first four qualify for the WC automatically while the fifth place team plays the fourth place team from CONCACAF in a playoff for the right to go to South Africa. Looking at this table you can see why Argentina is genuinely nervous about qualifying. They cannot afford to drop points right now. Especially considering that next week they have to fly out to face a very dangerous Paraguay team at their place.
However, what makes this interesting is the rivalry between the two nations. Sure, Mexico vs. the US has increased since the 90’s but this one has been going on for much longer. It has evolved in cycles. Argentina had the upper hand from 1986 (the year of the Diego) all the way to 1993 in terms of titles. However, it is interesting to note that during this time the Maradona teams only beat Brazil once in six games. Nonetheless it was to eliminate them in the ¼ finals of the 1990 WC. Making it one of the sweetest victory in Argentina’s history and one of the bitterest for Brazil. Here’s the Brazil broadcast’s version of the 1-0 goal resulting from Maradona’s pass that won it for the Argy’s.
After that, since 1994 it has pretty much been all Brazil, winning two World Cups and making the final of the third as well as beating Argentina in two Copa America finals and a Confederations Cup final. Argentina hasn’t beat Brazil since 2005 when this happened:
Damn. I miss Crespo. Now, let’s look at the two teams:
• WC Quals Record: 7 wins, 6 draws, and 1 loss.
• Goal Difference: +19 (26 for-6 against)
Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar (Inter Milan), Victor (Gremio)
Defenders: Andre Santos (Fenerbahce), Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Maicon (Inter Milan), Filipe (Deportivo La Coruna), Lucio (Inter Milan), Luisao (Benfica), Miranda (Sao Paulo), Juan (AS Roma)
Midfielders: Elano (Galatasaray), Felipe Melo (Juventus), Gilberto Silva (Panathinaikos), Sandro (Internacional), Ramires (Benfica), Julio Baptista (AS Roma), Kaka (Real Madrid), Lucas (Liverpool)
Forwards: Luis Fabiano (Sevilla), Nilmar (Villarreal), Robinho (Manchester City), Adriano (Flamengo)
My stance on Dunga is well known. I hate his guts. Not just because I am an Argentina fan but because of what he has done to Brazil’s beautiful football. At first glance it appears he’s done a great job. First on the table, a Confed Cup win, and a +19 goal difference? What else do you want? Well, I want beautiful football and so do a lot of Brasileros. The goal difference is deceiving because of the number of draws they’ve had. They’ve had a lot of very close games with a few “goleadas” spread in between. The key is always that they hardly concede. Their draws are usually of the 0-0 or 1-1 variety. Only six goals in 14 games is remarkable.
Dunga has built this team around Kaka. In theory he plays a 4-2-3-1 but in reality its more like a classic Milan style 4-3-2-1. They live off the counterattack and are their deadliest in space. Kaka and Robinho are two of the deadliest players in the world when given room to run in the open field. They feature three workhorses in the midfield: Gilberto Silva, Ramires, and Melo. Silva is a pure D-Mid while Melo and Ramires are tall, strong, and fast box to box midfielders. Their job is to break up play and give the ball to Kaka. Since they have three withdrawn central midfielders they count a lot on their fullbacks to spread the field. Maicon and Andre Santos/Dani Alves are the preferred starters. They are very prone to bomb forward and sometimes leave space open on the wings. In the “hole” we have Kaka cutting in from left to right and Robinho from right to left while Luis Fabiano plays the 9. Everything goes through Kaka so expect Mascherano to get at least one yellow card and kick him often. Also, Brazil is exceptional at set pieces with so many big tall physical players; not to mention so many good free kick takers (it is Brazil after all).
The key for them is to score first because once they do, they can stay back and play their counterattacking game. If Argentina scores first then we might actually see an interesting game. Consider them prohibitive favorites though.
• WC Quals Record: 6 wins, 4 draw, and 4 losses.
• Goal Difference: +4 (19 for-15 against)
Goalkeepers: Juan Pablo Carrizo (Zaragoza), Mariano Andujar (Catania), Sergio Romero (AZ Alkmaar)
Defenders: Javier Zanetti (Inter Milan), Nicolas Pareja (Espanyol), Fabricio Coloccini (Newcastle), Gabriel Heinze (Marseille), Sebastian Dominguez, Emiliano Papa, Nicolas Otamendi (all Velez Sarsfield), Rolando Schiavi (Newell’s Old Boys);
Midfielders: Fernando Gago (Real Madrid), Javier Mascherano (Liverpool), Maxi Rodriguez (Atletico Madrid), Jesus Datolo (Napoli), Juan Sebastian Veron and Rodrigo Brana (Estudiantes), Mario Bolatti (Huracan), Sebastian Battaglia (Boca Juniors)
Forwards: Carlos Tevez (Manchester City), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Sergio Aguero (Atletico Madrid), Lisandro Lopez (Lyon), Ezequiel Lavezzi (Napoli), Eduardo Salvio (Lanus), Martin Palermo (Boca Juniors).
Argentina has not had a good qualifying campaign at all. They are no longer this team:
Ex coach Afilo Basile was fired halfway through and surprisingly replaced by Diego Maradona. It is pretty much a consensus that el Diego is over his head. A great motivator (if you are Argentinean and GOD tells you to do something then you will give your life to do it) but a shitty tactician, his choice also resulted in the team’s center of attention, Juan Roman Riquelme resigning from la Seleccion. The team is now built around our very own Leo Messi but they still have not found the way to optimize his presence. Two friendly wins against France and Scotland and a rout against Venezuela gave way to a nightmare run of results. A massacre in Bolivia, a 1-0 win against Colombia, and a 2-0 loss against Ecuador has put Argentina between a rock and a hard place.
The team is not as good as some people make it seem in terms of talent. Part of it is Maradona’s fault. When you call up the likes of Gabriel Heinze and Newcastle’s own Jonas Gutierrez instead of Lazio’s Zarate or Real Madrid’s Higuain then you know something is woefully wrong. The other part is that a significant part of a generation that should right now be in its prime is missing for various reasons ranging from injury (Aimar) to flopping (Saviola and D’Alessandro) or resigning (Riquelme). Instead, Argentina has a lot of young talents with a bunch of old guys interspersed with a few players in their primes. How they play depends on the mad whims of el Diego. They’ve done everything from a 4-4-2 to a mad 3-4-3 to a 4-3-3. None of them have been particularly effective.
For the purposes of this game it looks like a 4-4-2 with a backline of Otamendi (good talent) and Dominguez (the pride of Velez-Sarsfield) at CB; with Zanetti and Heinze (WTF!?!?) at FB, Mascherano and Veron at center midfield, Maxi Rodriguez and Jesus Datolo as wingers, and Messi and Tevez up front. I honestly have no idea what they will do. Diego is so bat shit crazy that I just don’t know. Datolo is a real winger and a very underrated player IMO (certainly better than Gutierrez). Maxi is not a real winger and more of a volante or flank midfielder. Look for Maicon and Robinho to have a party against him and Heinze on the left. I like Veron next to Mascherano. That’s a good balance. What I don’t like is Tevez and Messi. The latter needs a real #9 to play off of and that’s Milito but apparently he is on Diego’s bad side.
Argentina claims they want to be offensive and attack but I think that’s also exactly what Brazil wants. They are underdogs in my opinion. That said, Argentina has a hell of a tough crowd. They have NEVER lost a home game for world cup qualifiers. Messi has a world of pressure on him but I think he can thrive off of it. He’s 22 years old and the hopes and dreams of his nation are on his shoulders. No pressure, right? A few days ago, Argentina played a third division side in a practice match… Messi scored 5 goals. He really wants this game. It won’t surprise me to see him man marked. Dunga has done it before using Anderson (Olympics) and Melo (WC quals). They will also kick him every chance they get. Say a prayer for our Argy Bargy because Brazil always plays him tough. The last game they played (a 0-0 draw) went like this for Messi:
If Argentina scores first then they have a chance. As far as I’m concerned they are the soccer national team version of the Cleveland Cavaliers offense (NBA reference). Its “give the ball to Messi and get out of the way ”. I’m not sure that’s enough to win against a pragmatic and effective Brazil side. We’ll see.
Prediction: Brazil 2 Argentina 2