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Brazil Stun Argentina: Fresh Lessons Learned

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I have been, traditionally, a Brazil fan. I don’t remember since when, but I still did occasionally like Argentina. Although that was more due to a certain Diego Maradona. But ever since the departure of that colourful Argentinian my loyalties became pretty much concrete – with the Selecao.

Until this tournament.

Don’t get me wrong. I would still continue to admire and support the Brazilians. There is far too much joy in their game to push you from supporting them. Even their spectacular flop last summer did little to budge me on to another team. (Yes, in international football it is okay to switch loyalties, at times) But in this tournament, the Argentinians showed the kind of free flowing football that would make anyone drool. But it wasn’t so much for the pretty-ness of the Albiceleste as much as it was for the dourness of the Brazilians, that made me start liking the Argies.

After their horrible performance in the last world cup, I was happy with Dunga’s appointment as head coach, because I thought he would bring the one quality that was terribly lacking in the Brazilians – discipline. Despite his relative inexperience I saw him in the Roy Keane mould. An ex-captain who was inspirational on the field. One who led by example. True, the Brazilian game is usually built on the unbridled enthusiasm and self satisfaction that it gives the players. A chaos. But the successful sides always had a method to the chaos; a small element of discipline that characterized their play. This is what I expected from Dunga.

For the first few months I felt vindicated, in my own imaginary self that is. He was true to what I expected. To him the system was more important than just the individual stars. They did well, dispatching Argentina 2-0 in a friendly. The Copa America was meant to be a place where new young talent were given a run out ahead of the FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign. But the team, shorn of Ronaldinho, Kaka, Adriano and Ronaldo stuttered their way to the final in dour fashion. Whenever they needed a goal, Robinho helped them out.

In contrast, Argentina played like the perfect football team. Discipline and artistry in football is a heavenly marriage, something I’d have loved Brazil to possess. Argentina played like the Arsenal team that knew how to finish, how not to complicate matters in front of goal.

In the run-up to the final, while comparing the playing styles of the arch-rivals, Andrew Downie wrote on Soccernet that about best sums up the difference between the two teams, then and now:

That’s the way it has always been. Brazil were the ball players, Argentina the ball winners. Brazil played for the fun of it. Argentina played to win, any way they could. As the old cliché goes, it was happy, dancing samba against weary, melancholic tango.
Today, however, after almost three weeks of what can justifiably be considered the most entertaining international football tournament in recent memory, the tables have been turned.
Argentina are the ones playing the fast-paced, silky soccer that has the crowd on their feet; Brazil are dour, defensive and at times even cynical. When the two old rivals line up in Maracaibo on Sunday in the final of the Copa America, the smart money will be on the men in blue and white. Even the Brazilians know it.

But what really happened in the final that brought about this reversal in fortunes.

Dunga reminded us more like Mourinho – not in haughtiness – but the way he saw Brazil’s performance in the tournament. Especially after the win against Uruguay. Dunga said something to the effect of “If we cannot suffer we cannot become champions”. That rang true in the final. Brazil had sterner tests throughout the tournament. They lost early, something that brings team weaknesses well out in the open. In their first game against Chile, their 3-0 scoreline flattered them. Their defence was stretched in most games. Argentina on the other hand were allowed to play their game. So overpowering they were in all their games that teams had no chance to stretch their defence, which was always going to be their achilles heel. Never for once, were they really tested on that front – not even by Mexico. And that can sometimes prove very important experience in the crunch games.

In the final, Brazil were the tactically smarter team. They throttled Riquelme for space, cutting off service to Messi and Tevez. They had their moments that were few and far between. Alex and Juan were immense in defence. And Brazil’s physical approach proved too much for the Argentinians. The Argentinian defence, for once, was found stretched and their lack of pace was brutally exploited by Dani Alves, the marauding Sevilla full-back who finally came into his own in Brazil’s colours. Once again it reminds you of Arsenal getting thwarted on several occasions by the likes of Bolton and Blackburn.

Brazil’s win was one that was engineered in the dressing room. For once, they played a tactical game, that wasn’t too dour – and wasn’t pretty either – but it got the result Dunga wanted. However, it brought into light another important lesson – on how Argentina can be beaten on the big occasion. In fact, not just Argentina. It’s more of how such teams that don’t have Plan B can be thwarted.

Yes, it can sometimes mean that the team playing prettier football ends up on the losing side. But tactical naivety these days don’t really have too much of a place.

P.S: I’d love for Brazil to bring in a bit of flair though, but the final to me, was an interesting case for perspectives on tactics and pretty football. Of course, Manchester United won the title comfortably playing good football, didn’t they. icon smile Brazil Stun Argentina: Fresh Lessons Learned

Red Ranter writes at the Man Utd blog.

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Comments (17)

  1. It was obvious that argentians doesn’t have a plan B. Messi was the only creative spark in the team. Also argies seemed to be getting frustrated quickly when they were kept off possession, which was not the case before in this tournament.

  2. BRAZIL WIN WAS FLUKE

  3. you call three goals a fluke?Is like calling the tsunami an earth tremor.argentina had a weak defense that wasn’t tested before yesterday,plus brazil have managed to beat argentina in all their recent meeting’s.I think brazil have argentina’s number.

  4. Argentina were over-rated this tournament. Messi and Riquelme had great tournaments, and mainly relied upon them.

    Brazil just defended and marked them stoutly, and got their tactics right.

  5. samarth, what are you tripping on? that was no fluke. brazil was organised, patient and very determined. not qualities you’d associate with them. sure, argentina were better throughout the tournament but it boils down to how you play on the big day. messi and riquelme weren’t allowed to play, and brazil were by far better on the day. argentina was stretched, especially when they faced all the counter attacks the brazilians launched. if the brazilians countinue to marry this approach to their traditional flair, they can possibly become even better than they already are.

  6. I would say this was Dunga’s win over Basile primarily.

    1. If you cannot stop them fair stop them foul. Just look at the number of freekicks argentina got in the final third. As soon as any player entered final third he was fouled. It was Argentina’s inability to make these count that would rankle basile the most.

    2. Figured out argentina’s defense was really slow. So Dunga puts in 4 fast players on the top end of the pitch to run at the argie defense with the rest 6 literally hounding any argie player with the ball. The worst thing for argentina is that there were never 4 defenders defending when they needed to. Almost always was a 3 man defence. Either Zanetti or Heinze were missing.

    3. Basile was too stubborn with his formation IMO. It was fairly evident that Mascherano/Cambiasso/Veron combination was winning back too little and giving away too much in middle of the park. No service as a result to riquelme, messi and tevez – all of whom were also poor.

  7. Barcelona lost after playin the prettiest football .. dint they??…. argentina same case… even nadal lost to fed even after playin better tennis…

  8. how the hell did Nadal lost to Fed because he played better tennis

    Nadal only got close through his workrate. His tennis is/was nowhere near Feds

  9. This game was a sad commentary on the present state of the beautiful game. The once beautiful and elegant Brazil reduced to negative tactics where fouling Argentina into submission was the course for the day. A team that perfectly copied the playing style of their coach. It was ugly to watch and sad as well. Seeing the wonderful but overconfident Argentines reduced to Sheffield United due to this tactical stroke of genius from Dunga. Yes, it was genius tactically but it was also extremely negative and a disgrace for lovers of pure Brazilian football and attacking, entertaining football. What a fantastic advertisement it would have been for the game had a team loaded with skill and flair like Argentina won. Instead Dunga has yet again followed the path of so many and ruined the spectacle for the sake of a trophy win. Regardless of their win, this Brazil side although full of grit and determination, has got to be the worst side they have put together since 1974. It’s a pity they one. As for Argentina, they need to find a little more grit and temper the hubris a bit if they are to win big tournaments. They remind me of another great side that won nothing but was considered exceptional, Brazil 1982. An inferior Italian side derailed them too.

  10. I don’t want to be rude but why the hell are you supporting Argentina and Brazil if you’re from neither?

  11. Hey Samarth i wouldn’t say that the Brazil win was a fluke.
    I was pure class on the part of the brazilians to snatch the game away from argentina.Did u see the goals they were well constructed pieces of art(forget about Alaya’s own goal lol ) and were definately not flufes.They out classed Argentian in every aspect of the game.They deserved 2 win. :P

  12. People, remember that the team is mostly second string. The flair players weren’t really there. And Brazil weren’t too bad in the final if you saw the previous games where they huffed and puffed their way through.

    Yes they were negative. But not too much, that you’ll want to kill yourself, in the final.

  13. Our footballing memories are too short. When Greece won the Euro or Chelsea won the league twice or Porto won the CL, I read many a pundit predicting the end of the beautiful game as we know it. Yet we have seen Barca win playing some of the most dazzling footer I have seen. We all saw ManU winning last year. And then there was Milan in CL (though the final was forgettable). Clearly not the end of the world.

    The key thing to remember is that silk and steel are not opposing traits. They often go hand in hand and only then can the team be truly called world class. Why else does every coach worth his salt agrees on the fact that a good team needs to be built defense up.

    Brazil won the CA final fair and square. They were by far the better team on the day, both on and off the field. When the Argentinian team looked like they were taking a stroll (though temperatures might have played some role here), the brazilians fought for every ball whatever the chance of winning it was. Sadly, more than any tactical nous the passion for the game was missing from the Argentinian side. Football is as much about skill as it is about passion.

    What I think Argentina really need is a leader on the pitch much like a Roy Keane, Gattuso someone who does not give up till the final whistle.

  14. This is to comment 10. by Alberto saying “I don’t want to be rude but why the hell are you supporting Argentina and Brazil if you’re from neither?”- erm, why not Alberto?? Is there a rule saying you can’t be loyal to a team based on the way they play their game, not where they’re from? Who you kidding mate, get with the programme, people don’t or do support the war in Iraq and they’re not from there are they?? Grow up chump.

  15. Why are you comparing football to wars?

  16. i dont support either brazil or argentina. but like many i think its always our hope to see either of the two when they produce football like brazil in 82, or argentina in 2006-7. sadly those kind of teams almost never win the trophy.

    winning is everything if you are a fan who originates from the country that lifts the trophy (maybe unless you are tostao). but for those of us neutrals who love to hope that the team that plays the prettiest football makes the final i dont think it is. sure it was a pity italy beat brazil in 82, but be honest; nobody who saw them will forget socrates, falcao and zico and eder despite the fact they never even made the semi final. but i wonder how many will remember world champions mazinho and mauro silva in years to come?

    brazil will surely play a more exciting game soon with a complete squad, i hope dunga finds room for both ronaldinho and kaka. and i hope that argentina dont lose heart (it must hurt pretty bad though) and go too much more physical. that would be a shame.

  17. brazil always on the top