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South American giants set for 'super-classic'

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Tim Vickery | 18:27 UK time, Monday, 26 September 2011

This Wednesday, Brazil host the second leg of the modestly entitled 'super-classic of the Americas' against Argentina - an old tradition which has now been brought back.

The first leg in Argentina finished goalless - a result that came as a big disappointment to the Brazilians. With both sides at full strength a draw would be seen as entirely normal.

But for these games only home-based players are considered, and it is here that Brazil thought they were going into the game with a 12th player - the country's economic boom.

Argentina is already at a huge disadvantage in terms of population, 40 million against 195. At the moment there is a big difference in currencies - Brazil's is very strong.

With this in mind, Brazilian football magazine 'Placar' has just published some facts and figures highlighting the financial chasm between clubs on either side of the border.

Even before a new TV deal comes into effect next year, the biggest Brazilian clubs receive nearly four times the TV money paid to Boca Juniors, Argentina's giant.

In terms of sponsorship deals the difference is twice as big. As a consequence, Brazil's clubs can pay much more, and are attracting some high profile Argentines.

According to 'Placar', Ronaldinho at Flamengo is receiving six times more than the biggest star of domestic Argentine football, Boca Juniors' Juan Roman Riquelme.

Ronaldinho (left) and Neymar will be looking to defeat South American rivals Argentina. Photo: AP

There was an expectation, then, that these differences would be reflected on the field when the two sides met in Cordoba. Riquelme and Argentina's other heavyweight, Juan Sebastian Veron were not even there, both missing out through injury.

Brazil, meanwhile, could field Ronaldinho, Neymar and Leandro Damiao, the same frontline used when the full strength side beat Ghana in London earlier this month.

In almost every sector of the field Brazil seemed to have the edge - in goal and in defence, and also with that forward line, though Argentina's Juan Manuel Martinez is an excellent and industrious striker.

Indeed, before he limped off early in the second half, Martinez was the game's outstanding figure. In great part, of course, this was due to his own virtues, his mobility and acceleration and his capacity to identify and exploit a weakness in the opposing defence.

But it was also because he was given a platform to perform by the one area where Argentina were superior, the midfield.

New Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella has some knowledge of Brazilian football - he was assistant coach to Daniel Passarella at Corinthians a few years ago.

Sensing that Brazil could be stifled, he packed the midfield. But not only did he have numbers, he also had clarity, much of it supplied by a team-mate of Martinez at Velez Sarsfield, Hector Canteros.

After the game Ronaldinho praised the way that Canteros had organised Argentina's play from the centre of midfield. Brazil had no equivalent.

Their midfield trio of Paulinho, Ralf and Renato Abreu offered physical strength, but barely a flicker of imagination and no capacity to control the rhythm of the game.

There are obvious dangers in drawing conclusions from a game between two scratch sides who have hardly had time to train together.

But these midfield deficiencies have been there in Brazilian football for a while - the lack of fluidity in their play is the main reason that more recent sides, win or lose, have often been compared unfavourably with the teams of 1958, 70 or 82.

National team coach Mano Menezes has been trying to wean the side off an excessive dependence on the counter-attack and recapture some of Brazil's previous brio. He admits that achievements have so far fallen short of ambitions.

One explanation - the great sides of the past had better, more complete central midfielders.

Good news could be on the way. This year's Brazilian Championship is proving to be the best in years, and not just because more money means stronger squads. As well as individual quality, there are also some interesting collective ideas.

For years in Brazil the flanks have been left free for the forward runs of the attacking full backs. Now, though, teams are coming off 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 to play other systems, variations on 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 with strikers operating in wide spaces.

This means that the full backs have to do more defending, which in turn means that the central midfielders have to take more responsibility on the ball.

One of the stars of the show is Romulo of league leaders Vasco da Gama. Just turned 21, he is a marking midfielder who wins the ball and then gives dynamism to the play, passing and moving forward to participate in the next phase, opening up the field with quick, crisp distribution.

Called up to the Brazil squad, he could make his debut on Wednesday. Menezes admits there is a need for a different approach in midfield for the second 'super-classic'.

For Argentina Martinez will be missing this time, still not recovered from the injury he suffered in the first match.

Sabella has re-enforced his midfield, too, giving a chance to the Brazil-based quartet of central midfielders Pablo Guinazu and Mauro Bolatti and playmakers Andres D'Alessandro and Walter Montillo.

Sabella will surely pack this sector once more. This time will Brazil have the wit and patience to pass their way through?

Comments on the piece in the space provided. Questions on South American football to, and I'll pick out a couple for next week. Here are some from last week's postbag:

Q) Can you tell me what former Bolivian striker Marco Etcheverry is up to these days and how was he seen in South America? He was just before the internet and tv coverage, but I remember his skills being paraded in USA 94, am I correct? And would it be accurate to recall him as a bit of a firebrand?
Duke D

A) His skills were more paraded on the road to USA 94, when he helped bring about Brazil's first ever defeat in qualification. Come the tournament he was not 100% fit for the opening game against Germany, came off the bench and was promptly sent off for a little off the ball kick.
I'm not sure what US-based readers might think of this, but I wonder if his move to the MLS came too early in his career. I have the impression that standards when the MLS was launched were not as high as today, so perhaps he was not being pushed enough. He was a big star with DC United, but when he came back down to play for Bolivia he looked way off the pace, at a time when he should have been at his peak.
He is now coaching Bolivia's Under-15s, in action soon in the South American Championships.


  • Comment number 1.

    Fascinating read Tim, apologies for taking this off topic so early in the discussion but something you said on the World Football Phone In intrigued me a little ....... you suggested that Santos had 'no motivation' to go for the league title as they were already qualified for next year's Libertadores. Could you elaborate on that please, seems pretty strange to me!

  • Comment number 2.

    It's amazing Argentina manage to cobble a team together from only 195 people...

  • Comment number 3.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 4.

    1 - it's common for Brazilian clubs, when they have won the Libertadores, to take their foot off the peddle and start dreaming of the World Club Cup and a crack at the European champions (an illustration of how differently the competition is seen in the two continents).
    Santos have been no exception - though it is true that they have also lost a lot of players to international call ups. At one stage they were even flirting with the relegation zone - a rally has taken them to mid table - they move up to 6th if they win their 2 games in hand - but the priority is taking on Barcelona in December.

  • Comment number 5.

    3 - Earlier this year Argentina had 3 seperate squads on the go at the same time, hence the number of games played.

  • Comment number 6.

    Really enjoyed your piece today on Samba Footy, 2002 Qualifiers were really entertaining for all the reasons you mentioned... regarding the upcoming game, do you think Diego Souza will get any game-time? I think Souza is the perfect age (26) to make a difference on the national team --- he could get away with playing a withdrawn striker role regardless of which playmaker eventually gets the call-up by 2014 --- I just hope he gets more than the half Dunga gave him against Bolivia.

  • Comment number 7.

    Tim, do you think the money involved in Brazil is harming the continental tournaments here, namely Copa Sudamericana - I've been told that São Paulo will probably field a reserve side against Libertad next month as the league is more important. Here in Paraguay the Copa Sudamericana is taken seriously because the prize money on offer to them (and TV rights) is so important.

  • Comment number 8.

    What do you make of the rejection of a call up by young Gremio centre half Mario Fernandes? Could this rejection of the call up backfire as he may not be considered for another few years?

  • Comment number 9.

    7 - I think it's more the calendar of Brazilian football that undermines the country's participation in the Sul-Americana - which heats up just as the Brazilian Championship is hitting the final straight, making it difficult for clubs to fight on both fronts.
    The fact that the Sul-Americana winners now qualify for the Libertadores has helped the Brazilians take it a bit more seriously.

  • Comment number 10.

    8 If Mario Fernandes is too stressed out to play a friendly against Argentina, how on earth would he cope with the pressure of playing at home in 2014?
    Yes, I do think he has put himself out of contention, for a while at least.

  • Comment number 11.

    Great read as always Tim.

    Sorry to go lightly off topic once again, but it shocked me how little time was given over in the UK to the Copa America, despite it being a much more entertaining tournament than either of the most recent European or World competitions. do you think the money now flooding into the Brazilian game, and it's clubs new found ability to attract and keep world stars, might lead to increased exposure in the European markets?

  • Comment number 12.

    I am happy to read Sabella has selected the four Brazilian based players for this match-D'Alessandro, Guinazu and Bolatti of Inter de Porto Alegre and Montillo of Cruzeiro. Many have been calling for these players with the full national team (well maybe not so much with Guinazu) so this will be their opportunity to make a claim with Sabella for a place on the full national team. Lucas Viatri's recent good form at Boca gets rewarded too. There still are plenty of Velez players even w/o the injured Martinez but only 3 named from slumping Estudiantes.

    D'Alessandro and Bolatti had brief chances with some previous Argentina coaches but this will be their first chance under Sabella. Montillo's Cruzeiro are not doing well this season but to the Brazil based readers (and Tim) I ask how has he personally done this season? I saw him last season in league play and in the Libertadores and he was superb. Velez' Canteros was a pleasant surprise. He looks to have a good future. I do not know why Lanus' Diego Valeri was not selected but I am thinking Sabella thought there may not have been room for him with Montillo and D'Alessandro on the roster.

    I agree with an earlier poster, Vasco's Diego Souza is more of a media punta and I wonder how he would fit in to Mano Menezes current system which has Ronaldinho and Neymar flanking a center forward. Maybe play two holding midfielders then Neymar, Ronaldinho and Diego Souza behind a center forward?

    Soccer Futbol Forum

  • Comment number 13.

    the issue remains. there will be reliance on counter attacking futebol from brasil until they find CMs capable of building play from the middle. i am not saying the selecao should stop attacking from fullback positions, but in order to restore the some shine back on brasilian style of play, he needs CMs. maybe hernanes should be given more chances i hope he gets a start this match against albiceleste. lucas (of liverpool) is good hard working player as is ramires but they don't seem to be the answer after 9 months playing together.

    tim, aside from romolu, any other CMs that have caught your eye in brasileirao? valeu

  • Comment number 14.

    So am I right in thinking that the Argentina-Brazil matches are similar to the idea of the Home Nations series in Britain? And you mentioned the return of this 'Classic' match; why was it cancelled in the first place?

  • Comment number 15.

    #12 - rosarino

    Unfortunately for Argentina, D’Alessandro will not play due to injury.

    Also my personal opinion is that Montillo is playing way bellow 2010. In fact, Montillo is so important to Cruzeiro that his lack of form and irregular displays have impacted heavily on his team this year.

  • Comment number 16.

    Interesting blog, Tim.

    But I am starting to wonder how long Brazil’s coach will last if convincing wins don’t come on the next game or games. I would say Mano is on the verge of being sacked. What do you think Tim? For all the reasons that you have presented, do you think Mano’s job would come to an end if Brazil loses to Argentina?

  • Comment number 17.

    Is it possible to see highlights of the match anywhere on tv or even live coverage?

  • Comment number 18.

    Hi Tim,a bit off topic but would like to know if you think if Liedson is having a good season at Corinthians and if he could earn a call up to play for Portugal again? Also would like to know what you think about Elias that used to play for Corinthians,Atletico Madrid and now at Sporting,i seen a few games of him recently and think he is a really good midfielder that should earn regular call ups for the Selecao. Many thanks

  • Comment number 19.

    Hi Tim

    I just wondered how you, and the Brazilian national team manager, sees the four Brazilian English based centre midfielders - Anderson (Utd), Lucas (Liverpool), Ramires (Chelsea) and Sandro (Spurs) - who of those is rated higher and has the most potential for the future?

  • Comment number 20.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 21.

    Interesting i have never heard of this tournament before. I think it is pointless as it is all for bragging rights and the odd prize money

  • Comment number 22.

    How far can the term "home-based player" be stretched if Argentina call up 4 players who play in Brazil? Does the term mean "playing on the continent" or "in the national league"?

  • Comment number 23.

    Interesting as ever Tim, enjoyable insight.
    South America certainly seems an ideal envirnoment for a sports writer to work in... Much more than just the action to explore.
    #17 - I think I've seen the match advertised for live coverage on ESPN, in the early hours of Thursday morning UK time.

  • Comment number 24.

    Good read as ever Tim. I get really frustrated by the lack of what I would call 'complete' midfielders in the modern game, and it's good to see Brazil perhaps doing something about it. The modern game has divided midfielders into those who can tackle and those who can pass a ball, meaning that there are very few who do both, perhaps because tactics dictate that they don't need to. I'm a Liverpool fan and I look at someone like Gerrard who really can do everything, yet he is afforded the luxury of strolling around where he can do the most damage. On the flip side, Lucas has been re-invented as a ball winning midfielder - a far cry from how he played for Gremio.

  • Comment number 25.

    If tomalex92 cares to read the article again he will note that it is Brazil who have managed to "cobble a team together from only 195 people..."

  • Comment number 26.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 27.

    yeh like the constipated Argentinian....he couldn't pasadoble

  • Comment number 28.

    Tim I finally thought I would get to argue with you when you said the Brasileiro was the most interesting in years. I hate September when no club wants to win the title and results seem to spin out of control. But yes there clearly is a change in the style of play on offer.
    Eventually though you made some good points especially in responding to others' comments about the calendar, and the national team not helping Santos, (amongst others). I really am curious of how Corinthians seem to enjoy post international fixtures against teams whose star players have just returned, or are still away! (but thats my conspirousy theory).

    I am not as enthusiastic about the Samba boys turning up, but I did watch the last game which was rather dull.

  • Comment number 29.


    Thanks for your comments, since my prior post I too had read that D'Alessandro had to pull out of this match with an injury. Too bad for him and I do hope Sabella will give him another opportunity sometime down the road as Argentina can use a creative midfielder like he.

    I figured Montillo has not been as effective as last season with Cruzeiro when he only finished behind Fluminense's Dario Conca as the top player in the tournament but I do see Montillo has 12 goals this season, 4th in the league behind Borges, Leandro Damiao and Ronaldinho, so he must be doing some things right this year. I do hope he will get playing time tomorrow night in Belem.

  • Comment number 30.

    #29 – rosarino

    I have no doubt about Montillo’s quality, based on what he did last year. But I can’t tell if his facing any (minor) injury or if it is his team’s performance that has hidden his game. Cruzeiro seemed very impressive at the first round of Libertadores and then they suddenly lost track. And they are out of track since then.

    Anyway, I can’t extend on Montillo’s performances this year simply because Cruzeiro is close to relegation positions. So their games have not been widely broadcasted in Brazil. And I live in southern Brazil (quite far from Minas Gerais). My comments on #15 and 16 where based on sports news. And Montillo has not been mentioned lately. What also means he has not been criticized!

    Lets see what comes at Brazil vs Argentina game. I just hope it is a better game than the previous one. Brazil seemed very dull but I hope they improve.

    Best regards,

  • Comment number 31.

    Friendlies and qualification games are never indicative of a team's ability to perform well at an international tournament. The right blend for Brazil and Argentina will never be known by anyone, including Menezes/Sabella, until after 2014 has come and gone. It will be the right team/manager if they win, and the wrong team/manager if they lose.

    All the Brazil teams Tim mentioned and we rhapsodize about ('58, '70, '82) were off-colour for long spells. In '58, Brazil were rather average until Pele and Garrincha were introduced in their THIRD group game. Then they exploded. In '70 there was a dearth of quality midfielders, and there were doubts that Pele, Rivelino, Tostao, and Gerson (all classic No 10's) could player together. We got magic. In the lead up to '82 Socrates (a striker) could not find his best form in any position. He ended up nominally on on the right side of midfield. Eder, Falcao, Leandro and Serginho came into the squad quite late. Cue orgasmic football. In '94, the captain, Rai, was off colour, three first choice centre backs were injured, there was no playmaker or quality winger. Brazil won. In '02 Scolari was pilloried for playing five defenders, and two defensive midfielders. Brazil won.

    Likewise Argentina in the lead up to '78 were in a confused transition from a conservative approach to a more fluid, attacking style demanded by Menotti. They won with the rampaging duo Kempes and Luque. In '86 there were fears that average defenders, an unimaginative midfield and the lack of a traditional striker would negate Maradona's abilities. Argentina won with Valdona/Burruchaga raising their game.

    Before '82 the Italians were considered too old and Rossi too rusty. They won. In '06 the Italians were no-hopers with ageing forwards and a poor midfield. They won.

    If football were a science, England, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Germany and the USA would win everytime. Fortunately, a winning team requires a blend of ball skills, fitness, tactics, team work, and excellent team spirit. Two years is more than adequate tme to brew this mix.

  • Comment number 32.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 33.

    Carlos Tevez: is he toast at International level as well as club-level?

  • Comment number 34.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 35.


    Very astute comments, there is no doubt teams whose form a year or two, or even more, before a tournament starts has little relevance on how they will do in the World Cup, otherwise teams like Colombia in 1994, Argentina in 2002 or Brazil in 2006 would have been World Cup winners. But I do think you can often tell by March of the year of a World Cup which teams are coming around well. Not to pat myself on the back but by March 2006 I had thought Italy had a good chance to win that year's World Cup and by March 2010, Spain were I thought favorites, along with Brazil, for that year's tourney. I can not recall in what form Brazil were in the few months leading up to 2002, (I do know they had a tumultous qualifying period but I am speaking about post qualifying here) but I think tales like Italy in 1982, where a seemingly struggling team suddenly gets it all right once the tournament starts, or in Italy's case, once the 2nd round started, are becoming the exception to the rule. World Cup winners, or top contenders, are by 3-4 months before the Cup starts rounding into form.

    Of course we all know that Mano Menezes and Sabella will not have the luxury of ignoring results between now and early 2014, they have the obligation based on each nation's footballing traditions to win now and if they do not they will be replaced. It is the nature of the position they each hold.


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