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Who will win clash of the Titans?

Tim Vickery | 08:44 UK time, Monday, 18 August 2008

Towards the end of this week one South American side will be pumped up, going for gold.

The other will have just bronze in its sights, and its players may well wish they were already back with their clubs.

In Beijing on Tuesday Brazil face Argentina in the semi-finals of the Olympic football tournament.

A year ago the great rivals met in Venezuela in the final of the Copa America, just as they had three years before in Lima.

Brazil won both matches and in between they also came out on top in Germany when the two teams met in the final of the 2005 Confederations Cup.

But that same week Argentina were the victors in Holland in the semi-final of the World Youth Cup.

The match featured several players who will be in action on Tuesday, and helps explain why the Beijing clash is a high pressure game for both coaches.

Argentina's Sergio Batista has a lot to live up to.

Batista, a central midfielder from the 1986 World Cup-winning side, is facing his first test since assuming control of his country's youth sides.

He can hardly do any better than his predecessors.

Argentina not only went on to win that 2005 World Youth Cup, but between 1995 and last year they won five of the seven tournaments, all under the previous management of Jose Pekerman, followed by his former assistant Hugo Tocalli.

Along with the silverware they also - and this is surely the principal point of youth football - groomed a conveyor belt of talent for the senior international squad.

And Argentina, of course, are the reigning Olympic champions, although their triumph four years ago in Athens was achieved under the command of Marcelo Bielsa, who at the time was also the coach of the senior side.
Argentina beat Paraguay 1-0 to win gold in Athens in 2004

This is the arrangement that Brazil are currently using, with Dunga doubling up.

And if Batista is looking to make his mark at the start of his reign, there is speculation that the Olympics could help bring an end to Dunga's two-year spell as Brazil boss.

His side are fifth and floundering in South America's World Cup qualification campaign.

With their next match on 7 September there would in fact be very little time to replace him immediately following an Olympic failure - the foreign-based players in that squad (ie nearly all of them) need to be called up two weeks in advance.

But that next game, away to a resurgent Chile, looks a very tricky proposition.

Unbolstered by Beijing gold, defeat in Santiago would leave Dunga very vulnerable indeed.

In China, Dunga gives the impression of a man under pressure. He has been snapping about the pitches, the training facilities, the food, even the excessive enthusiasm of the volunteers.

His team were not over-impressive in Saturday's quarter-final against Cameroon, creating very little even after their opponents were down to 10 men.

The game turned on one poor pass played in extra-time by the Africans from deep inside the Brazilian half; Brazil's passing against a packed defence can be laboured, but they carry a mighty threat on the counter-attack.

After Diego set up Rafael Sobis for the crucial opening goal, they produced a combination move at pace for Marcelo to add a glorious second on the break.

In recent years Argentina have looked to play their normal expansive game and have ended up playing in to the trap of the Brazilian counter-attack.

Two months ago when the side met in a World Cup qualifier Argentina avoided a repeat by introducing Jonas Gutierrez, now of Newcastle, to close down Brazil's rampaging right back, and the result was a tame 0-0 draw.

Sergio Batista's side look less well equipped to deal with the threat.

Batista has gone with two attacking full-backs. Zabaleta on the right is more a thrusting midfielder, and the relatively inexperienced Monzon on the left owes his place more to his powerful surges than his defending.

There could well be space for Brazil to exploit. If they get a run at Argentina's centre-backs they are likely to pick up free kicks and while Ronaldinho is still short of fitness, he is still very dangerous from set pieces.

Argentina's Javier Mascherano has seen the danger. He said that he expects Brazil to sit back and break, and feels that his team need to be equally cautious.

Will Riquelme and Messi be able to work their way through for Argentina? Can Brazil pick them off on the break once more? Or is it to be stalemate?

Your questions answered:

I'm interested in your thoughts on Ezequiel Lavezzi as a player and more particularly if you feel he has the ability to break into the national side as a regular fixture, after turning out for the Argentine Olympic team.

There seemed to be a lot of good press surrounding him at San Lorenzo and in moving to Napoli he certainly seems to be following in the footsteps of one Diego Maradona in choice of club if not necessarily ability. Sean Moss

Terrific player, quick, tricky and works the flanks very well, but there's such stiff competition in terms of the nippy little striker's slot - Aguero, Tevez, Lisandro Lopez, Rodrigo Palacio at Boca.

Of course he would do his chances no harm at all if he can score the winner on Tuesday.

I wonder about Aguero - a truly fantastic player, but does he need a rest? Was outstanding in the World Youth Cup last year, carried that form through the Spanish season and here is at the Olympics.

Something has to give, and so maybe it's no surprise that, so far at least, it's not quite happening for him in China. Could be Lavezzi's opportunity.

What is Sebastian Saja up to nowdays? I'm sure I remember him being a very impressive keeper for San Lorenzo who scored the odd penalty.
Stef (Wolves)

A keeper with more personality than ability, maybe? Got found out a bit when he stepped up a level, both for Argentina and in Europe, where he had spells in Italy and Spain.

Moved back to San Lorenzo, they didn't seem to want him and loaned him to Gremio in Brazil, and I think he's just joined AEK in Greece.


  • Comment number 1.

    Hi Tim,

    Would just like to know you opinion on Franco Di Santo. I think you may have mentioned him before however he has had a great pre-season for Chelsea. He reminds me of Crespo alot, perhaps with a bit of extra pace and strength.
    However my main question is regarding the National side. Has he been playing for the un21's u20's? How close was he to being included in the Olympic squad. As you said in your last column, Argentina have a number of small quick players, Messi Tevez Aguero Saviola Lopez Palacio but maybe they need something different….perhaps Di Santo could be the next Crespo/Batistuta!

  • Comment number 2.

    Having watched a bit of Robinho since I read about his 7 stepovers (I didnt think it looked all that impressive), I am skeptical as to whether he is worth the money being touted around in the media.
    He is skillful and clever but does he have the cutting edge.
    I hope you will have an opinion as I'm sure you watched him before he moved to Madrid.
    How has he improved since moving, is there more to come?

  • Comment number 3.

    I think robinho is more of a striker, whether playing off or as the main striker (similar to how Rooney plays at United maybe.)
    Anyway Mr. Vickery, just wanted to ask how Denilson is regarded in brazil. he didn't get called up to olympics but has impressed me more than lucas. thanks

  • Comment number 4.

    Tim, I was wondering what your comments are on Jonathan Bottinelli. He impressed me a few years ago in the Dubai u20 youth tournament and has slowly worked his way into the Argentina squad.

    He's just signed for Sampdoria in Italy, iirc and I wonder what your thoughts are on him.

  • Comment number 5.

    Pshaw! "Argentina not only went on to win the 2005 WYC but between 1995 and last year they won five of the seven tournaments"? Well bully for them! Even more striking is the complete drought of senior side tournament triumphs during the same period. The vaunted "conveyor belt" has been "grooming" for 13 years now and what do they have to show for it? Nothing better than a quarter-final finish in the last three World Cups. Never able to top Brazil in the Copa. Argentina always gets off to a fast start in South American qualifying and dons the favorites mantle only to crash out early in the finals. If the "principal point of youth football" is to feed the senior squad then Argentina's WYC and Olympic victories ring a little hollow. Some conveyor, some belt!

  • Comment number 6.

    Yea well, its better than England mate. Both the talent coming through and what they've won over the last 13 years.

  • Comment number 7.

    Gotta agree with quickquip, to an extent.

    I'm obviously guessing here, but could it be that Argentina have an inferiority complex when it comes to Brazil? Recent results between the teams would suggest so.

    And, on another note, Tim, do you reckon Dunga's criticism of Pato was valid?

  • Comment number 8.

    It's always very special match between the two sides and the Braziliians know better than their rivals how to deal with such games and that has proven in recent years.

    Argentina will try to learn from the harsh lessons they have got by Brazil, but I think Selecao are going to win it and make all the road to the gold.

    I can't wait to see a game with participation of the likes Ronaldinho, Diego, Messi and Requelme. That seems sensational!

  • Comment number 9.

    my views as argentinian obviously are not objective, but I can tell you that there is no inferiority complex with Brazil.

    Here generally when there is a match with Brazil is not important how good or bad are they playing or how good or bad is Argentina playing, it's just a completely different match.

    Even if you look at the final of the Copa America you will see that Argentina was constantly attacking and Brazil had almost all the team in their own field. That was just bad luck.

    Lately and sadly for the lovers of football, Brazil under Dunga management lost lots of avarice in football terms.

    Hope this message makes some sense and that tomorrow we see a great match.

  • Comment number 10.

    I think Argentina finally adapted to the tactical question posed by recent Brazilian teams. Even in Copa America final, I had felt that the result could have been very different with a referee less tolerant of tackles from behind.

    However, the greatest difference with the past 0-3 defeats was the tremendous work rate of Gago (instead of Veron/Cambiasso) and Di Maria whose pace was lethal in transition. Even Monzon and Zabaletta were not as bad as I had feared and Garay was efficient in cleaning up every time the wing backs were overrun.

    A very satisfying victory indeed for all Argentinian supporters. But it must be curtains for Dunga. The only big team that he could beat have become wise to his tricks. In the long run, his departure may just be good for Brazilian and world football.

  • Comment number 11.

    What the hell are you people talking about?? I agree with nacho. Inferiority complex? Look at the wc qualies. Argentina wins their home games, and Brazil wins theirs. Friendly games go both side. Argentina had a bad game last Copa America, so what. One lucky goal (fair, i agree, but lucky still), and after that, Argentina was forced to go all in, giving brazil all the space they need to counter attack. Again, fair win, but the 3-0 result does not reflect the true balance of the game that was played that afternoon.
    Still, and not that it matters, Argentina won their last world cup games, which is 10x more important than any Copa America game, and both Brazilians and Argentines know that.
    Truth be told, Argentine people are pretty enthusiastic about playing Brazil, anywhere, any time.

  • Comment number 12.

    Argentina won gold.


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