Back when football was almost entirely an amateur sport, Brazil and Argentina already had an old country rivalry. Political debacles regarding the possession of the territory which is now known as Uruguay was the closest both countries had been to start a true war. There were a few years of both countries “baring” each other until Argentinian president Julio Argentino Roca decided to create a competition which would feature both teams and build more on the mystique of the biggest rivalry in football: the Copa Roca.
The competition was first played in 1914, a year after it was instituted. Brazil started by winning the first game 1-0, and claiming the title. The first intention was to get the countries to face each other in a regular periodicity, but the fact that football was hardly regulated back then made it too hard to follow. We eventually had two clashes in 1922 and 1923 – the first won by Brazil (2-1) and the latter by Argentina (2-0). Another hiatus followed through, and the Copa Roca was disputed in (un)regular periods from 1939 to 1976.
In 2011, looking to promote their national championships, both Brazil and Argentina football confederations met in an agreement to “resuscitate” the Copa Roca, or “Superclassico”, how the clash is commonly called by the media. As it is disputed outside FIFA dates, the coaches couldn’t call players from outside Brazil or Argentina. Also, the competition was to be two-legged: one to be disputed in Brazil, and the other in Argentina. Periodicity is also something they’re looking for.
And here we are. In 2011, a bore 0-0 draw in Argentina and a good 2-0 win for Brazil in their country gave the 9th title to Brazil; Argentina currently has 4. Today, we’ll have the first leg of the 2012 edition, being disputed here in Brazil in Serra Dourada Stadium; the second leg will be disputed in Oct 3 at Resistencia Stadium in Argentina.
First of all, one thing must be clear: these are NOT the full Brazil and Argentina squads. If someone sold you that, I’m not glad to inform that you were being lied to. These are just “conglomerates” featuring the “best players in Brazilian and Argentinian leagues” – at least in Brazil and Argentina coaches opinion. Every list brings a bit of discord, and that one isn’t different.
According to media reports, Brazil’s starter line-up will be a 4-2-3-1 of:
Jefferson (Botafogo); Lucas Marques (Botafogo), Dedé (Vasco), Rever (Atlético Mineiro), Fábio Santos (Corinthians); Ralf (Corinthians), Paulinho (Corinthians); Neymar (Santos), Jádson (São Paulo), Lucas Moura (São Paulo); Luís Fabiano (São Paulo).
Options for the bench: Cássio (Corinthians); Marcos Rocha (Atlético Mineiro), Rhodolfo (São Paulo), Carlinhos (Fluminense); Fernando (Grêmio), Arouca (Santos); Thiago Neves (Fluminense), Bernard (Atlético Mineiro), Wellington Nem (Fluminense); Leandro Damião (Internacional).
The highlights, other than first capped players Lucas Marques and Fábio Santos, is Luís Fabiano being given one more chance to fight for the center forward position in Brazil’s NT. Leandro Damião was very poor in the later run of friendlies, and Mano Menezes even tried to pull a false-nine scheme using Neymar as the target man against China, which worked admirably. Also, Luís Fabiano has a bit of luck against Argentinians, and is looking to show Mano Menezes that he still has some gas left in his tank.
Now, the Argentinian squad will probably line up in a 3-5-2 of:
Ustari (Boca Juniors); Desábato (Estudiantes), Sebá Dominguez (Vélez), Lisandro Lopez (Arsenal de Sarandí); Peruzzi (Vélez), Guiñazu (Internacional), Braña (Estudiantes), Clemente Rodríguez (Boca); Maxi Rodríguez (Newell’s); Martinez (Corinthians), Barcos (Palmeiras).
And on the bench: Barovero (River Plate), Campestrini (Arsenal de Sarandí); Vergini (Newell’s), Germán Re (Estudiantes); Vangioni (Newell’s), Somoza (Boca), Ponzio (River Plate), Miño (Boca), Chávez (Boca), Mugni (Colón), Montillo (Cruzeiro); Mori (River).
Brazil has been an attractive country for some South American players, as it is a market where the offered wages are a tad higher than the ones that they’d meet in another countries. Argentina has been struggling economically, and that reflects in their football as well; sans the four players called by Sabella that play in Brazilian top clubs. I’m not sure if one of them is looking to cement their places in the main Argentinian squad – Guiñazu often features there, but the rest of those players eventually come up as backups. Maybe this is a chance to show Alejandro Sabella that he has more options to mount a more balanced Argentinian squad for the future.
Two things here are evident:
1) Brazil will be looking for the initiative in attack, and;
2) Argentina will look for the counter-attack and hold Brazil’s attacking force to the maximum.
This 3-5-2 might prove a problem for Brazil. Argentinian players are known to be very good tactically, and their wingers might become a problem; look for Lucas Marques, who’s been one of the most attack-minded fullbacks in Brazil lately, to see some match-up problems at his lane. Not only that, but Sabella is also looking to win the midfield battle by establishing two classic “hound dogs” – Guiñazu and Braña – in detriment of a holding midfielder who could offer a better box-to-box transition from defense to attack.
Not only that, but Martinez and Barcos is an interesting pair to say the least. Martinez offers speed and some good through balls, while Barcos has been a great target man for Palmeiras. Quick transitions will probably be what Argentina will look for: getting the ball from Brazil, feeding it to Martinez or going for the long ball looking for Barcos up in the pitch.
Fortunately for Brazil, their center backs Dedé and Réver have been under a pretty good form for their teams this season, and their aerial prowess might be a good offensive weapon for the Brazilian NT as well. Also, the Ralf-Paulinho partnership from Corinthians is known as one of the best in the country, and keeping that thing was a good move by Mano in his call-up.
Jádson have been leader in assists in the Brazilian League so far, and he’s Lucas Moura and Luís Fabiano teammate. We must look at that as well: if this trio gets their groove going, good things – and chances – will eventually come up.
Of course that we can’t forget about Neymar. Luckily for Mano, he’s still playing in Brazil, and can get the call-up. Not that this Brazilian NT isn’t strong considering their Argentinian counter-part, but Neymar is certainly the most important player in Brazil at the moment and, in an inspired night, he could resolve a game in a few minutes. With or without things getting ugly for Brazil, Neymar will be asked to be playmaker and target man at the same time.
A prediction? This could easily be another 0-0 draw, but I’d put a few of my chips on Brazil. Argentina is always a huge challenge, but other than a few controversies (e.g. Fluminense’s goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri being overlooked), the team seems to be pretty solid and up for the challenge.
Well, it should be fun.