Brazil 3 Argentina 0

 (man of the match Daniel Alves after Brazil’s win)

Well that’s it. The mouth-watering game between two of the world’s true greats never really hit the heights we expected of it, but we did at least witness a classy goal and some good build up play, if not the skill and excitement we had anticipated.

Brazil’s early goal was a hammer blow to Argentina. Julio Baptista chased down a beautiful ball over the top of the defence from Elano and brought it back inside to the left hand side of the penalty area where Roberto Ayala lay in wait. Ayala, struggling to keep up with the pace and athleticism of his younger, fitter opponent, stood off Baptista and as the Brazilian cut the ball back to shoot with his right, Ayala showed his age as he expected an earlier shot and allowed Baptista space to rocket the ball across keeeper Abbondanzieri, and into the far corner of the net. A classy strike from the late call up to the Brazilian squad, and Baptista finished with three very important goals during the tournament.

The early strike meant one of two things: (a) we were about to witness a goal feast with end-to-end non-stop attacking football, or (b) Brazil, in their new found style, were going to get tighter and tighter and frustrate any attempt from Argentina to get back into the game. We got option (b).

Argentina started to respond brightly and a beautiful move involving a cross from Lionel Messi, headed back into Juan Roman Riquelme’s path by Juan Sebastien Veron, but the midfield maestro’s powerful left-footed volley ricocheted off the crossbar and away to safety. After 35 minutes, Argentina had another good chance to level when the innefective Carlos Tevez ball made its way to Riquelme whose shot was clawed away by Doni in the Brazil goal, a vital save as Brazil were about to double their lead.

Elano’s unfortunate injury meant Daniel Alves had a chance to show what he could do and having been on the field for just six minutes, the Sevilla star found space on the right wing and sent in a dangerous cross that Argentina’s captain Roberto Ayala could only deflect past his own keeper. Although replays suggested the ball may have simply flown across goal, the pace and direction of the cross meant Ayala had to respond but with his keeper having come out to claim the ball, both watched in horror as it trickled over the line to the delight of Vagner Love who celebrated as though he had got the final touch!

A nightmare half for Argentina. None of their flair players were having the desired effect on the game and although Lionel Messi showed glimpses of his potential, he was bodychecked enough times by Brazilians that he could have been forgiven for being a little dizzy when he ran with the ball. Tevez’ role in the team seemed un-defined. Coach Alfio Basile betrayed his preferred method of an out-and-out striker due to Hernan Crespo’s lack of fitness, and Carlos Tevez got the call despite his similar style of play to Messi. Perhaps Diego Milito would have played the lone striker position better than his compatriot, but Tevez’ outstanding form in the run up to the final will have heavily influenced his coach’s thoughts on the team selcetion.

Pablo Aimar and Lucho Gonzalez were introduced in the second half but neither could instill the desired skill necessary to unlock Brazil’s assured defensive partnership of Alex and Gilberto. Argentina continued to push forward to try and get back into the game, but in truth, they never looked like scoring, and Doni’s goal came under less pressure in the second half than in the first!

With tenty minutes of the game remaining, Argentina were caught out at the back and as Vagner Love ran at Ayala, Daniel Alves (full of enthusiasm and one of the few Brazilians to treat the crowd to some ‘real’ Brazilian style football) saw space and received Love’s perfect through ball (sounds like a bad eighties song?) before firing in from the right hand side of the goal at a tight angle; a terrific first goal for Brazil from the daring full-back.

The Argentine players never looked like getting back into the game from that point on, if anything Brazil could have added to their lead, and a disappointing final came to its conclusion with Gilberto Silva, Brazil’s suspended captain, leading the celebrations from the middle of the pitch. It may not be the Brazil we’re all used to, but Dunga has created a very hard-working, well-organised team, qualities that are more necessary in today’s game than ever if Brazil are to reclaim the World Cup under their former Captain.

Man of the Match: A tough one to call as Alex had an outstanding game at centre back, Baptista put in his best performance for a long time, but thefc100’s vote goes to Daniel Alves. A huge influence on the game, creating the second goal, scoring the third, and terrorising Argentina’s left flank whenever he got the opportunity.

Turning Point: Riquelme’s tenth minute shot that cannoned off the post. Had the Argentine scored we would have witnessed a completely different game. As it was, Brazil didn’t need to attack, safe in the knowledge that they had scored, and Riquleme’s influence on the game dwindled.

Referee: Came across as extremely strict, unnecessarily so, a bit unfortunate perhaps that in order to get a handle on the game he needed to impose his authority straight away, which he did, however the fussiness didn’t subside once he had acquired the respect of the players, and this led to a stop-start game for ninety minutes, in turn leading to a disappointing finale to an otherwise entertaining competition.

So Brazil retain the Copa America with a win over their arch-rivals Argentina, but Argentina take the fans vote for their often breathtaking style of play and have much to be proud of over the course of their campaign. This squad has a core group of young players who will get better and better and this campaign will stand them in good stead for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Brazil have learnt to play some tougher football and under Dunga’s guidance have added organisation to their list of tricks. While purist Brazilians will not be best pleased with the slightly more negative tactics employed, they cannot argue with the fact that Brazil took Argentina to pieces last night. Not, perhaps, in the fashion that fans have grown accustomed to, but in negating their opponents attacking threat, and using their own attacking potential to its maximum potential.

Congratulations to Brazil and we look forward to the next Copa in four years time, after Copa America 2007 has been declared a resounding success. Perhaps Kaka and Ronaldinho will think twice before pulling out next time…..!

(thanks to atomacluis for putting the highlights on youtube!)

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