Dunga is a pragmatist. His Brazil side is basically one big macrocosm of his role as a player: break down opposition play, launch counter-attack, get stuck into set-pieces. Lather, rinse, repeat. Any notion that the Brazil of today are ‘samba kings’ as Sky pundit Gary Birtles put it is as lazy a tag as it is false. Under Dunga, Brazil are not a team of free-flowing party kings waltzing the ball around with carefree bliss. They are organised, diligent, difficult to break down and ruthless when the time is right. They are efficient. They are robust. They are Dunga.
Watching them systematically pick off Argentina was like watching Garry Kasparov play chess against a 12-year-old school champion. The young amateur is zesty and full of enthusiasm, plucky and at times courageous. But deep down you know he has no hope. His flaws are too obvious, his opponent too sturdy. It is only a matter of time before the silly mistakes take their toll. And so they did. Set-piece, set-piece, counter-attack. Checkmate.
A Luisao header and two strikes of ruthless predatory instinct from Luis Fabiano gave Brazil the three goals they needed to condemn Argentina to only their second ever home defeat in World Cup qualifying. Jesus Datolo’s 66th minute wonderstrike pulled one back at 2-0, but it proved futile as Fabiano’s second goal came just moments later. The win sends the Seleção safely through to South Africa with room to spare. Having looked hopeless just one year ago, Brazil under Dunga are starting to take shape and building a good head of steam. They will be dangerous as ever come next summer.
Argentina for their part might not even be there. Well, they will, but only because the chips for World Cup qualification in South America are so heavily stacked in favour of Brazil and Argentina (top 4 from 10 qualify, 5th still earn a playoff against a CONCACAF castoff) that it would take gargantuan levels of ineptitude for them not to make it. Saying that, under Maradona they are getting desperately close to reaching such levels.
loss, 6-1 vs Bolivia (away)
loss, 2-0 vs Ecuador (away)
loss, 3-1 vs Brazil (home)
Where he was referred to as ‘God’ by numerous pundits and supporters of the albiceleste when he first took the job, now it is more a case of ‘Oh God what did we let ourselves get into’ where Maradona is concerned, with frustration building at his increasingly bizarre tactics, squad selection, preparation for matches and rhetoric. Next comes a daunting trip to Asuncion to play high-fliers Paraguay in a must-win game. Defeat could plausibly see Argentina fall as low as 6th, out of the running for a 2010 berth.
With the atmosphere rocking in Rosario, Argentina started well but simply could not find a way through the yellow brick wall that was Brazil’s backline, marshalled as ever by Lucio, who always tends to look so wildly focussed you wonder for a minute if he hasn’t been temporarily possessed by demons. As time wore on the home side ran out of ideas though, allowing Brazil to impose their game. Argentina’s failings are not through lack of commitment, or even talent. But there are fundamental flaws in the team, some the fault of the players, some the manager.
Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez as a two man strikeforce clearly doesn’t work. With those shorties teams know Argentina won’t be looking to cross balls into the box, so they do as Brazil did expertly; pack the area centrally around the penalty box and cut out supply from the midfielders. Veron’s creative through balls were duly stifled, Messi became isolated and Argentina ran out of ideas. Where is the plan B? Where is Lisandro Lopez, absolutely flying for Lyon right now? Where is Gonzalo Higuain? Diego Milito made an appearance in the second half but by then the damage was done.
The defending was also atrocious. Birtles commented that Luisao was in so much space for the first goal that rather than head it he could have brought the ball down and then scored. He’s right. In fact Luisao could probably have trapped it, made himself a ham sandwich, eaten it and still had time to slot the ball home casually such was the lack of marking. It was a gift. No matter what defensive lineup Maradona has tried since taking over he still hasn’t got the blend right.
“Losing to Brazil is always an ugly experience,” Maradona commented after the match, before stressing the difficulty of the trip to Paraguay. It is now a huge game for the visitors. Defeat there and you wonder how much longer Maradona can be allowed to remain in charge.