I do hope that none of you bet good money on the predictions that I put on here. At the end of last week, I confidently predicted that Argentina would confidently brush Brazil aside of this year’s Copa America, and what happened? More or less the exact opposite, of course. The easy explanation is to say that Argentina choked when it really mattered again, but this would be to under-estimate the work of the Brazilian coach Dunga, who is clearly not as “Dopey” as his moniker would have us believe. Dunga claimed, pre-match, that defending could be the joga bonito as well – a claim that would have been easily dismissed as expedient had the Brazilians not made such an artful job of snuffing out more or less every single Argentinian attack last night. They out-jumped, out-ran and, ultimately, out-played an Argentinian team that has once again flattered to deceive. So, what did go wrong with Argentina yesterday? Did they simply run out of steam in a temperature pushing a hundred degrees fahrenheit yesterday? Do they merely flatter to deceive? Are they capable of only doing this against weaker opposition? Are they… chokers? It’s tempting to say yes. This is the third time in as many years that this has happened. In the 2005 Confederations Cup, they were beaten 4-1 by Brazil in the final. In the World Cup last year, they were probably the most attractive team to watch in the competition until they failed to overcome a limited German team that was being propelled along by plentiful self-confidence and the will of the home crowd. Argentina, who should be in the top two or three in the world, are in danger of becoming the South American of equivalent of (whisper it, because this won’t go down very well in Buenos Aires) England – a country whose aspirations and expectations on the world stage outstrip their actual achievements. Now, of course you can argue that this isn’t strictly true. Argentina have done better than England in World Cups over the last two decades. England out-performed them in 2002, but Argentina got further than them in 1990, 1994 and 1998. Last year, they tied – both going out at the quarter-final stage on penalties. Going further back in time, Argentina had arguably the greatest footballer of all time at Mexico in 1986 (I haven’t seen the World Cup up close, but I would expect it to have “Diego Maradona” inscribed on it for 1986 rather than “Argentina”, and their win in 1978 is still shrouded in murkiness over the capitulation of Peru in their crucial second round match – a match that sent Argentina to the final, where, it’s worth remembering, they were only the width of the post away from losing in the last minute of normal time before pulling away in extra-time. However, they haven’t won an international competition since the 1993 Copa America. It’s now fourteen years for Argentina since a major trophy went their way. Of course, I’m being facetious up to a point here. Argentina, with their two World Cups (and, let us not forget, two other appearances in the final – in 1930 and 1990) remain in the exalted air of the true giants of international football, alongside Germany, Italy and Brazil, whilst England continue the occupy the same under-achieving space as Spain and Russia. However, it will have been twenty years since Argentina made a World Cup final by 2010 – the same period of time as that between 1966 and England’s epic match against them in Mexico City when Maradona stole the show in every sense of the phrase. As for Brazil, well, the Nike marketing machine rolls on. They steamrollered Argentina with a team lacking their two most creative players, Ronaldinho and Kaka, and their first choice goalkeeper, Dida. It wasn’t “Brazil reserves” (Brazilian football simply has too much strength in depth for that to be a truly accurate description of the squad that they took to Venezuela) but, by the end of Sunday’s match they’d regained some of the swagger that they’d lost during their stumbling performances at last year’s World Cup and earlier on in this year’s competition. This win will have further cemented their claims to the 2014 World Cup, too – and with Nike continuing to pull the strings, this might be the next time their supporters get to see them play at home.
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