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This blog reflects on soccer qua football all over the world. The blog has a specific investment in attractive, attacking football and, as such, focuses on Brazil, the most emphatic historical exponent of the beautiful game.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Messi Hat-Trick Fires Argentina To 4-3 Victory Over Brazil

Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick as Argentina defeated Brazil 4-3 on Saturday in a seven goal thriller that will go down in soccer history as one of the most memorable matches between Brazil and Argentina of all time. The game featured the second encounter between Argentina’s Messi and Brazil’s Neymar after their match-up in Tokyo at the club level in the December Club World Cup Final between Santos and Barcelona. Messi affirmed his position as the world’s best player by giving Neymar yet another lesson in the art of footballing magic by scoring three spectacular goals. Meanwhile, the match demonstrated Argentina’s position as one of the best teams in the world while underscoring Brazil’s depth and reserves of untapped talent.

Playing the last of four friendlies before the Olympics, Brazil continued to field a youthful squad with few players with significant experience for the national team. Coach Mano Menezes opted to start Manchester United’s Rafael instead of Danilo on the right flank and Bruno Uvini for the injured Thiago Silva in central defense. Brazil continued their 4-3-3 formation with Hulk, Leandro Damiao and Neymar in attack. Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella started Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain in attack in front of Angel di Maria in midfield.

Brazil took the initiative in the opening 20 minutes by pressuring Argentina in their own half. Oscar picked out Hulk after 15 minutes but the Porto striker’s shot was saved by Romero. Brazil’s pressure paid off the in the 23rd minute when Neymar curled in a free kick from the right flank that found Romulus in the box. Romulus trapped the ball, turned and dispatched a fierce shot to make it 1-0 Brazil.

Argentina was not to be discouraged easily. In the 31st minute, Angel di Maria split the Brazilian central defense with a terrific through ball which Messi slotted home to make it 1-1. Three minutes later, di Maria threaded another pass to Messi, who rounded Rafael and tucked home his second goal of the afternoon to make the score 2-1 in Argentina’s favor.

Undeterred by Messi’s flashes of brilliance, Brazil took the offensive to Argentina in search of an equalizer in the second half. In the 56th minute, Oscar played a give and go with Leandro Damiao, who had his back to goal. Damiao saw the onrushing Oscar and flicked a pass to his teammate who promptly dispatched it past the keeper’s right hand to make it 2-2. Roughly fifteen minutes later, Romero failed to hold onto a Neymar corner that dropped for Hulk in the box, and the Porto striker made no mistake by dispatching the ball into the back of the net to give Brazil a 3-2 lead.

Argentina showed they were finished yet through a Federico Fernandez header from a corner kick in the 76th minute. Finally, five minutes from the end of regulation, Messi displayed his ability to singlehandedly decide the outcome of a game. The Argentine number 10 picked up the ball on the right flank near the center line, beat Marcelo, cut diagonally inside and unleashed a curling strike with his left foot into the top left corner of the net.

Overall, this was a promising result and performance for both teams. Brazil showed excellent teamwork and attacking creativity. Argentina, meanwhile, have to thank Lionel Messi’s sublime individual play for the victory. The only sour note about the match was an altercation between Argentina’s Lavezzi and Brazil’s Marcelo in injury time that resulted in red cards for both players. Despite poor showings at the 2010 World Cup, Brazil and Argentina both look cohesive and dangerous as illustrated by today’s seven goal feast from the continent’s two titans.

Goals:

Argentina: 31, 34, 85 (Messi), 76 (Fernandez)
Brazil: 23 (Romulus), 56 (Oscar), 72 (Hulk)

Starting Lineups:

Argentina: Romero, Zabaleta, Federico Fernández, Garay, Clemente Rodriguez, Sosa , Mascherano, Gago, Di María, Messi and Higuain.

Brazil: Rafael Cabral, Rafael, Bruno Uvini, Juan, Marcelo, Sandro, Romulus, Oscar, Hulk, Neymar and Leandro Damiao

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Brazil v. Mexico 2012: 7 Quick Thoughts

Some quick thoughts on today’s Brazil v. Mexico game in Dallas, which Mexico won 2-0 thanks to goals by Giovani dos Santos and a penalty by Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez.

(1) Mexico played Brazil off the park. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, that it was the referee, the youth of the Brazilian team, etc. Mexico won fair and square.
(2) The key to Mexico’s victory was that they put pressure on the Brazilian flanks and stopped any kind of dangerous wide play. Danilo couldn’t get down the right flank and neither could Marcelo, effectively, though he did a better job than Danilo. Mexico did exactly what France did in the 1998 World Cup final by pressuring the flanks and threatening on the counter-attack.
(3) Neymar looked tired. Yes, he attempted to carry the team almost on his shoulders, toward the end, but he’s clearly playing too much football.
(4) Oscar is a gem. He drops back and helps in defense, and pops up on the left and right flanks as needed.
(5) Brazil are missing that killer, final pass in the last third of the park. Oscar does well to maintain possession but he can’t pick out attackers the way Ganso can.
(6) Brazil is not ready for the style in which Mano wants them to play. They don’t have that kind of 1970s talent or even talent that approaches 1998 and 2002. The ball moves through midfield too slowly. The real weakness of the team is the final switch from midfield to attack.
(7) The time for Muricy Ramalho or Joel Santana to take over the helm of the Selecao may be fast approaching.