Argentina hopes dealt Brazilian blow
Argentina 1 – 3 Brazil
Maradona’s second fall from grace was all but completed last night as Brazil booked their place in the South Africa World Cup with a clinical victory in the Estadio de Rosario Central.
The pressure was all on Argentina, lying precariously in fourth spot in the CONMEBOL qualifying league, as they faced their bitter rivals, but it was Carlos Dunga’s men that took the lead on 23 minutes.
The Argentina boss opted to hand a debut to 29-year-old Sebastian Dominguez and only a third cap to Nicolas Otamendi at the heart of the defence, and the decision proved disastrous.
Elano delivered a free-kick at pace into the box for centre-half Luisao to power home a header completely unmarked 10 yards from goal.
The goal came against the run of play as Argentina began brightly. Within 60 seconds of the start the home side played a delightful one-touch passing move into Brazil’s 18-yard box that resulted in a corner kick.
Lionel Messi hit a long-range drive that veered just wide of the post after 12 minutes and followed that with numerous mazy runs in between several yellow shirted Brazilians.
It became clear that Maradona paid special attention to stopping Kaka at every opportunity as the brilliant Brazilian was cynically chopped down whenever in possession.
However the tactic backfired on the half-hour mark as another foul on Kaka resulted in a free-kick 35 yards from goal.
Former Man City rebel, Elano, drilled an effort into the Argentine wall and the ball fell to Kaka who pulled it back for the arriving Melo to shoot. Andujar palmed the shot away, but left Luis Fabiano with the easiest opportunity to double Brazil’s advantage.
Again a defensive lapse was responsible as the inexperienced backline failed to react to the goalkeeper’s parry.
The home side – known as the Albicelestes (white and sky blue) – almost had Julio Cesar in the Brazil goal beaten five minutes later.
After a period of Argentine pressure, Tevez delivered a low cross from the byline towards Maxi Rodriguez who slid in to shoot, only to see the Brazil number 1 deny him with a fantastic save.
Maradona, arguably the world’s greatest-ever player, looked a haunting figure from the touchline as his side struggled to find an opening back into the game.
Brazil almost made it three before half-time after more dreadful defending from another free-kick.
Mascherano was booked after taking out Kaka, who had turned him sublimely, and Luis Fabiano was in acres of space to see his downward header saved by Andujar.
For all of the craft of Messi and Tevez, Argentina’s attack missed a central presence. Sergio Aguero – picked out during The Sport Review’s World Cup potential guide – replaced Maxi Rodriguez during the break to give his side the focal point it required.
The frenetic pace of the match superseded any Premier League fixture and continued from the restart.
Heinze came close with a long-range right-footed drive that was deflected only inches wide.
Brazil withstood a prolonged wave of attacks from the home side and Argentine tempers started to fray as they failed to take advantage of the dominance.
The clock showed 63 minutes before Brazil were able to carve another goal-scoring chance as Luis Fabiano dragged his low shot wide of goal.
Two minutes later Argentina scored the goal that they were so desperate for.
And it was Napoli’s Datolo that raised the roof in Rosario with the perfect debut goal – hitting an unstoppable screamer from all of 30 yards into the top corner.
But no sooner had Maradona’s side got themselves back into it; Brazil regained their two-goal advantage.
Luis Fabiano dashed the hopes of the raucous home crowd by latching onto Kaka’s superb through pass and expertly chipping the ball over the advancing goalkeeper and into the bottom corner – bringing his incredible international scoring record to 25 goals in 33 appearances.
Second-half substitute Diego Milito failed to replicate the Brazilian hotshot as he hit the ball into the oncoming Julio Cesar following Messi’s incisive pass.
Brazil defended from deep for the final ten minutes of the game as the home side drove forward in search of a way back into it, and the final chance of the evening fell to Milito who again found the body of the Brazil goalkeeper with a close-range volley hit on the turn.
Maradona’s defensive selection will come under great scrutiny from the Argentine media, whose knives have already been sharpened following the legend’s feud with playmaker Riquelme.
Failure against Paraguay on Wednesday and his second fall from grace will surely be rubber-stamped.
Argentina: Andujar, Zanetti, Dominguez, Otamendi, Heinze, Maxi Rodrigues (Aguero, 46), Veron, Mascherano, Datolo, Messi, Tevez (Milito, 68).
Brazil: Julio Cesar, Maicon, Lucio, Luisao, Andre Santos, Gilberto Silva, Felipe Melo, Elano (Daniel Alves, 68), Kaka, Luis Fabiano (Adriano, 76), Robinho (Ramires, 68).
Man of the Match: Luisao – solid at the back and the scorer of the opener in a game that recorded Brazil’s first win in Argentina since 1995 and first-ever on Argentine soil in a World Cup qualifier.
Peru 1 – 0 Uruguay
Hysteria swept the stands of the Estadio Monumental following a dramatic late goal by Peruvian striker Rengifo that earned the home side all three points. A stamp on Peru’s Roberto Palacios by Diego Codin resulted in a final minute brawl, several yellow cards and a red for the Uruguayan.
Paraguay 1 – 0 Bolivia
Salvador Cabanas sent the outstanding Hugo Suarez the wrong way from the spot following a trip on Carlos Bonet in a fast-paced game to win a vital qualifying fixture for Paraguay.
The weekend’s other CONMEBOL qualifier results:
Chile 2 – 2 Venezuela
Colombia 2 – 0 Ecuador