Brazil’s Copa joy

AP

A dream showdown between the two power-houses of South America football produced moments of sublime quality yet it was largely Brazil’s superior organisation and tactical discipline which proved decisive, writes Jeremy Wilson.

The rollercoaster year of Carlos Tevez suffered a dip on the night of July 15 when his Argentina team were beaten 3-0 by Brazil in the final of the Copa America.

A dream showdown between the two power-houses of South America football produced moments of sublime quality — notably when Julio Baptista opened the scoring — yet it was largely Brazil’s superior organisation and tactical discipline which proved decisive.

For the coach, Dunga, it was personal vindication after he had been criticised throughout the tournament for adopting a pragmatic playing approach which was perceived as alien to Brazil’s traditional reliance on attacking flair.

Brazil have now won four of the last five Copa America tournaments and eight in total. As might have been expected of a tournament which had already produced a record-breaking number of goals, the final began in explosive fashion. Less than four minutes were on the clock when a somewhat hopeful long-ball was floated forward in the direction of Julio Baptista.

With little support in attack, he shifted the ball onto his right foot and then sent a powerful, looping shot beyond Argentina’s stationary goalkeeper, Roberto Abbondanzieri. After scoring 16 goals in only five matches en route to the final with several devastating displays of attacking football, it was predictable that Argentina’s response would be swift.

Lionel Messi, who has been evoking comparisons with Diego Maradona for his performances during the tournament, found space on the left and crossed for Juan-Sebastian Veron to cushion the ball into the path of Juan Roman Riquelme.

The Boca Juniors play-maker shot sweetly beyond the Brazil goalkeeper Doni but against the post. With a formation designed largely to stifle the creative talent throughout the Argentinian team, Brazil settled into a rhythm which saw them defend resolutely with men behind the ball and look to play on the counter-attack. It was a tactic well suited to the conditions, with temperatures in Venezuela touching 40C.

Despite dominating possession, Argentina looked increasingly frustrated and suffered a potentially shattering blow shortly before half-time.

The Sevilla full-back Daniel Alves had only been on the pitch six minutes following an injury to Elano when he whipped in a low, fizzing cross along the six-yard box.

Roberto Ayala, who was winning his 115th cap, tried to deal with the danger but badly misjudged his clearance and sent the ball beyond Abbondanzieri to give the pre-match underdogs a 2-0 half-time advantage.

Brazil continued to frustrate Argentina early in the second-half as the match become disjointed by a series of free-kicks and yellow cards. Tevez and Messi both tried to find space but found themselves regularly smothered by Brazilian bodies. Alex, who is soon expected to join Chelsea, was particularly dominant at the heart of the defence as Brazil continued to look hugely dangerous when breaking forward.

The pace of Alves was especiallly eye-catching and it was fitting that he should score the 69th minute goal which effectively sealed victory. The 24-year-old galloped beyond the Argentina defence from the right flank and brilliantly directed Vagner Love’s cross beyond Abbondanzieri despite the tight angle.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007 * * * 'Self-esteem' restored

AP

Brazilian coach Carlos Dunga said that winning the Copa America title is good for the self- esteem of the global football giant. “The country is happy because we have recovered the self-esteem of Brazilian football,” Dunga said in a press conference in Maracaibo.

The coach declined to criticise those who doubted Brazil’s potential at the beginning of the tournament. “What we did was to play football, to know how to defend, to attack and to value the talent which our players had, which was more than many thought,” Dunga said.

“Before the game, I told my players not to worry, that they were champions just by having got to the final,” Dunga said. “The winning formula was not so complicated. You have to have the ball, and when you do not have it you have to keep your balance. Everything has to be very simple.”

Dunga had conceded ahead of the final that Argentina was the favourite, “given the goals and the game it showed during the tournament.”

“We grew during the tournament,” Dunga said. “But we always had five or six chances to score in every game. The difference was that sometimes we converted them and sometimes we didn’t. Today we were lucky to convert.”