Sunday, July 15, 2007

Un pesto

I watched the Copa América final in an Irish Pub in Belgium, together with a couple of Argentine friends, some local Brazilians I met on the spot, and the (Belgian) waiter of a restaurant I like, who has lived in Niteroi and claims to support Botafogo. He was by a lot far the noisiest chap in the pub, screaming heavily-accented "Só dá Brasil", "É nóis" and a number of "Juiz ladrão" at each small foul at Brazil's half (we made many).

I could write and write about the game - the grittiness of Josue, the precision of Julio Baptista's passing and finishing, and Dunga's brilliant substitution putting Daniel Alves on - but I'll resort to pasting selected comments from Rob Smyth's live coverage of the game at Guardian Unlimited. Enjoy.

1 min Off we go. It's ridiculously hot - about 100 degrees, with the game kicking off at 1705 local time. It'll probably be a more languorous game as a result, which will certainly suit Seba: he has an excuse not to do running!

GOAL! Brazil 1 Argentina 0 (Baptista 4) Julio Baptista has just scored an absolute belter. He ran onto a long, diagonal pass to the left corner of the box from Elano, fronted up the last man Ayala, pushed the ball inside and then just screamed it across goal and into the top corner. Not bad for a fat lad. A superb goal and, yet again, Argentina have to come from behind.

9 min Riquelme hits the post. That was sublime football: Messi got to the byline on the left, drilled it flat to the far post to Veron, who headed it down really smartly for Riquelme, 12 yards out, to spank it on the bounce with his left foot. Doni was well beaten by it smacked off the face of his right-hand post.

20 min A laughably overambitious glory pass from Veron, slashing it right to left, goes straight into Doni's arms. That's £28.1m, right there.

24 min Brazil have been the better side - much more authoritative - and they're having a fairly decent spell of possession at the moment. Tevez still hasn't kicked the ball. "Argentina really do look like the fakers they have been excepting the Maradona years since Passarella hung up his boots," said Gary Naylor. "Had Titus Bramble showed The Beast the only place he could score, we would all point and laugh, but because it's Ayala, we all shake our heads, unable to comprehend. Veron and Riquelme? To select one might be unfortunate - to select two smacks of carelessness." All fair points. A proper journalist would have told you that Ayala's defending on the goal was really poor. I'm not, and didn't.

39 min Veron simply doesn't bother to track the left-back Gilberto, who bursts into the box and drives it low across the face, forcing Heinze to sidefoot it wide of his own post.

GOAL! Brazil 2 Argentina 0 (Ayala og 40) Well. Well. Well. A really slick move led to Alves being released on the right, and he curved in a lovely cross between keeper and defenders at which Ayala, not knowing who was behind him, had no choice but to throw himself. But he was stretching desperately and all he could do was ram it past Abbondanzieri at the near post. It wasn't Ayala's fault really - he had to play it - but it's left Argentina up a creek with no paddle salesmen in sight.

44 min Argentina's burgeoning frustration manifests itself in a deserved booking for Mascherano for beheading some Brazilian. Then, seconds later, he hacks down another Brazilian, a foul for which he might conceivably have received a second yellow.

Half-time chit-chat "Is it time to re-assess Argentina's World Cup 2006?" says Gary Naylor. "They were a bit fortunate to beat Cote D'Ivoire 2-1; then beat an uninterested, disintegrating Serbia and Montenegro, a side who tackled as though playing a testimonial; then drew 0-0 with Holland. Into the knock-out phase, and a very fortunate 2-1 extra time win over Mexico, before going out to Germany on penalties (abjectly). The heirs of unlucky losers Holland 74 or Brazil 82 - don't make me laugh!"

52 min What Brazil have done very well today is the Makelele foul - enough to disrupt a dangerous mate, made to look sufficiently clumsy and innocent to preclude a booking - and there's another on Messi.

56 min Two Makelele fouls on Riquelme fouls in the space of a minute have Riquelme waving imaginary cards at the referee. Brazil's tactic hasn't been edifying but it's so very effective.

57 min Argentina are gone. I hadn't really put 2+2 together before but, as was pointed out in the first half, this golden generation, while blessed with wonderful talent, are damned by the fact that they are almighty bottlers.

58 min Veron makes the first tackle of his career, which so shocks Alex that he squares up to him. Veron flounces a bit and then retreats.

59 min The first substitution: the splendid Pablo Aimar is on for Cambiasso, so now we have three midfield playmakers to go with Brazil's three watercarriers.

More praise for the God-like Juan Veron "Is Veron a Zelig-like figure, always lurking around great events, but not actually part of them?" says Gary Naylor. "I've never - repeat never - seen him have a good game or even look like a footballer." Now that's unfair. He was brilliant against Maccabi Haifa in 2002.

GOAL! Brazil 3 Argentina 0 (Alves 69) Brazil seal the Copa America with a superb goal. Vagner Love led a counter-attack, running at the defence 30 yards out, and slid a perfectly weighted ball inside the left-back (who was actually Riquelme) for Alves to drive it superbly across goal and into the far side-netting. It was a wonderful pass, and a splendid, precise finish from a difficult angle.

75 min Argentina really have been feeble. They make Graeme Hick and Thierry Henry seem like rough-track warriors. Tevez, who has been dreadful, is booked for a petulant hack. Even Messi has gone missing since they went 2-0 down. "Doesn't this Brazil team look so much better without past-it prima-donnas Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos?" says Gary Naylor. "This lot plus Kaka would be an impressive outfit."

78 min Riquelme, an exquisite footballer but a total bottler, thrashes one miles over from 25 yards.

86 min Argentina are so shellshocked that they can't even summon the freedom of the damned, and Brazil continue to repel them with ease. "Is Gary Naylor suggesting that Ronaldinho is nothing without the passes he gets from Deco and that most teams have worked this out?" says Alec Cochrane. "Whereas Kaka forced into widening his game by playing in a defensive league has now surpassed the buck toothed one? Including winning his team a European Cup almost singlehandedly?" That's not fair: Bolo Zenden played a bloody big part in Milan's European Cup win.

Full time: Argentina 0 Brazil 3 Congratulations to Brazil and especially their coach Dunga, who completely outsmarted his opposite number Coco Basile. Brazil were the better side from the moment Julio Baptista welted a screamer in the fourth minutes, and they richly deserve their victory against lily-livered opponents who paid the price for being a ramshackle shower of dreamers. Thanks for your emails. It's been extemporaneous.

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