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Argentina 3 - 1 Brazil

Both the hosts Argentina and Brazil needed to win this world cup qualifying match in order to be the first South American team to clinch a berth for Germany 2006. Argentina were keen to avenge the two derby defeats against Brazil last year, in the previous qualifier and the Copa América final.

Much talk was made the previous week about the greater talent of Brazilian players compared to their Argentine counterparts. But these comments didn’t come from the Brazilian press or any of its former players. Instead the statements were made by Argentine coach José Pekerman, former Argentine skipper Diego Simeone and Diego Maradona. All three of them admitted that the current world champions always seem to have several players capable of winning a match single-handedly, while Argentina rarely do. Yet all three of them stated that Argentina always have the advantage of a stronger team mentality.

Led by Juan Román Riquelme, Argentina were potent during the first half and Brazil didn’t have a single good shot on goal. Hernán Crespo emulated what he did in the Champions League final for AC Milan, as he touched the ball twice and managed to score both times while Riquelme scored a beautiful second goal to set Argentina up 3-0 at halftime.

Juan Pablo Sorín and Javier Mascherano took care of keeping Brazil’s playmakers Ronaldinho and Kaká at bay. Yet overall it was a magnificent team display.

However, after the interval, things changed dramatically. Ronaldinho moved from midfield to attack, and, aided by Kaká, created many chances, while the hosts did not bother Dida, the Brazilian goalkeeper once. But, unlike Crespo, neither Ronaldhinho, Adriano or Robinho (who was substituted in the 60th minute), were good enough to close the gap. The honour of scoring the losers’ only goal was left to Roberto Carlos who netted a superb 70th minute free kick from outside the area. This demonstrated that Brazil’s performances are linked to their players’ individual acts of brilliance.

A lot of media attention was paid to how the local fans would receive the visitors’ black players (only one of which, Kaká, is white). A few weeks ago an Argentine player, in a Copa Libertadores match between Argentine Quilmes and Brazilian Sao Paolo, was arrested in Brazil for allegedly racially insulting a rival. A lot of controversy surrounded the situation and officials from both countries went through extensive efforts to downplay the situation. Fortunately, on Wednesday racism seemed absent, with the local fans more preoccupied with their traditional “he who doesn’t jump is an Englishman” chants and celebrations to care about race issues.

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