Daniel Edwards previews a South American clasico being held out in the deserts of Qatar.
At the moment, everything in Brazil seems geared towards hosting and winning the 2014 World Cup, there is no doubt that Mano Menezes' fresh, exciting young team would love to beat their old rivals on home soil and lift the 2011 Copa America. As the two sides prepare to clash in Qatar, Menezes is bound to find out just how likely that is.
New faces such as Ramires, Lucas, Neymar and (currently injured) Ganso have an excellent chance of making South America's premier international competition, but will first have to prove that they can beat top-class opposition. The USA, Iran and Ukraine have all been summarily dispatched in the Menezes era, but Argentina will provide quite a different prospect.
Most Brazilian eyes of course will be focused on one man and one man only: Ronaldinho Gaucho, who has been recalled from the purgatory and uncertainty of the Dunga years and will look to establish himself again alongside the youngsters as the elder statesman of the team. Unpredictable, immensely creative and talented with the ball at his feet, the 30-year-old sums up the move away from the pragmatism of the Dunga era and towards the beautiful football that electrifies Brazilian crowds.
There is no doubt that this will be a tough test for Ronaldinho, Robinho, Dani Alves and their inexperienced colleagues; if they can acquit themselves well, however, and record a win over an Argentina side not short of their own talent, it will be a positive step on a road that leads inexorably to 2011 and beyond.
Checho's charges are weakened, but still a terrifying prospect:
In his first match since taking over the Argentina post on a permanent basis, it can already be seen that Sergio Batista is taking a different approach to his opposite number in renewing a team hurt by World Cup failure. Whereas Menezes opted to hold on to a handful of senior figures in a team dominated by youth, 'Checho' aims to introduce the new wave of Argentine talent in a team not short of powerful, veteran battlers.
Thus, tomorrow's team will be directed in the middle by Javier Pastore, who in recent months has seen his reputation explode as he continues to impress in Palermo. At the other end of the spectrum, we see 37-year-old Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso - who would be a certain starter if not for injury - who have been recalled by Batista after inexplicably missing the World Cup campaign, to bring experience in what is overall a young 'Albiceleste' outfit.
Of course in some ways, Batista's job was always to be more subtle than that of Menezes. Diego Maradona's team for all their faults were regarded as heroes in Buenos Aires on returning, and it was 'El Diego's' tactical naivety which failed the team rather than any real or perceived negativity - whatever you can call Maradona, a pragmatist is not a word that springs to mind.
Early accounts suggest that Checho has indeed been able to fuse the dizzying attacking talent of the Maradona period with a stability and control in the middle, the lack of which was starkly obvious against Germany. With Pastore linking play from number 10 and with the incomparable Lionel Messi continuing to wow football followers week in, week out, Batista has no reason to fear tomorrow's opponents.
As mentioned above Menezes continues his policy of blooding new talent, which means there is still no place for Kaka, Lucio, Julio Cesar, Maicon and the majority of the World Cup squad. Ronaldinho will be there however, on the left of midfield outside Ramires and Corinthians star Elias but with license to drift forward and infield. Up front it is an entirely Santos affair, as with Alexandre Pato unavailable, former Peixe hitman Robinho is joined by his successor at the club, 18-year-old Neymar- who returns to the Selecao after being left out for disciplinary reasons.
Batista has seen his team drop like flies in recent weeks, with Cambiasso, Walter Samuel, both the Milito brothers, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero being ruled out with injury. Nicolas Pareja is set to partner Nicolas Burdisso at the back, while Ever Banega will anchor the midfield with Javier Mascherano just behind linkman Pastore. The 'Albiceleste' also line up a now customary front three, with Lionel Messi and Angel di Maria playing out wide and Gonzalo Higuain fighting off Ezequiel Lavezzi to play at number 9.
Victor, Daniel Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Andre Santos; Lucas, Ramires, Elias, Ronaldinho Gaucho; Neymar, Robinho.
I think one safe bet is that it will be an exciting, end-to-end game of football, and a lot will rest on which defence can best handle the star-studded opposition attack. For that I am going for Zanetti and co. in the Argentine defence to come out on top, 2-1 Argentina.
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