Archive for August, 2008

Nigeria 0-1 Argentina: Albiceleste Retain Their Olympic Crown (OLYMPICS 2008)

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

Four years after the gold in Athens, another 1-0 scoreline confirmed Argentina as Olympic football champions. In 2004, the match-winning goal had been scored by a certain Carlos Tevez; this year in Beijing, salvation came from above. “Little Angel” Di María flapped his celestial wings and delivered a fatal blow to finalists Nigeria, exploiting an inch-perfect pass by Lionel Messi. The real star of the football Olympics obviously, was the the little “atomic flea” from Barcelona: Messi was not even supposed to be here (after the Catalan club had won their late July CAS appeal), but in the end he was the first player to raise his gold medal high in the sky, his first big success with the Selección Argentina.

(From Gazzetta): The biggest highlight of the first half, without a doubt, was the time-out given to both teams by the referee to permit them to… drink. As far as we know this had never happened before in an international competition, but was surely a sensible choice given the extreme local weather situation (32ºC with 35% humidity… not too smart to be playing at noon huh IOC?). Needless to say these conditions naturally favored Nigeria more than Argentina, even though the African 1996 champions suffered a bit early in the match and after the “re-hydration” break (when Riquelme & Co. were playing more lucidly).

The rest of the time though, albeit risky, the offside trap organized by African coach Samson Siasia was working perfectly: Messi and Agüero could combine one-touch passes as much as they wanted, there was always one Nigerian defender glued to the Barcelona striker’s backside. As for the work down the wings of Zabaleta, the Argentine full-back was more effective with his forward runs than his crossing, to say the least. Thus, the only “real” Albiceleste chance to make the 1st half highlights reel was a long-range effort by Luciano Fabián Monzón, deflected without too many problems by Nigerian keeper Ambruse Vanzekin. In contrast the Africans were multiplying their runs down the wings, and progressively increasing their passing accuracy in doing so. In minute 34 Nigeria obtained the biggest chance of the half, as offensive midfielder Promise Isaac successively obtained not one, but two crosses from both sides. Alas for his team his finishing touches left something to be desired.

Catching a break at the half, the Argentines tried to “go for the kill” very early in the second, repositioning Messi in a central role in order to make him dictate play better. A move which was immediately going to pay dividends. After two very good chances in minutes 47 and 50 (a spot-on pass for Agüero and an accurate long-range effort, both well-saved by Vanzekin), the pixie from Barcelona struck the dagger deep into Nigerian hearts: executing a perfect pass for Di María in space, Argentina had their first big opportunity of the match and they were not going to miss it. Just like against Netherlands in overtime, the little Benfica winger did not flinch: a chipped shot over the rushing keeper finally but La Selección in the lead. 1-0 Argentina.

Knowing the final scoreline, it’s fairly easy to guess what happened in the remaining 30 minutes of play. Nigeria were now forced to push forward in order to equalize, giving Argentina acres of space to hit them on the counter-attack. The match suddenly became very vibrant, and although the African team were taking many risks at the back, they were the ones who obtained the most significant scoring chance. Substitute Victor Anichebe notably, was the most dangerous for Nigeria getting behind two very good crossed by Obinna. The Africans were was unlucky however because in both cases, the deflections of powerful center-back Ezequiel Garay and goalkeeper Sergio Romero on the line denied the Everton striker the joy of the equalizer.

Time eventually came to an end, thus giving Argentina a sweet revenge over their lost 1996 final in Atlanta, and re-confirming them Olympic football champions for the second time in a row. For Barcelona this was probably a pretty good operation as well: their star player will now return from Beijing happy, and all the more motivated to win a few extra pieces of silverware this season.


 Nigeria Football Association NIGERIA-ARGENTINA
Asociación del Fútbol Argentino (Argentine Football Association)
GOALSCORERS: 58’ Di María (A)
NIGERIA (4-3-3): Vanzekin – Adefemi, Apam, Adeleye, Okonkwo – Kaita, Isaac (70’ Ekpo), Ajilore – Okoronkwo (64’ Anichebe), Odemwingie, Obinna. (bench: James, Ogbuke Obasi, Ambrose, Ezenwa, Olufemi). Coach: Siasia.
ARGENTINA (4-4-2): Romero – Zabaleta, Garay, Pareja, Monzon – Gago, Riquelme, Mascherano, Di Maria (88’ Banega) – Messi (93’ Lavezzi), Agüero (79’ Sosa). (bench: Fazio, Acosta, Buonanotte, Navarro). Coach: Batista.


Trofeo Birra Moretti 2008-09: Juventus, AC Milan, and Napoli Pre-Season Battle, Bianconeri Win on Penalties

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

Completing the Italian “Triangolare” August bonanza, the Trofeo Birra Moretti took place on Thursday evening, featuring past and present Serie A contenders such as Juventus, AC Milan, and Napoli. Following the Trofeo TIM, this was the last “big” pre-season tournament before the beginning (finally!) of Serie A. A reminder for those who haven’t been paying attention: each game consists of one single half of 45 minutes; should the game still be tied it wil go straight to penalty shots; points are attributed with 3 pts. for a win, 2 pts. for a P.K. win, 1 pt. for a P.K. loss, 0 pts. for a loss.

To be noted there were a large number of absentees due to international call-ups (especially for Juve and AC Milan), which I guess somewhat contributed to the fairly low scorelines (only one goal scored in open play), but in contrast this was a good opportunity for the two Serie A giants to further test their Primavera elements, namely the likes of Giovinco, De Ceglie, Pasquato, Darmian, Antonini, etc. The Bianconeri and Rossoneri “babies” ended up playing a very decent game, especially Sebastian Giovinco who partnered up with Amauri in the Juve attack. Despite he could not find the back of the net, the Beijing Azzurrino playmaker was one of the many positive notes of the night for Juve fans (alongside Rossi and Pasquato), and contributed to his team’s double final victory to penalty shots.

Other highlights worth mentioning: Clarence Seedorf proved once again that despite Ronaldinho’s arrival he isn’t going anywhere near the bench (it would be absolute heresy to keep a player so in form on the sidelines), while the battle for AC Milan nº1 is still very much open (Dida is still struggling with confidence, and despite his 5-goal deficit vs. Chelsea Kalac is on the rise). Finally for Napoli, Reja had some good news with the returns from injury of Fabiano Santacroce and Marcelo Zalayeta: no doubt the two players will be very important elements for this year’s Serie A campaign.

Napoli vs. Juventus

S.S.C. NapoliJuventus F.C.

(From Gazzetta): Between injuries and international duty, Claudio Ranieri was dealing with the absence of at least a dozen players, thus forcing the Juve manager to field a very young team (completed by Pavel Nedved and the tireless Nicola Legrottaglie, who not only 24 hours earlier was playing in Nice with Italy).

Five days before the important UCL return leg vs. Artmedia Bratislava, all eyes were on baby-talent Paolo De Ceglie and Sebastian Giovinco. The Juve left-back confirmed he is developing into a very solid player (Molinaro will have serious competition this year), while the ex-Empoli playmaker litterally brought the Stadio San Paolo to their feet with touches of class and a near-goal in the final minutes.

For Napoli, coach Edy Reja had to do without Marek Hamsik, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Daniele Mannini, and Nicolás Navarro, fielding the returning Marcelo Zalayeta (back from his March knee-ligament injury and still not in top form) and Serie A-promotion hero Roberto De Zerbi (probably destined for a lot of bench time this year but still very dangerous on set pieces).

Effectively, the two teams would not try too much in this game, both midfields somewhat struggling to provide adequate support up front. As a result only an Ekdal-Rossi combination for Juve (wide) and a Rinaudo close-range opportunity (stemming from yet another pre-season mistake by Chimenti) were worth of inclusion into the highlights reel. Amauri’s movement in the Juve attack was good but lacked accuracy, so the penalty shoot-out epilogue really surprised no one. De Zerbi made the only mistake from 12 yards, giving the Bianconeri the first P.K. win of the night.


0-0 (4-5 p.s.o.)
[Match Highlights]
 Juventus F.C.
PENALTY SHOOTOUT: De Zerbi (N) saved, S.Esposito (J) goal, Zalayeta (N) goal, Nedved (J) goal, Blasi (N) goal, Giovinco (J) goal, Vitale (N) goal, Salihamidzic (J) goal, P.Cannavaro (N) goal, Amauri (J) goal.
NAPOLI (3-5-2): Iezzo – Santacroce, P.Cannavaro, Rinaudo – Montervino, Pazienza, Blasi, Amodio, Vitale – De Zerbi, Zalayeta. (Coach: Reja).
JUVENTUS (4-4-2): Chimenti – Salihamidzic, Legrottaglie, Ariaudo, De Ceglie – F.Rossi (23′ S.Esposito), Sissoko, Ekdal, Nedved – Giovinco, Amauri. (Coach: Ranieri)


Napoli vs. AC Milan

S.S.C. NapoliA.C. Milan

Alberto Paloschi finally got some satisfaction on Thursday, as he scored his first pre-season goal for AC Milan this year (and this despite the many matches played as a starter, due to the current Rossoneri strikers drought). The final 1-0 Milan scoreline makes sense, because Carlo Ancelotti’s team played with more determination and desire to score, lead by youngn’s Darmian, Albertazzi, Viudez and Cardacio, and complemented by the evergreen Seedorf and Inzaghi.

Speaking of Super Pippo, the Milan striker had to leave the field due to injury midway through the game (nothing serious, but apparently the same thigh which has been persecuting him for a while now), but not before he came very close to the match opener (shortly imitated by Seedorf). As for Napoli they never even got close to Dida, who despite this fact still managed to give Rossoneri supporters some scares (such as on a Russotto cross-shot in minute 17 and a stumble over Favalli a few minutes later).

With the playing rhythm remaining low, it was hard for both coaches to determine who was playing well and who wasn’t. Reja however could be satisfied with the performances of Luigi Vitale (explosive on the left wing) and Fabiano Santacroce, even sending striker German Denis (another international-duty survivor) in for a few minutes.

In the end, AC Milan pushed forward just a little more and obtained the aforementioned Paloschi-goal, the result of a good pass by Viudez and an involuntary deflection of Paolo Cannavaro. 1-0 Milan the final score.


[Match Highlights]
A.C. Milan
GOALSCORERS: 44’ Paloschi (M)
MILAN (4-3-1-2): Dida – Antonini, Darmian, Favalli, Albertazzi – Cardacio, Ambrosini, Brocchi – Seedorf – Paloschi, F.Inzaghi (23′ Viudez). (Coach: Ancelotti).
NAPOLI (3-5-2): Gianello – Santacroce, Rinaudo (23′ P.Cannavaro), Grava – Maggio, Montervino (32′ Denis), Blasi (23′ Pazienza), Amodio, Vitale (23′ Lacrimini) – Russotto, Pià. (Coach: Reja).


Juventus vs. AC Milan

Juventus F.C.A.C. Milan

Compared to their anti-Napoli formations, Ancelotti replaced Dida and Inzaghi with Kalac and Viudez, while Ranieri introduced Molinaro, Tiago and Pasquato for De Ceglie, Sissoko, and Giovinco. Not many changes therefore, and not many goals either… but plenty of chances to spare.

Very early on actually Kalac gave comforting signs to the AC Milan faithful, flying in style to parry a good short-range Amauri header. In minute 12, an excellent combination between Nedved, Rossi and Pasquato (already a big protagonist during the Trofeo Berlusconi a few days ago) put the young Juve striker in great position to score, but a loss of balance resulted in a shot miles over the bar.

To say the least, Juventus were playing better during these 45 minutes, but once again lacked in the finishing department. Penalty shots were thus once again necessary to determine a winner, with the mistakes of Amauri, Ambrosini, and Favalli proving decisive for the final Bianconeri victory.


0-0 (5-4 p.s.o.)
[Match Highlights]
A.C. Milan
PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Seedorf (M) goal, Ariaudo (N) goal, Brocchi (M) goal, Chimenti (J) goal, Paloschi (M) goal, Legrottaglie (J) goal, Osuji (M) goal, Pasquato (J) goal, Ambrosini (M) wide, Amauri (J) saved, Favalli (M) saved, Molinaro (J) goal.
JUVENTUS (4-4-2): Chimenti – Salihamidzic (35′ Duravia), Legrottaglie, Ariaudo, Molinaro – F.Rossi, Tiago, Ekdal, Nedved (36′ Castiglia) – Pasquato, Amauri. (Coach: Ranieri).
MILAN (4-3-1-2): Kalac – Antonini, Darmian, Favalli, Albertazzi – Cardacio (23′ Strasser), Brocchi (23′ Pasini), Ambrosini – Seedorf – Paloschi, Viudez (34′ Osuji). (Coach: Ancelotti).


Italy 2-2 Austria: Did Anyone Say “Friendly Match”?

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

Don’t let the above picture fool you. Despite the “friendly” intentions of Austria’s nº16 on Gennaro Gattuso (sorry, couldn’t resist…), Italy vs. Austria seemed, at times, anything but friendly. In fact as soon as they were up by two goals, the Austrians thought this could very well be exploit-day for them. Fortunately for the Azzurri, the Austrian reserve keeper had other plans…

In all seriousness though, this was not a very good come-back for Marcello Lippi. Relatively speaking, it was better than his first debut match (which had ended with a 2-0 loss to Iceland, back in 2004), but that in itself is no excuse to dismiss Wednesday night’s poor performance. Against the Austrians the Azzurri lacked a bit of cynicism close to goal, were a bit unattentive in defense, and also suffered a little bit from bad luck. All these “bits” added up in the end, materializing in two avoidable goals and a 0-2 half-time deficit. Well… 1-2 actually, with Gilardino’s “shot” marking the stoppage time of the first half.

In the second half, Italy’s “fighting spirit” and “determination” rose above the rest, and the Azzurri played somewhat better. It’s ironic then, that the equalizing goal came through yet another “gift” from the Austrian defence, specifically their keeper who punched the ball into his own net (insert comic trombone music). In Italy’s defense: this was an August friendly, the players’ form & fitness is still far from optimal. Not a match to make Azzurri history this one though, that’s for sure…

Oh and by the way: you can’t see it but right after the above picture was taken, Gattuso made a two-footed tackle sending nº16 flying. Seriously Austrian dude… what were you thinking? It’s Ringhio for God’s sake!

(From Gazzetta): NICE (France) - The first match of Lippi’s second coming was better than his first. Italy overcame a two-goal deficit to end up drawing 2-2 against Austria: a modest score but certainly better than the 0-2 loss in Iceland (Lippi’s very first debut as Azzurri coach). Besides, didn’t that loss in 2004 open up a new cycle of victories, which ended up as we all know two years later?

Anyways, not much more to say about Wednesday night’s friendly match in Nice. Worth the mention: the Italian fighting spirit (the Azzurri knew how to turn the tables in an evening that didn’t begin well) and Aquilani’s performance (a big factor in the team’s improvement in the 2nd half). The three men in up front however, played poorly. There was not a lot of strength in midfield, with some synchronism problems worth reviewing, and Del Piero proved not to be very efficient on the wing (but what else is new?). Much better was his performance as a trequartista, when Italy switched to a diamond formation.

FALSE START – Italy’s first half was, to put it plainly, not good. The Italian side started well, obtaining a couple of chances through Zambrotta (good save by Manninger on a left-footed long-ranger) and Gilardino (header too soft & too central) . In minute 14 the match turned on its head, as Austria opened the score on their first visit close to Buffon’s net: Emanuel Pogatetz was quicker than Zambrotta as he anticipated a cross, slamming the ball under the crossbar with a powerful half-volley. 1-0 Austria. The 15,000 fans who had gathered in the stadium (in large majority pro-Italy) fell silent. The Azzurri tried to reply shortly after, with an almost knee-jerk reaction by Gilardino who got through on goal, but Manninger came out and took control of the situation.

IMPASSE – Italy were still in a fix, especially because they couldn’t hold their own in attack: too long on the passes and with too much space between strikers and midfield. The only real danger came through the wing runs by Zambrotta and Grosso, which made Austria feel incredulous at first but then gradually more confident as they got their counterattacks organized. And on their second shot of the game, Brückner’s men scored again: Marc Janko may have had a bit of help from Barzagli, but what was most worrisome was the general laxism of Italy’s defense on the play. 2-0 Austria.

GILA TIME – At this point, seeing the “tridente” wasn’t working Lippi tried to use Del Piero as a second striker. This in turn re-shuffled Di Natale on the left wing, which gave its desired results in the last minute of stoppage time: through on goal, the Udinese forward crossed the ball to Gilardino, who with a bit of help from Stranzl (the Austrian defender actually cleared the ball onto him) put Italy back in it. 2-1. Certainly not standing ovation-worthy, but a critical goal nonetheless.

DRAW- The second half permitted a few changes in Italy’s ranks (Legrottaglie, Dossena, Aquilani, and Perrotta for Bonera, Grosso, Pirlo, and Gattuso), who then reverted to a diamond formation: De Rossi in front of the defence, Aquilani and Perrotta on the sides, Del Piero behind the strikers. It seemed to work fairly well: the Juventus captain immediately a good chance in front of Manninger, but missed his chipped shot by a hairbreadth (picture the same chance he got in the 2006 semi-final, but wide).

Italy grew stronger, more compact and orderly, and eventually managed to tie the game. It was an unfortunate attempt by the backup goalkeeper Ozcan, who anticipated an aerial pass to Del Piero but whose punching clearance ended up into his own net. A goal which in Italy, one typically calls a “gollonzo”. 2-2.

The match was still open. Aquilani, very energetic, revitalised and displayed quality in the Italian side. In return, Maierhofer tried to counter for the Austrians. Our response to their attack included failed attempts by Legrottaglie (headed corner well-saved by Ozcan) and Di Natale. Based on their performance tonight though, a 3-2 victory would have been a bit much for the Azzurri…


 Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio ITALY-AUSTRIA
[Match Highlights]
Österreichischer Fußball-Bund (Austrian Football Association)
GOALSCORERS: 14’ Pogatetz (A), 39’ Janko (A), 45’ Gilardino (I), 67’ o.g. Oczan (I)
ITALY (4-3-3): Buffon – Zambrotta (70’ Cassetti), Bonera (46’ Legrottaglie), Barzagli, Grosso (46’ Dossena) – De Rossi, Pirlo (46’ Aquilani), Gattuso (45’ Perrotta) – Di Natale, Gilardino, Del Piero (74’ Palombo). (bench: Amelia, Camoranesi, Iaquinta). Coach: Lippi.
AUSTRIA (4-1-4-1): Manninger (46’ Oczan) – Garics, Prodl, Stranzl, Pogatetz (58’ Leitgeb) – Scharner (46’ Gercaliu) – Harnik (72’ Hoffer), Saumel, Ivanschitz (86’ Linz), Fuchs – Janko (65’ Maierhofer). (bench: Standfest, Klenast). Coach: Bruckner.


Italy vs. Austria Preview – The Return of Marcello…

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

Italy FA (Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio)Österreichischer Fußball-Bund (Austrian Football Association)

Goalkeepers: Buffon (Juventus), Amelia (Palermo)
Defenders: Barzagli (Wolfsburg), Bonera (Milan), Cassetti (Roma), Dossena (Liverpool), Grosso (Lyon), Legrottaglie (Juventus), Zambrotta (Milan)
Midfielders: Aquilani (Roma), Camoranesi (Juventus), De Rossi (Roma), Gattuso (Milan), Palombo (Sampdoria), Perrotta (Roma), Pirlo (Milan)
Forwards: Del Piero (Juventus), Di Natale (Udinese), Gilardino (Fiorentina), Iaquinta (Juventus)

After their not-so-glorious Euro 2008 epilogue, Italy step back onto the field tonight against Austria, an international friendly which will also mark the big return of 2006 winning manager Marcello Lippi (back at the team’s helm after almost a 2-year sabbatical). Marcello’s mission will be, first and foremost, to re-motivate the group after their European championship fiasco, and incorporate young prospects into the already well-established “core” of veteran players. Needless to say, we are bound to see some changes compared to the “usual suspects” from the Donadoni era.

The call-ups for today’s friendly for instance already contained a few surprises, such as the returns of Alberto Gilardino and Vincenzo Iaquinta (who had to skip Euro 2008 due respectively to poor form and injury), as well as the inclusion of Daniele Bonera, Marco Cassetti, Andrea Dossena, and Angelo Palombo. Lippi’s “list of 20″ also includes some of the main “senators” from the 2006 World Cup (Del Piero, Grosso, Zambrotta, Perrotta… to name a few), while the most notable absentees (so far) from the Donadoni-era are Antonio Cassano (probably not fully fit yet), as well as Christian Panucci and Massimo Ambrosini (both of whom Lippi was never a big fan). Fabio Cannavaro, Marco Materazzi, Giorgio Chiellini, Alessandro Gamberini, Riccardo Montolivo, and Luca Toni on the other hand, were kept out due to injury problems.

Marcello Lippi’s press-conference in Coverciano gave a few hints Monday on the general playing philosphy, as well as the type of players, the Italian coach will be seeking for this Azzurri group.

Italy FA (Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio)It Is time once again to win something, Italian football has not lost its value, quality, and potential over these last two years. (…) With 4-5 new entries this team has still a lot to give and a lot to say.” said Lippi.

Our main objective now, will be to re-create the pyschological prerequisites needed to build a winning group. We have the luck and the privilege to be defending the world champions title, even though there is an enormous difference between now and four years ago, back when football in Italy had acquired a bad image and we needed to come together as a team. Today, the team might have “aged” a little, but we still have the same basic core of reliable players which we can’t forget“.

However, Lippi pointed out future team call-ups will not be made on the basis of gratitude. “Even though I will always be grateful to the veterans of this team, my call-ups will be based on merit alone. In particular, above all I will ask the players to put themselves at the service of the team. Schemes and tactical modules come second.”

For further info and one-on-one interviews with Lippi, you can check out the following articles here on mCalcio:

Anti-Austria Line-Up

As per tradition, Lippi has been quite secretive with regards to line-up revelations. In fact, the Azzurri themselves did not know who would be starting tonight until very early this morning. Based on form and “common sense” however, we can hypothesize a 4-3-3 formation and the following.

Buffon is a given in goal, while the back-line leaves very few details to imagination as well: Zambrotta, Bonera, Barzagli, and Grosso are the elected candidates. A surprise here could be the inclusion of Legrottaglie (called in replacement of Chiellini) in place of Bonera.

In midfield, Pirlo should provide the playmaking duties, completed by Gattuso and De Rossi.

Finally up front, Monday Lippi seemed to be seduced with the idea of an attacking trio, composed namely by Del Piero, Gilardino, and Di Natale. “That’s one way we could play” said the coach. “It’s a fascinating solution but it requires the strikers to be attentive during the defensive phase as well. With Camoranesi I could have had other options perhaps, but I preferred not to risk aggravating his injury (note: Camoranesi will most likely have to skip tonight’s match).” Based strictly on form though, the hypothesis of an ADP-Gila-Iaquinta trio seems far more likely.

Italy vs. Austria, kick-off time 20:45 CET.

Argentina 3-0 Brazil: Seleçao Taught a Lesson in Futból (OLYMPICS 2008)

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

Just like a sheet of paper from a page-a-day-calendar, Argentina ripped Brazil out of the stack, crunched it up, made a little paper ball, did a few juggles and then backheeled it into the trash. Everyone was anticipating this game as the final-before-the final in these 2008 Beijing Football Olympics, and boy did we not get disappointed.

Three goals to nil are a fierce but realistic goal difference, and the two red cards earned by the Auriverde (frustrated by an immense Javier Mascherano) will provide historical evidence this was indeed a severe beating inflicted on their rivals by Argentina. At the very least, a sweet sweet revenge from last year’s Copa America final, lost 3-0 in Maracaibo. Something tells us that in the next few hours, Dunga’s tenure as head of the Brazilian national team (already under severe criticism for poor performances in the World Cup qualifiers) will be severely at risk.

(From Gazzetta): EARLY INCANDESCENCE – As expected from a fixture like this one, Tuesday’s match took very little time to catch fire. In minute 2, Ronaldinho (bestowed with the usual playmaking duties alongside Diego) delivered an inch-perfect assist for Rafael Sobis, who (alas for Brazil) missed his control inside the box. With Argentina forced into their own half, it almost seemed as if this Brazilian team had abandonded their defensive focus à la sauce Dunga (this despite the three-defensive-midfielder line) and was back to the Samba-style footy everyone loves. Almost.

On the other end, Argentina had fielded 3 men behind lone striker Sergio Agüero, namely the always reliable Riquelme and Messi (on fire today, once again) and the little pixie from the 2007 U-20 World Cup in Canada, Ángel Di María (just recently signed on by Benfica). The Argentine winger was virtually everywhere on the field, almost causing Breno to an early own goal (min. 5) and then later setting up Agüero in perfect position to strike. The Atletico Madrid forward however, was quite evidently impressed by his “father-in-law’s” presence in the stands (he is dating Giannina Maradona), because his good dribble on Alex Silva was followed by a shot wide of the mark. No worries for Argentina though, “El Kun” would unwind in great style later in the game…

AURIVERDE STRIKERS NEEDED – Once again, Brazil was quite handicapped by the absence of a real striker up front (poor Rafael Sobis was trying his best to carry the weight of the attack by himself), and this rendered the good work of Rafinha and Marcelo down the wings, as well as that of Ronaldinho (almost playing the pass-without-moving “relay-man”) rather futile. In turn, the devastating runs of Messi were keeping the Brazilian defense very much on their toes, all the while the strong, physical work of Gago and Zabaleta were being met play-by-play by the (also strong) Anderson and Lucas Leiva.

However, Brazil were progressively forced to backtrack, so much so that in minute 52, a small step on the gas pedal was enough for Argentina to take the lead (and within minutes, to quickly transform it into a 2-goal advantage). Both tallies were the result of some good work by Di Maria, who first armed a powerful shot from the left side (deflected by Agüero’s torso into the net), then set up Lionel Messi for another devastating horizontal run, finalized by Zabaleta’s right-side cross to a wide-open “El Kun” (min. 58). 1-0 and 2-0 Argentina in the span of 6 minutes.

In addition of paying for their lack of initiative, Brazil were also dealing with considerable bad luck because just after the first goal, the bottom part of the Albiceleste post got hit by a Sobis long-range effort, shortly followed by a Ronaldinho free-kick. On the developments of the latter play Alexandre Pato (on for Sobis) finally found the net, but the goal was disallowed for offside.

BRAZIL SEES RED – The match effectively came to an end in minute 76, from the spot-kick, after a foul in the box by Breno on Agüero. Juan Román Riquelme did the honors, putting Argentina 3-0 up and virtually sealing the game for his team. Before the full-time whistle however, there was still time for Lucas and Thiago Neves to get sent to an early shower, as they earned a red for “use of excessive force” on Javier Mascherano.

Despite their two-man advantage however Argentina put on the brakes, probably out of pity for their now-defunct opponents. No doubt Brazil will very soon rise from their ashes but in the meantime, the Olympics remain the only tournament still escaping them. As for Argentina, they will have the opportunity on Saturday for an Atlanta ’96 re-match: indeed, Nigeria are the only thing left between them and a gold medal.


Asociación del Fútbol Argentino (Argentine Football Association) ARGENTINA-BRAZIL
[Match Highlights]
Confederação Brasileira de Futebol (Brazilian Football Confederation)
GOALSCORERS: 52′, 58′ Agüero (A), 76′ Riquelme (A)
ARGENTINA (4-2-3-1): Romero – Zabaleta, Garay, Pareja, Monzon – Gago, Mascherano – Di Maria, Riquelme (90′ Sosa), Messi – Agüero. (bench: Navarro, Fazio, Banega, Lavezzi, Acosta). Coach: Batista.
BRAZIL (4-3-1-2): Renan – Rafinha, Alex Silva, Breno, Marcelo – Hernanes (61′ Thiago Neves), Lucas, Anderson – Diego (77′ Jo) – Sobis (61′ Pato), Ronaldinho. (bench: Diego Alves, Thiago Silva, Ramires, Ilsinho). Coach: Dunga.