The Superclassico was no classic but it did offer clues as to the future of Brazilian football
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Saturday is South America day, and here's I Like Football Me 's Euan Marshall with his take on the week's big issues in the region.
On Wednesday night, the inaugural Superclassico das Americas came to a close with the second leg between Brazil and Argentina in Belem. The Superclassico is a revival of the traditional Copa Roca tournament, which Brazil and Argentina contested eleven times from its introduction in 1914 to its final edition in 1976. Brazil came out on top this time, a 2-0 aggregate win against their bitter rivals.
However, not too many conclusions can be drawn from these two matches, as they were contested between squads made up of players exclusively from the Brazilian and Argentine domestic leagues. Thus, Brazil's win came as no surprise. The Brazilian championship is much stronger than that of their neighbours, primarily down to Brazil's vastly superior economic power.
Brazil's strong currency attracts sponsors to its biggest football clubs, and allows them to pay astronomical wages to their players. As a result of this, the overall quality of players in the Brazilian league is significantly higher, illustrated by the fact that Argentina boss Alejandro Sabella decided to bend the rules a little and call up three Argentines that play their club football in Brazil. All three featured in the second leg, two of them (Cruzeiro's Walter Montillo and Internacional's Pablo Guinazu) even played the full 90 minutes.
Wednesday's game was far more interesting than the first leg stalemate two weeks ago in Cordoba, but even then it wasn't quite as 'Super' as its name suggested. Brazil scored twice in the second half through wunderkinder Lucas and Neymar, but the way in which the two goals were scored is perhaps a little worrying for Brazil.
Both goals were scored from counter-attacks, and since their underwhelming performance at the World Cup in 2006, Brazil have been dependant on their quick breaks to defeat teams. The problem with relying on counter-attacking was shown for all to see back in 2010 in their opening World Cup match against North Korea. North Korea defended deep and rarely ventured forward, meaning there was no space in behind them for Brazil to break into.
It is safe to say that at the 2014 World Cup, no-one will be allowing the hosts any joy on the counter-attack. On home soil, Brazil will be considered favourites, and teams that are a lot more defensively capable than North Korea will resort to dropping deep and frustrating the Selecao. It will be up to Brazil to pick apart their opponents by themselves.
Since taking over, coach Mano Menezes has attempted to address this problem, Santos starlet Paulo Henrique Ganso has been used as a number 10 to attempt to develop a more sophisticated passing game throughout the side, but he has yet to settle properly on the national stage and is once again unavailable due to injury, something which could be a long-term issue for this extremely talented youngster.
There were positives on Wednesday night however; great performances throughout the team have really given Menezes some food for thought for when it's time for him to select his next squad.
Sao Paulo's Lucas, the scorer of the first goal, looked impressive throughout, and getting his moment in the limelight will be very important for his development and integration into the international setup. Lucas plays best in the midfield, more specifically on the right side, where he can use his lightning pace and intuitive dribbling skills to rip open opposition defences. However his new coach at club level, Adilson Batista, is playing him in a much higher role than he is used to, almost as a centre forward, which forces him to play with his back to goal. This is not part of Lucas's game whatsoever, and thus he is visibly getting frustrated on the field. This moment of joy and success was vital for him at this time.
Against Argentina, Lucas was allowed to play in a much more familiar position in the midfield, where he ran at opponents and was able to cause them problems. He still needs to work on his awareness in possession though, when he goes on his mazy runs he rarely lifts his head to see what is going on around him.
The other goal scorer, Neymar, is much better known to a worldwide audience, but he has recently struggled to show his true ability when playing for the national team. Wednesday night was different though, Neymar was constantly involved in the match, taking on defenders and displaying his boundless talent. After Brazil scored their opening goal, Neymar was visibly much more comfortable, and he played more flamboyant and entertaining football, much to the appreciation of the home crowd.
Goal scorers aside, my true star of the show was Brazil's left-back Bruno Cortes. In his debut for the national team, he initiated both of the counter-attacks that led to Brazil's two goals, and was imperious throughout, charging up and down the left flank. When he was substituted late in the second half, he had the home fans on their feet, chanting his name. This is all the more surprising when you consider his remarkable journey to get to this point.
This time last year, Cortes was playing for Quissama, a semi-professional team who operate in the second tier of the Rio de Janeiro state championship. He was signed by Nova Iguacu at the end of 2010 and had an extremely impressive campaign in the 2011 Rio state championships, and in April (only five months ago) he was snapped up by Rio giants Botafogo.
With his hard-working approach and wild dreadlocks, he has really endeared himself to the loyal Botafogo support. He maintains a close relationship with the common fan at Botafogo, and after he was recently married in his local branch of popular Arabian fast-food restaurant Habib's, he told journalists, "I'm one of the masses. It is how I've always been and how I always will be."
With Arsenal's Andre Santos disappointing and Real Madrid's Marcelo having fall-outs with Brazil's coaches, there might yet be a place at left back for Cortes.***