BARCELONA – Neymar's been called in for Wednesday's Americas Superclasico, much to the chagrin of his club. (Photo: GETTY IMAGES / AFP PHOTO / DANIEL GARCIA).
Anyone believing the return leg of the Americas Superclasico between Brazil and Argentina isn't so important will have a difficult time explaining that in Belem, northern Brazil, where the two South American sides meet on Wednesday night. There were an estimated 25,000 screaming fans at the Mangueirão stadium for Brazil's training session on Monday as the players went through the paces - a higher attendance for a training session than at many first division games.
And for Mano Menezes the fixture is another opportunity, if not a test, to pick up an important win and allay some of the mounting criticism of his team. Brazil disappointed in Cordoba two weeks ago, the coach admitting this week "we need to improve on the first game" where, despite the final 0-0 score, his side were poor, especially in the first half.
Under Menezes, Brazil have yet to take a scalp that fully appeases the critics and convinces supporters that the project is moving in the right direction. Argentina, France and Germany have all defeated Brazil in friendlies, and the side failed to pass the quarter final stage of the Copa America. While the Americas Superclasico may feature teams of locally-based players and not carry the same weight as the full national team, defeating any Argentina side is hardly going to dent a Brazil coach's reputation.
But despite the local support for the team in Belem and the importance for Menezes, this excitement and sense of relevance is not shared by all those involved. Twnety-one-year-old Mário Fernandes simply didn't show up at the airport to travel north with the team. The Gremio defender released a statement citing stress as his reason for pulling out.
While Menezes and the Brazil federation, CBF, digested this news, there was also dissent from Santos. With Neymar once again the star attraction in this Brazil side, along with Ronaldinho Gaúcho, the reigning Copa Libertadores champions are failing to see where they benefit from the deal that sees their striker feature so regularly for the national team. Already spending 106 days with the national team this year (between friendlies, Copa America and under-20 commitments), Santos say that by the end of the year Neymar will have missed a total of 18 games for his club.
Neymar is one of four players called up from Santos (Borges, Danilo and Rafael are the other three), so perhaps the peixe will sympathize with the complaint emanating from the Bombonera, down in Argentina. League leaders Boca Juniors have 5 players called up by Alejandro Sabella - keeper Augusto Orión, defender Clemente Rodriguez, midfielder Cristián Chávez and forwards Pablo Mouche and Lucas Viatri. The midweek, eight-hour journey to northern Brazil does not feature highly on Boca coach Julio Falcioni's list of training and preparation for the following weekend's league fixture.
Were it not for a reported injury picked up on Sunday, Juan Román Riquelme would be the sixth Boca player to travel with the Argentina squad. As it is, the absence of Riquelme is the biggest disappointment, both for many supporters but also for Sabella. In imperious form for Boca this season, Riquelme would offer the national team a serious alternative in the creative hub of the side. Suspicions were raised about Riquelme pulling out of the fixture, with other clubs such as Lanús - challenging Boca near the top of the table - suggestions there was pressure placed on Sabella to leave out certain players.
Of course, this is one of the central problems to the idea behind the Americas Superclasico. Both sets of local media and supporters long to see the locally-based players in a more prominent role with the full national team. They are often seen as more committed to the cause, unlike those who emigrated, and the chance to take on their neighbors is the perfect opportunity to stake a claim in the full national team setup.
But with the league in full swing, and both Brazil and Argentina playing out dizzying calendars, coaches and clubs are reluctant to see their players turn out for the country.
The same may not be the case for the players, especially those given a late call up for the national team. Santos striker and top scorer in the league Borges makes his debut with the Seleção in the absence of Leandro Damião, whose astonishing piece of skill lit up the first leg. With 19 goals in the Brasileirão (six more than Damião and Ronaldinho) and at the age of 30, Borges is being handed a late chance with the national team.
For Argentina, in the absence of Riquelme - not to mention Andres D'Alessandro, who was included in Sabella's squad but also pulled out with injury - Walter Montillo has the opportunity to impress. "I've probably fallen off the radar in Argentina," he said earlier this week, "after leaving the country a while ago." Montillo has impressed at Cruzeiro, however, and has the chance to make his debut with the full national team, having taken part in the Under-20 World Cup in 2003, sharing the squad with the likes of Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez. At the age of 27, he has his first opportunity with the national team.
Montillo heads the group of Brazil-based Argentines in Sabella's squad, with Daniel Guiñazú and Mario Bolatti, both at Internacional, also included. But given his performance in Roasrio, there will be special interest to see how Velez Sarsfield's midfielder Hector Canteros performs, singled out by Ronaldinho as the man of the match in the first leg.