KUALA LUMPUR – Given its very name, the Americas Superclasico is a fixture that inevitably has to work hard to live up to its own hype. Having brought the Brazil-Argentina duel back to life after it was last played in 1976, under the previous moniker of the Roca Cup, there was, however, mixed reaction to the fixture this year.
Brazil won the first trophy thanks to a comfortable 2-0 win over Argentina in Belem, northern Brazil. But with eight more trophies agreed between the two football federations, they may have to look at tweaking the timing and organisation of the competition for future editions.
In front of 43,000 home fans in Belem, Mano Menezes side were far more attacking and ambitious in their game plan on Wednesday night, with the Brazil coach publicly demanding an improvement from his side on the 0-0 draw in the first leg.
But ahead of the first of the two legs of this cup, Brazil were clear favorites. With only locally based players eligible for the superclasico, the impressive financial clout of the Brazilian league was fully expected to flex its muscle and comfortably see off any challenge from its Argentine counterpart. A goalless first match between the two in Cordoba was as much a reflection of Brazil's lethargy as it was Argentina's tactical discipline and work ethic. But the difference in class of player on show for the two sides was undeniable.
So it was in the second leg that while Brazil fielded an attacking line up of Ronaldinho, Neymar, Borges and Lucas, Argentina responded with five defenders and a lone striker in Lucas Viatri.
Argentina were robust in defence in the first half, particularly centrebacks Desábato and Dominguez conceding freekicks on the edge of the area that Ronaldinho hit over the bar. The Flamengo playmaker, one of the flagship signings in the Brazil league highlighting just how strong the football economy is, was imprecise with his passing in the first half.
Yet while Ronaldinho required close attention from the Argentine midfield and defence, and so too did Neymar, it afforded other players space. Particularly impressive was left-back Bruno Cortes who grew in confidence and was a threat going forward.
São Paolo's Lucas, meanwhile, was excellent. A bloodied shirt from an unintentional elbow from Argentina's left back Papa perhaps energized and motivated him. It wasn't quite Damião's audacious skill, but minutes later Lucas knocked the ball past Papa, and scurried past him on the other side to collect the ball, and mark his territory. His goal in the second half, Brazil's first, was a cool finish after a breakaway where he displayed formidable pace, not to mention confidence by finishing himself, rather than squaring the ball for an unmarked Neymar.
Where this fixture game Lucas the stage to put in as strong a claim for a regular first team place under Menezes as possible, his opposite number Emiliano Papa will want to forget the Brazil series. Victim of the Damião flick and then Lucas' skill, the Velez full back also bundled the ball past his keeper Augustín Orión for Brazil's second. Neymar claimed the goal, and dutifully celebrated it with his teammates with a pre-planned dance by the corner flag, but in truth it was Papa's touch that put the ball in the net.
Argentina's performance will have changed little in Alejandro Sabella's mind in terms of team selection for the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers. Hector Canteros continued on from his impressive performance in midfield from the first leg, but was able to dictate play to a lesser extent. Walter Montillo, making his debut with the full national team, fulfilled his role as the advanced playmaker but perhaps won't have done enough to earn a recall.
As globoesporte.com pointed out, Argentina may not have had all their stars (Argentina were without Juan Román Riquelme and Juan Sebastián Verón, two players who would have added a great deal to the side) 'but Argentina is always Argentina, right Mano?' There will always be prestige surrounding this fixture and the rivalry between the two countries ensures that, making it an important win for Menezes.
But while there were high expectations in Brazil and the win is highly valued, the same could not be said of Argentina. Many supporters felt the national team shirt was devalued by players who wouldn't normally be remotely close to consideration for the squad taking prominent roles in the team.
The agreement between the two federations is for eight Americas Superclasicos in the coming years. But given the health of the two leagues, it is almost impossible to imagine an Argentina side truly matching and pushing a Brazil team with locally based players, and that competitiveness is what the fixture needs to live up to its name.