ARGENTINA'S World Cup qualifier at home to Brazil on Tuesday night is unlikely to descend into September’s farce in Sao Paulo – when the game was interrupted by Brazilian health officials seeking to expel Argentina’s Premier League players.
This one will go the full ninety minutes – and looks like a rare treat.
Brazil have already qualified for Qatar, and Argentina have all but mathematically booked their place.
There is no pressure, then, of a desperate search for points. Instead, there is the opportunity to prepare for the World Cup by taking on a top quality rival – both teams are unbeaten in the marathon campaign.
And there is also the question of bragging rights between two of the world’s great football nations, the countries that can claim to have produced the best ever players in the history of the global game.
This is what makes Argentina vs Brazil so special. There is no background of war between them. It is pure footballing rivalry.
Not including the aborted game in Sao Paulo, this will be the ninth World Cup qualifier between them. It is a tradition that only began in the current century, with the 2002 campaign.
And while Argentina won the recent Copa America on Brazilian soil, beating the hosts in the final, when it comes to World Cup qualification, there is no doubt that Brazil are on top.
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They have won four games to Argentina’s two, with two matches drawn, scoring 16 goals and conceding eight.
Three of the goals they scored came from one of the finest individual displays I have ever seen.
It was mid 2004, and the teams were meeting in the Germany 2006 qualifiers. The great, original Ronaldo had worked out the importance of the occasion.
This was to be the biggest match he ever played for his country on home soil – and it took place in what, for him, was a second home. The venue was the Mineirao stadium in Belo Horizonte, the venue where a decade earlier he first made his name as a skinny kid with Cruzeiro.
By 2004, of course, he was no longer a skinny kid. He had blown up into perhaps the best match of pace and power running with the ball that the game has ever seen, and he was inspired by the occasion.
TIME FOR ARGENTINA?
Marcelo Bielsa’s Argentina played most of the football, weaving pretty patterns all over the field. But they simply could not cope with Ronaldo. Three times he burst through the defence. Three times he was fouled. Three times he picked himself up to score from the penalty spot.
A year later Ronaldo was out of action and not part of the squad that travelled down to Buenos Aires for the return match. By this time Bielsa had resigned, and his replacement Jose Pekerman was building a team round the subtle talents of playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme.
Brazil picked an ultra-attacking side, gave Riquelme too much room and found themselves 3-0 down at half time. They roared back after the break.
Roberto Carlos scored a screamer from a free kick, Adriano hit the post, but 3-1 was the final score at the end of another classic from the great South American rivals.
It is the last time that Argentina beat Brazil in World Cup qualification. They will hope to put that right on Tuesday. We neutrals should just be hoping for a game worthy of the tradition.
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