Argentina 3-0 Brazil
BEIJING -- From the outset of Tuesday's Olympic semifinal between Brazil and Argentina, the Auriverde basically dared someone other than Lionel Messi to beat them. And for 52 minutes it worked. But then Sergio 'El Kun' Aguero called Brazil's bluff, scoring two second half goals and winning a penalty for good measure as he lead Argentina to a 3-0 win, and a spot in Saturday's final against Nigeria.
'This was like a final for us,' said Aguero. 'Beating Brazil is the best thing.' Argentina manager Sergio Batista added: 'I have always believed that [Aguero] has got great skill and talent. Even though his performances were not at his best earlier in the tournament, he played as we know he can today. That's what made a difference in the whole game, and I hope he plays the same in the final.'
But perhaps the bigger shock of the night was Brazil's approach. Not only did Anderson play the role of Messi's shadow, but midfield running mate Lucas was given a similar task on Riquelme. Who had ever heard of a Brazilian team sacrificing two midfielders to play man-marking roles? Certainly not Argentina.
'It was surprising because sometimes Anderson was playing as a fullback,' said Argentine midfielder Javier Mascherano.
With Anderson otherwise engaged, and with attackers Ronaldinho and Diego effectively shackled by Argentina's defence, Brazil were entirely dependent on their full-backs to generate any kind of attack. Brazil certainly have talent at that position, and a penetrating run from Rafinha nearly put the Seleção on top in the 12th minute, when his cross just eluded Rafael Sobis at the near post. But those kinds of chances proved scarce on the day.
Oddly, Brazil refused to apologize for their game plan, one that when combined with two late red cards to Lucas and Thiago Neves, made their style barely recognizable for much of the match.
Lucas insisted that the plan to man-mark Messi and Riquelme was 'a group decision.' Dunga meanwhile stressed that, 'You can't keep everything like in the 1960's,' while also applauding the effectiveness of England's World Cup-winning team of 1966. No disrespect to Sir Bobby Charlton et al, but such praise is downright rare from a Brazilian head coach.
But while questions abound about the state of Brazil's style, there are no such concerns for Argentina. Not only does the Albiceleste appear to be reaching their peak, but the fact that the team is getting contributions from players other than Messi and Riquelme certainly bodes well for the final. And if Nigeria challenges the other performers in Argentina's lineup to beat them, that's a dare the Albiceleste will be only too happy to accept.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes for Center Line soccer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.