Don't say it too loudly if you're on holiday in either country, but at the moment the national football teams of great rivals Brazil and Argentina have a little more in common than they'd like to admit. The most recent round of qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup featured a few surprises, but none more so than disapppointing draws on Wednesday night for both South American giants. Both managers - Dunga of Brazil and Alfio Basile of Argentina - have a lot to answer for.
Those who did go along were far from happy with what they saw, as a side lacking imagination and commitment spluttered to a 0-0 draw against visitors 65 places below them in FIFA's world rankings in spite of Bolivia defender Ignacio García having been unjustly sent off eight minutes after the break. Just in case Dunga and his players weren't aware of the expectations they're failing to live up to, the crowd began booing after half an hour. It certainly puts Andorra vs. England into perspective.
One thing Brazilians can take some small comfort from, though, is that Argentina were almost as bad a couple of hours later. Travelling to Lima on the back of a 1-1 draw at home to Paraguay (an entertaining match, but one in which Argentina's attack was blunted by Carlos Tevez's first-half red card), Alfio Basile saw his side eventually take the lead in the 82nd minute through Internazionale midfielder Esteban Cambiasso, who capped off just about the only string of decent passing they managed to produce all night. Three minutes into stoppage time, though, Peru got an equaliser through Johan Fano which they deserved - as much for Argentina's faults as for their own merits.
Olympic gold did a good job of covering it up but Argentina, who topped the FIFA rankings for nine months up to June this year, haven't won a competitive senior international in five matches. Basile can't use the Olympic win for positive spin; it was presided over not by him, but by the AFA's national youth director Sergio Batista. Dunga, who did go to Beijing to take charge of Brazil's campaign, has suffered from being the latest manager to lead Brazil to failure in the only competition they've never won.
The problem facing both managers, broadly speaking, is inconsistency. In Brazil's case, it seems chronic, and team-wide. One British football journalist, based in São Paulo, claimed on Wednesday that, "motivation is always a problem when the Brazilians believe they're playing inferior opposition," and of course to most Brazilians, any opposition on the football pitch is inferior. Dunga's been attacked for his policy - even at home against the bottom side in the South American qualifying group - of fielding two defensive midfielders, because it won the World Cup in 1994 when he was captain. The results aren't coming frequently enough now though, and the calls for his head started up again just days after the performance in Chile seemed to save his bacon.
Argentina's problem is more specific, and it's a complaint that will be familiar to readers who remember the team's performance against Germany in the 2006 World Cup quarter-final under José Pekerman. The place in the team of Boca Juniors playmaker Juan Román Riquelme is a double-edged sword. Build a team around him and, when everyone's on song, Argentina are capable of playing some sumptuous stuff. Sadly for Argentina though, all it takes is for Riquelme to have an off day and the entire team suffer regardless of how well everyone else is doing their job. Since the start of the year and his return to Boca from Villarreal, Riquelme has looked sluggish and less mentally sharp, and has had a few too many off days.
The problem reached such proportions after Argentina's draw at home to Ecuador back in June that even the softly-spoken Lionel Messi expressed the view that the selección were relying too much on Riquelme. Messi didn't say it himself, but plenty thought: give the Barcelona star the job, or let him share it with Atlético Madrid's Sergio Agüero, and Argentina's attack could suddenly take on an altogether more threatening countenance when sides set out to man-mark Riquelme.
By extension, Basile is seen as reluctant to countenance dropping former favourite Riquelme. A mini-tour at the start of the summer, when Argentina played the United States and Mexico, was supposed to find a way of playing without Riquelme, but as soon as he was halfway fit again he was straight back into the setup.
For all the outcry, the two sides are in fact second and third in the group, four points behind leaders Paraguay. Second and third, however, are not positions these superpowers are used to filling in the South American hierarchy. Basile will be in charge for Argentina's next match, but needs a sharp improvement from his men. Don't be surprised, though, if Dunga's no longer Brazil boss when the next lot of qualifiers roll round.
Second best is simply not good enough.