Certain football tournaments belong to individual players. The UEFA EURO 1984 saw the maestro Michel Platini lead the French to victory on home turf, likewise the 1986 FIFA World Cup™ was defined by the twinkle toes and mischief of Diego Maradona. The Copa America 2004 was Adriano’s tournament. Despite failing to truly fulfil his potential since, an outstanding 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup aside, the powerful Brazilian was at his most lethal during South America’s continental contest that year in Peru. Not only was the Inter Milan forward in blistering form, but the potential for a Superclasico final was on the cards throughout the knockout stages as he powered his way through the opposition, while Brazil's huge rivals progressed on the other side of the draw.
After finishing second in their group and narrowly seeing off the hosts in the quarter-final, the semi-final was a veritable stroll for La Albiceleste. They saw off Colombia 3-0 with Carlos Tevez, Lucho Gonzalez and Juan Pablo Sorin on the score-sheet in a routine victory. Brazil also finished runners-up in their group, with Adriano grabbing a hat-trick against Costa Rica, and their quarter-final was a comprehensive 4-0 victory over Mexico, with the No7 scoring two more. Their match in the final four was not quite as straightforward though. Adriano levelled after Marcelo Sosa had but La Celeste in front, and that was how it finished after 120 minutes. Seven straight penalties were scored in the shoot-out before Julio Cesar guessed correctly to foil Vicente Sanchez. Alex converted to put Brazil into the final against their great rivals.
After some dangerous early forays forward by Brazil had kept Roberto Abbondanzieri busy, it was Argentina who brought the final to life after 20 minutes. Lucho Gonzalez played an intricate one-two with Tevez on the edge of the Brazilian box and nicked the ball away from a lunging Luisao. The Brazil No3 brought down the advancing Argentinian in the penalty area and his namesake Kily Gonzalez stepped up to take the spot-kick. He made no mistake, slamming it hard to Julio Cesar’s right with Brazil’s keeper diving the wrong way.
Luisao would make amends just before the break though. Alex curled a perfect left-footed cross into the Argentinian penalty area from a free-kick, and the tall defender rose highest just outside the six-yard box to nod past a stranded Abbondanzieri.
Into the second half and Argentina had an outstanding opportunity to retake the lead. Mauro Rosales found space on the Argentinian right and whipped a tantalising ball across the Brazilian box. Lucho Gonzalez got minimal contact on the cross but it fell kindly to Tevez who came steaming in at the back post. With the goal gaping, the diminutive No11 somehow turned the ball on to the post and wide, with the forward holding his head in his hands in disbelief.
Cesar Delgado was introduced just after the hour mark, and his fine strike saw Marcelo Bielsa’s men retake the lead late on. Sorin tried to nod on a lofted ball from the Argentinian right and the ball bounced in the Brazilian penalty area after an air-kick by Renato. Delgado took a touch to steady himself and slammed the ball past a despairing Julio Cesar. It was a goal good enough to win any final. But that was not to be the case in Lima.
Deep into stoppage time, Brazil were indebted to their man of the tournament once again. A rather hopeful ball into the Argentinian penalty area was not cleared by the blue-and-white defenders and the ball sat up invitingly for Adriano. The powerhouse forward touched the ball into the air, swivelled his body and smashed the ball on the volley into the bottom right-hand corner. He wheeled away, tearing his shirt off in jubilation. Incredibly, the match was going to penalties and Carlos Alberto Parreira’s men had been given a lifeline by their star striker.
Adriano coolly converted his spot kick before Gabriel Heinze fired his over the bar. Edu and Diego converted their penalties before Juan hit the winning spot kick, meaning Brazil had scored all nine of their shoot-out efforts in the tournament.
Bielsa would go on to lead his side to a Men's Olympic Football Tournament gold medal later that summer, but resigned later in the year. The Copa America win was probably not the highlight of Parreira’s coaching career, coming a decade after his World Cup win, but for Adriano it represented a true career peak.
"This is the greatest moment in my career,” the forward said after the final whistle, having bagged a remarkable seven goals in six games. Working away from the shadow of other star strikers such as O Fenômeno Ronaldo and acting as the focal point of the Brazilian team, Adriano was in his element – and the Copa America 2004 belonged to him.