With confetti and samba rhythms filling the air of the Mohammad Bin Zayed stadium in Abu Dhabi, Brazil pipped neighbours Argentina in UAE 2003’s semi-final ‘Superclasico’. Dudu’s flicked header in minute 65 proved the only difference in a finely-balanced affair, leaving holders Argentina heading for the third-place match. Brazil perpetuate their proud tradition with a spot in yet another Final on 19 December 2003, where they will take on either Spain or Colombia.
With the drums beating away and an atmosphere bordering on electric, the match began with an exhibition of tremendous midfield skill, each glowing move greeted with an appreciative rumble from the jam-packed stands.
With Argentina employing an extra defender, the brighter Brazilians were having their troubles picking the lock early. It was shaping up as expected: a match neither side was keen to lose.
Even with the obvious brinksmanship at work, Brazil saw the first real chance when Daniel raced in behind a forest of Argentine defenders. But after rounding keeper Gustavo Eberto, he found his route to goal blocked by Walter Garcia, sliding in bravely. The foraging defender chose to square the ball to Juninho some six metres from goal, but he could only fire into the belly of Eberto – back to his feet like a snap (22’).
Not to be outdone, the Albiceleste charged right back and Leandro Fernandez was unlucky to see his header fly just inches wide of Jefferson’s post from a Franco Cangele corner (24’).
A fine volley from Juninho just wide of Eberto’s post and a near miss of a free kick from Daniel Carvalho at the other end signaled the close of a scoreless opening period (38’).
Brazil came out from the changing rooms refreshed and Daniel Carvalho’s blast from 25 metres only just sailed over the Argentine crossbar (51’). While the Brazilians put on massive pressure, Argentina seemed satisfied to break out on the counter.
nd it looked to be an effective tactic as Cavenaghi forced Jefferson into an uncomfortable, diving save with a snapshot from just inside the box (54’). The Brazilians though, continued to press. With wave after wave of attack, it was only a matter of time before the Auriverde opened the scoring.
The crucial moment finally came from a corner. Daniel fired in the set piece to the near post where the imposing Dudu rose brilliantly to flick past a diving Eberto. Fernandez got his head to the ball, but it was all too late (1-0, 65’).
Desperately needing a spark in attack, Argentine boss Hugo Tocalli brought on Rosario Central forward German Herrera to replace struggling midfielder Marcelo Carrusca (69’). Walter Montillo also entered the fray, replacing Pablo Zabaleta (74’).
It looked like the Argentines had some late heroics left. Hoofing the ball desperately into the area - as they had done in their quarter-final with the States - they had a golden chance to draw level. But Cangele’s swerving shot slammed against the post (90+). Not one minute later, Hugo Colace’s close-range try barely cleared Jefferson’s crossbar (90+).
Yet even with the changes and late chances, the overly defensive Argentines never had an answer to the Samba beat.
After the match Brazil boss Paqueta was understated, but understandably happy with the result. “It was a very difficult match for us,” he said. “Playing Argentina is always a difficult and special day…but it was a tight game and it seemed obvious that the first team to score was always going to be the team to win. We had very little time to prepare for this competition, but during the finals we have improved with each and every game.”
Argentina coach Hugo Tocalli was a bit more circumspect. “We have been lucky in the past, but luck can only take you so far,” he told reporters. “Today we lost because we failed to defend a corner kick properly…and in a match where neither team took too many risks, we were punished for our error. Brazil are a fine team and deserve to play in a Final.”
Tocalli also sees a tough task in preparing his side for a third-place match with either Spain or Colombia on the 19th.
“It is a hard job to build up the players mentally and spiritually after such a devastating loss,” he said. “But even though they may be crying now, they are proud to wear the Blue and White and will do their all to take the bronze medal.”