Fabregas stars as Brazil, Argentina rise
Taking full advantage of these past two international dates were Argentina and Brazil, veritable giants of the world game, who are keen to undo the damage to their reputations done by disappointing showings at the Copa America 2011. Meanwhile, the pressure is piling up on UEFA EURO 2012 co-hosts Poland and Ukraine, who are clearly still works in progress, and Paraguay and USA took the opportunity for their new coaches to make their bows.
FIFA.com takes a look at the results of these friendly encounters which, in some cases, provided valuable insight on the countries' states of readiness for their upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifying campaigns.
To enable incoming supremo Alejandro Sabella to take his first steps in the job away from the pressure cooker of Argentina, La Albiceleste headed to Asia for a short two-game tour. The first of these matches took place against Venezuela in Calcutta where, buoyed by an incredible atmosphere in the stands, Sabella’s charges won 1-0.
Shaping his team around Lionel Messi, who was also handed the captain’s armband, the new boss looked to provide his No10 with the kind of creative support he receives at Barcelona from Xavi and Andres Iniesta. In came gifted schemers in the shape of Lucho Gonzalez and subsequently Javier Pastore, with the new Paris Saint-Germain signing in particular combining well with the reigning FIFA Ballon d’Or winner.
And though Messi did not find the net, he saw plenty of the ball and appeared to look right at home. That impression was underlined three days later in Bangladesh, where the Barça superstar supplied two assists in a 3-1 win over Nigeria and came close to a Diego Maradona-esque strike with a weaving run that sowed panic in the Africans’ defence.
Brazil, for their part, featured the reappearance of Ronaldinho after the 2005 FIFA World Player’s recent resurgence at Flamengo. The move was designed to bring some of the swagger and verve back to a Seleção struggling for ideas and effectiveness and, against an aggressive Ghana side that played for an hour with ten men, Ronaldinho was one of the game's few bright sparks.
Though the Fla star's influence did gradually wane, A Verde e Amarelo enjoyed the better chances and eked out a 1-0 win after Leandro Damiao found the net following Fernandinho’s neat assist. What is more, Brazil and Argentina will soon get two opportunities to gain morale-boosting victories against their arch-rivals, with A Seleção and La Albiceleste set to go head-to-head in friendlies on 14 September in Cordoba and 28 September in Belem.
Francisco Arce, who has taken over from Argentinian strategist Gerardo Martino at the helm of Paraguay, enjoyed a promising start with successive wins over Panama, 2-0, and Honduras, 3-0. All of which should encourage the 40-year-old former right-back, a veteran of 61 caps for La Albirroja, whose stated aim is to guide his country to Brazil 2014 – having already appeared at France 1998 and Korea/Japan 2002 as a player.
Fellow South Americans Ecuador also enjoyed themselves over the international break, a marked contrast from their first-round exit at the Copa America. La Tri racked up an emphatic 5-2 win over Jamaica, featuring a brace from Christian Benitez, and a 4-0 success against Costa Rica.
With EURO 2012 drawing ever closer, co-hosts Ukraine are still struggling to find the right formula. Indeed, Coach Oleg Blokhin’s charges are on a run of three consecutive defeats, having been beaten 1-0 and 3-2 at home by Sweden and Uruguay respectively, in addition to a 4-0 thrashing away to the Czech Republic.
Fellow co-hosts Poland could not pick up a win either. First they were held 1-1 by Mexico in Warsaw, a result they followed up with a 2-2 draw in Gdansk against a much-changed Germany line-up, a game in which both sides scored in the last minute.
Appointed USA coach on 29 July, Jurgen Klinsmann also looks to have plenty of work ahead of him. The Stars and Stripes lost both their friendly engagements, beaten 1-0 by Belgium and Costa Rica.
The star man
Since his return to boyhood club Barcelona, Cesc Fabregas cannot seem to stop scoring. This time it was in the red of Spain, however, in a game which La Selección were trailing 2-0 at the interval. After Barça team-mate Iniesta reduced the deficit, Fabregas joined the fray on the hour mark and scored twice to seal a 3-2 comeback win. Adding to the drama, the final goal came in added time: Fabregas netting the rebound after his penalty had been saved.