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Football Whispers

Role reversal favours Argentina

Argentine defender Roberto Perfumo played for clubs in both Argentina and Brazil in the 1970s and he knows both countries well enough that his opinions are worth listening to.

After the 2002 World Cup Perfumo had this to say about the way both countries played football: 'We use (the ball) to achieve an objective, they use it for their personal pleasure,' Perfumo said. 'And that has to do with the way of seeing life. For us, football is tragic, but for them it isn't.'

That's the way it has always been. Brazil were the ball players, Argentina the ball winners. Brazil played for the fun of it. Argentina played to win, any way they could. As the old cliché goes, it was happy, dancing samba against weary, melancholic tango.

Today, however, after almost three weeks of what can justifiably be considered the most entertaining international football tournament in recent memory, the tables have been turned.

Argentina are the ones playing the fast-paced, silky soccer that has the crowd on their feet; Brazil are dour, defensive and at times even cynical. When the two old rivals line up in Maracaibo on Sunday in the final of the Copa America, the smart money will be on the men in blue and white. Even the Brazilians know it.

'For years we've always been the favourites and we know it is not easy,' said centre half Juan. 'But I think that they have a slight advantage in the final. It will be very tight.'

The Brazil-Argentina decider is the one everyone wants to see and it is a fitting finale to the world's oldest international tournament.

The Copa America has provided 79 goals in just 24 games, more than any World Cup since Sweden almost 50 years ago. The final brings together the tournament's two highest scoring teams and no one would bet against the average climbing further.

The odds, clearly, are on Argentina to provide them. And Brazil's former Arsenal midfielder Julio Baptista explained why.

'They've shown that because they have been playing together longer they have their formation set and you could even say they are playing better than us,' Baptista said in the team's five-star hotel. 'But in terms of rivalry, Brazil against Argentina is going to be a match up of equals.'

'I think it's a game that either team can win,' he went on. 'I don't think either team will be afraid of the other. We are very calm and confident with what we've done so far. In some ways, they could be considered favourites but Brazil has quality and I guarantee that if you ask the Argentine players they will say they are not favourites at all. Favouritism you prove on the pitch. When you can win, you say I am the favourite.'

Baptista will be hoping to start the match and put together his longest run yet in the national side. The burly midfielder was brought in to the team midway through Brazil's second match against Chile and has held down his place in the three games since.

Whether he plays or not - and the odds are that Dunga will prefer his physical presence both to ruffle the Argentine back four and harry Javier Mascherano when he has the ball - he knows what Brazil need to do to win the match. In short, he said, they have to stop Juan Roman Riquelme.

The Boca Juniors midfielder has not only been the fulcrum of Argentina's attacks but he has also scored five goals to make him the tournament's second highest scorer behind Brazil's Robinho. Baptista said the Brazilian midfield will concentrate on preventing Riquelme from controlling the game and feeding Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez.

'What they do best is their midfield,' Baptista said. 'Riquelme commands their game, he sets the rhythm of the game, and he's great at dead balls. And then there is Messi's speed on the counter attack.'

Baptista and his teammates are unfamiliar with the tag of underdogs but they are also keen to point out they have a few aces of their own up their sleeve. Dunga has asked his players to get the ball to the flanks more quickly, to take advantage of the overlapping full backs Maicon and Gilbeto, both of whom have been in excellent form.

But the biggest responsibility will rest on the shoulders of Robinho, whose four goals in the wins over Chile and Ecuador carried Brazil single-handedly into the quarter finals.

If the Real Madrid striker can run at the Argentine defence, he could seriously trouble a rearguard that is vulnerable to pace and has yet to be seriously tested.

'Maybe if I was manager I'd prefer Robinho instead of Tevez,' said Doni, the goalkeeping hero in Tuesday's penalty shoot out triumph against Uruguay. 'They have the best attack, there's no doubt about that. But when we have the ball they won't be attacking.'

The problem for Brazil is that when they have had the ball they haven't attacked much either. They have worn down opponents rather than dazzled them. Exactly as Argentina so often used to do. Times have changed.

Read Andrew Downie's blog on the Copa action here...

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