Lionel Messi was thwarted from the penalty spot as Diego Tardelli’s brace gave Brazil a 2-0 win over Argentina in Beijing’s Birds Nest Stadium. For Messi it was his second failure from 12 yards in just three weeks, with Brazilian goalkeeper Jefferson repelling a fairly tame attempt five minutes before halftime in the latest edition of one of the world’s great rivalries.
By that point, Tardelli had already made his mark on the historic fixture when netting his first goal for his country with a well-struck volley. But both for the opening goal and when the Atletico Mineiro front man doubled Brazil’s lead midway through the second half from a corner, Argentina’s defense was heavily culpable.
It was to be the story of Argentina’s day. After Gerardo Martino began his reign as coach with a thrilling 4-2 win over the team that beat them in the World Cup final, Germany, last month, his side again started brightly in the Chinese capital. But they failed to capitalize and then a defense that always has an air of vulnerability came undone, with goalkeeper Sergio Romero, too, hardly covering himself in glory.
Tardelli, brought in by Dunga as a more mobile, versatile, alternative to the much-maligned World Cup striker Fred, took full advantage to get his late-blooming international career up and running. Dunga, whose re-appointment as manager in the wake of his country’s World Cup disaster, was met with much surprise and derision, has now overseen three wins in his first three matches. It was accomplished with a counter-attacking approach that will do little to win round his critics, but was utilized highly effectively on this occasion and could have led to more goals, with Neymar unusually profligate.
At the start, though, it was all Argentina. The movement going forward for Martino’s men was proving too much for their local rivals, who were lucky to survive unscathed. Aguero blasted a volley horribly over the bar, while Angel di Maria, star of the win over Germany, was much closer with a fierce rising shot from 20 yards. Aguero had two appeals for penalties waved away, too. The second, from a challenge from behind by Luis Gustavo, looked particularly strong.
But on 28 minutes came the contest’s key moment. From Oscar’s cross, a lack of communication led to two Argentina defenders going for the same ball and, distracted by the presence of Pablo Zabaleta, Federico Fernandez continued his run of patchy performances for his country with a dreadful header straight to Tardelli behind him. The forward met the ball with a clean volley low across goal, but Romero should have got a hand to it to turn it to safety.
Now Brazil seemed eminently more comfortable in their counter-punching skin. To their credit, while they were far from the fluid Selecao teams of old, Dunga’s men did press well, and with Neymar they have a devastating counter-attacking threat. The only thing was missing was the Barcelona forward’s finishing touch. He missed a great chance to make it 2-0 when bursting effortlessly passed Javier Mascherano and Martin Demichelis but his finish was oddly casual and ultimately harmless.
The referee, whose lack of authority was seized upon by some fairly disgraceful intimidation tactics by Brazil’s players throughout, then gifted Argentina a chance for an equalizer. Having waved away much stronger appeals, he punished right-back Danilo for what was a fair and excellent tackle on Di Maria. Unlike against Levante in La Liga action last month, Messi this time found the target with his penalty, but Jefferson made what was a fairly comfortable save.
From that point, Argentina offered precious little going forward. Brazil crowded the middle of the pitch and denied Messi, in particular, room to maneuver. For their part, Argentina were far too often sloppy in possession and failed to deal with Brazil’s pressing. And in the 64th minute, Argentina’s defense was found wanting once more to effectively seal Brazil’s win. This time the damage was done from a corner, with David Luiz able to get the merest of touches, rendering Argentina’s defense, including their goalkeeper, stationary, to allow Tardelli to head in from inside the six yard box as Romero got a despairing glove to the ball.
The match remained competitive, as demonstrated by the welcome limited number of substitutions until late on. But, while Neymar missed the target again went sent through on goal, Argentina did little to suggest they could get back into the contest. The best they could muster were some long-range efforts from Messi, and when their talisman’s free-kick was turned wide by Jefferson late on the game was up.