Gregory Sica
Thursday June 19th, 2008

Rivalries don't get much bigger than Argentina and Brazil. Politically, there's no love lost, but when it comes to soccer, both nations absolutely despise each other.

Most encounters between the great rivals are played like life-or-death scenarios and the soccer displayed in the Superclásico has tended to always be of a very high standard.

To say Wednesday's clash fell short is a huge understatement. The traditional powers -- currently No. 1 and 2 in the FIFA rankings -- played to a scoreless stalemate in a highly disappointing 2010 World Cup qualifier in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Both teams came into the derby with lots to prove after having picked up poor results in the previous round of qualifiers last weekend, and it seemed as if we were in for a thriller between two teams that will surely be contenders for the next World Cup in South Africa.

The stage was set: Nearly 60,000 fans packed the Mineirão stadium, and both sets of players branded the match as if it were the most important of their careers.

Argentina, in particular, had lots to prove against its archrivals. Los Albicelestes haven't managed a win over the Brazilians in a number of years, and were thumped last year 3-0 when both sides met in the final of the Copa América in Venezuela.

But on this occasion, the match didn't live up to expectations. The play was of a very low standard, and despite the fact that both teams created enough opportunities to win the match, a goal-less draw was a fair reflection of events on the field.

Brazil was especially disappointing. The five-time world champions knew that a victory against the Argentines would help them forget a 2-0 defeat to group leader Paraguay on Sunday, but they didn't do enough to win the match, and almost lost it at the end.

Dunga may have made three changes to the side, but his team still lacked authority, and rarely looked dangerous when moving forward. Its strike force of Robinho and Adriano had little impact on the match, and at times the Seleção was outplayed by its counterparts.

It's no wonder the home fans constantly called Dunga a "donkey" from the stands. He fielded another defensive side that simply wasn't up to the challenge. Argentina wasn't at its best either, but it improved on its performance against Ecuador and looked more than capable of returning home with the three points.

What's in store for the future? Even though both teams have struggled of late, World Cup qualification is almost a formality for them both. South American qualifying has never been easy, but to think one of these teams could possibly miss out would be insane.

Still, there is lots of work to do, particularly for Brazil. Dunga's men will be able to find few positives from their clash with Argentina, but one was Real Madrid midfielder Júlio Baptista. La Bestia has constantly been in and out of Brazil's formation under Dunga, but seems to have done enough to cement his place in the starting 11 after an impressive performance, where he was Brazil's main threat.

Brazil should look forward to the return of Kaká and Ronaldinho, as well. If Dunga is able to get his side playing an attractive style of soccer, it will have much to do with the return of these two players. But is there room for Ronaldo? Dunga has yet to find a suitable replacement for O Fenômeno, even though he has tried several different players. (Brazil has only scored eight goals in six qualifying matches so far).

Ronaldo, who is only 31, has been hampered by injuries over the years. But each time he returns to action, even if briefly, he seems to find the back of the net with little difficulty. Some may think he's finished, but with his track record Dunga should give him one last opportunity.

Meanwhile, the Argentines should be relatively happy with their display in Brazil. At times they looked very dangerous and proved they're very solid in all aspects of their game. There's no doubt their form has dipped a touch when compared to when the qualifiers started last year, but they still possess the same determination that has become trademark of the Argentine game over the years.

Against Brazil, Lionel Messi stole the show. Despite the difficult circumstances, the Barcelona striker penetrated the Brazilian defense at will, and provided Argentina with the necessary inspiration to go for the win. But the same cannot be said about Argentina's other creative players; Juan Román Riquelme and Sergio Agüero were completely off touch.

What may be of greater concern to Alfio Basile, however, are the constant rumors indicating that there is an internal conflict within the squad. According to reports from the local press, key players Messi and Riquelme aren't seeing eye-to-eye, and this could affect the national team in the long run.

Argentina has been characterized by players with big egos over the years, and assembling a side with the likes of Messi, Riquelme and Juan Sebastián Verón may look great on paper, but the clash in personalities could cause major problems in the dressing room.

On Wednesday night, the eyes of the world were fixed on Belo Horizonte, but both Brazil and Argentina failed to make an impression. Unless both South American powers get their act together immediately, their World Cup dream could lose some momentum. Still, there's a long road ahead.

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