Interesting Lessons to be learnt from South American Superclásico

(Article first featured on In Our Humble Opinion 24/09/11)

In the first of two games in the recently revamped Superclásico de las Américas Brazil and Argentina played out a disappointing 0-0 draw in Cordoba.  Unable to call upon European based players, the sides consisted of solely domestic-based players, which gave the two sides a perhaps more unfamiliar look at first glance.  This may have led to the slightly lacklustre spectacle that, but for a few moments of magic, failed to live up to expectations.  However, this was far from a pointless exercise.  It not only highlighted the growing differences between the two nations’ domestic leagues but also produced two impressive performances from somewhat unexpected players.

On paper the Brazil side looked superior.  With the likes of Neymar, Ronaldinho and Lucas they had several players who often play for Brazil’s first choice XI and also included impressive young talents such as Dede and Oscar (featured in my recent u20 world cup blog -link).  However, it was up and coming striker Leandro Damião who was the first player to catch the eye.  After a rise to prominence in the last 12 months, having been top scorer in the Campeonato Gaucho, a whole host of Europe’s top clubs linked with the Internacional forward, most notably Spurs. He produced an audacious piece of skill in the 77th minute, a lambretta that looped over Emiliano Papa’s head. He then rushed past the left back, collected the ball and went for a lob-cum-cross which dropped agonizingly against the far post.  Unbelievable tekkers for a player more often associated with his strength and aerial ability.  He also scored the only goal of the game, his first for the Seleção, in a recently friendly against Ghana at Craven Cottage.

The fact he resisted the lure of the Premiership shows the increasing strength of the Brazilian league, also reflected by the big names in the Brazil side.  Due to Brazil’s economic strength, it means that Brazilian clubs can now compete with European wages and keep their precocious talent longer, which in many cases helps the players’ development and as a result benefits the national league.

The Albiceleste in comparison had a much less impressive lineup, not helped by injuries to veteran midfield maestros Riquelme and Veron.  However, they managed to match the Brazil side and gave an encouraging performance which was received positively by pundits in Argentina and continued Sabella’s bright start to his tenure as manager.  This brings me on to the other standout performance of the game, namely young midfielder Hector Canteros.  Handed the number 10 jersey on his competitive debut, the Velez man looked comfortable on the ball and dominated the centre of the park, even earning some heady praise from ex-world footballer of the year Ronaldinho.

Hailing from the rough Villa La Pirelli neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, his difficult upbringing has meant he’s had to fight his way to the top, reflected in his tenacity and combative style of play.  He also possesses good distribution and a decent long range shooting which has led to La Liga giants Valencia monitoring his progress.

Canteros has also put in some key performances for club Velez this season and, since Somoza’s move to Boca, he has become a regular starter.  Velez, the current Argentinean champions, have unfortunately paid a price for their success and the instability of the Argentine league, which directly contrasts to the situation of the strengthening Brazilian league.  They lost star men Ricky Alvarez to Inter Milan, Maxi Moralez to Atalanta and Santiago Silva to Fiorentina.  Luckily they still have the skilful Juan Manuel Martinez, who looked lively in the recently friendly before going off injured, as well as David Ramirez, Augusto Fernandez and also gives the opportunity for Canteros to become a crucial player in their reshuffled side.

So despite the varying states of their domestic leagues, both still contain plenty of promising talent, such as Damião and Canteros, and these home-based players matches certainly have some value as both countries look to improve on their performances at the Copa America and the last World Cup.