It wasn't the most exciting match Brazil and Argentina have ever produced, but let's look on the bright side - this was a far better game than the drab goalless draw two weeks ago. The seleção won the Superclássico das Américas with a comfortable 2-0 win in Belém, a result that spoke volumes about the growing quality gap between the two countries' domestic leagues.
Brazil 2-0 Argentina
With Leandro Damião sidelined through injury, Mano Menezes handed a start to Borges, who has been in stunning form for Santos in recent weeks. Although not a traditional target man, the 30-year-old acted as the nominal focal point in attack, with Neymar, Ronaldinho Gaúcho and Lucas buzzing round in support. Behind them, Vasco defensive midfielder Rômulo earnt a first start and in-form Botafogo man Bruno Cortês (he of the infamous fast food wedding) got the nod at leftback.
Before kick-off, the Mangueirão produced a rousing rendition of the Hino Nacional. Belém (literally "Bethlehem") is on Brazil's north coast, miles away from the country's traditional footballing centres, and so only rarely hosts seleção matches. The rarity of the event guaranteed that the Brazilian fans were even more vocal than usual. Buoyed by the partisan support, Menezes' side started on the front foot. Neymar - who had been unusually quiet in the first leg of the Superclássico - was at his effervescent best, dropping deep to drag defenders out of position and teasing them with his footwork. On the right, Lucas also caused problems; Emiliano Papa decided that the best way to deal with the pacy attacker was to clobber him in the face with his forearm.
The visitors, despite being outplayed for much of the opening period, made it to the interval on level terms. Admittedly, they did so more by luck than by judgement; Neymar spurned a glorious chance to open the scoring from Borges' drilled cross just before the break. Argentina did manage the occasional foray forward, but were well marshalled in the main by Dedé and Réver. Ironically, two of Argentina's better players on the night - Walter Montillo and Pablo Guiñazú - actually play in Brazil; a fact that reveals plenty about the contrasting prosperity of the two domestic leagues in question.
With the second half just eight minutes old, Brazil were rewarded with the goal that their play deserved. Bursting onto Danilo's slide-rule pass, Lucas outpaced the Argentina defence before slotting calmly into the far corner. In truth, the São Paulo player really should have squared the ball to Neymar, who was in a far better position, but all complaints were rendered slightly churlish when the ball found the back of the net. It was Lucas' first goal for the senior side, and one that prompted wild celebrations around the Mangueirão.
Neymar wouldn't have to wait long to get his name on the scoresheet, though. With 75 minutes on the clock, the excellent Cortês surged forward, and slipped a pass to substitute Diego Souza on the left of the penalty box. The Vasco attacker crossed hard and low, and this time Neymar made no mistake, bundling the ball past Agustín Orión. That goal was the last meaningful action of the match, as both teams played out the remaining minutes in cruise control. The performance of the seleção - and of Neymar, Cortês and Lucas in particular - will have been pleasing to Menezes, especially after Brazil's rather indifferent display in the first leg. A win over your side's perennial rivals never goes amiss either...
(Photo credits; (1) Fernando Bizerra Jr, (2) Mowa Press.)