MARACAIBO, Venezuela (Reuters) - Argentina’s finesse and artistry will be pitted against Brazil’s raw physical strength and power as the old rivals meet in Sunday’s Copa America final.
The tournament has produced what is generally considered the ideal final for the second time in a row and Argentina are attempting to avenge their traumatic penalty shootout defeat in Peru three years ago.
The form book is in Argentina’s favour for a match which will offer an intriguing clash of styles.
Alfio Basile’s team have won all their five games, scoring 16 goals, on their way to the final and played a brand of slick, attacking football which many feared was in danger of extinction.
Juan Roman Riquelme has conducted the team majestically from midfield and Lionel Messi’s chipped goal against Mexico prompted a war of superlatives and comparisons with Diego Maradona.
Brazil, on the other hand, have battled their way through despite losing to Mexico in the group stage and being taken to penalties by Uruguay in the semi-final.
It is a curious case of role-swapping, as for years Argentina were considered to be ruthless and uncompromising while Brazil were seen as the artists.
The differences in style are reflected by the respective coaches.
Basile, with his slicked-back hair and gravelly voice, is seen an old school romantic who cares about playing with style.
“It’s not just about winning. You can simply win a game, but to win the way we are doing makes me proud,” he said after the 4-0 quarter-final win over Peru.
His opposite number Dunga, meanwhile, represents the modern face of football as he puts the emphasis firmly on efficiency and numbers.
“If we’re going to start up that debate again over playing pretty football, we’ll probably go another 24 years without winning (the World Cup) which is what the others want,” he said, referring to the gap between Brazil’s third world title in 1970 and their fourth in 1994.
If Argentina win, they will reverse a trend which has so far rewarded the modern-day Brazilian style.
Argentina’s last title was in 1993 when they won the Copa America, coincidentally with Basile at the helm.
Since then, Brazil have walked off with two World Cups (1994 and 2002), three Copa America titles (1997, 1999 and 2004) and two Confederations Cups (1997 and 2005).
They have also had the upper hand in meetings between the two countries.
Brazil have won the last two games by three goal margins (4-1 in the Confederations Cup final in 2005 and 3-0 in a friendly last year) and the last three Copa America meetings, though two were on penalties.
“We have great hopes at this moment,” said defender Javier Zanetti. “After all these years without winning an important title, we now have the opportunity.
“Argentina have a chance to make history with this title.”
Brazil: 1-Doni; 2-Maicon, 3-Alex Rodrigo, 4-Juan, 6-Gilberto; 5-Mineiro, 18-Fernando, 17-Josue, 19-Julio Baptista; 9-Vagner Love, 11-Robinho
Argentina - 1-Roberto Abbondanzieri; 8-Javier Zanetti, 2-Roberto Ayala, 15-Gabriel Milito, 6-Gabriel Heinze; 5-Javier Mascherano, 8-Juan Sebastian Veron, 15-Esteban Cambiasso, 10-Juan Roman Riquelme; 11-Carlos Tevez, 18-Lionel Messi