<
>

Argentina's poor defending punished by Brazil in Superclasico

The test of a team is always when it goes a goal down -- a situation Gerardo Martino's Argentina emphatically did not have to face in the coach's debut match last month away to Germany. Soon after half-time, Argentina were four goals ahead.

They could have raced into an early lead in Beijing on Saturday. Argentina were dominant in the first 20 minutes, with Angel Di Maria especially eye-catching and Sergio Aguero wasteful in front of goal. In the end, though, they were lucky to lose by only a two-goal margin in a 2-0 defeat.

The first goal is particularly important in games against a Brazil side coached by Dunga. When these sides met in Beijing in the Olympic semifinal in 2008, Argentina scored first -- and won 3-0. A year earlier, in the final of the Copa America in Venezuela, Brazil scored in their first attack and picked off an in-form Argentina side on the break to take the trophy 3-0.

Dunga's sides seldom elaborate much through the midfield -- a giant problem when they went behind to Holland in the quarterfinal of the 2010 World Cup. But once they get ahead they can be extremely dangerous -- especially against defensive lines as slow as that of Argentina. The game changed on a defensive howler from Pablo Zabaleta, getting in the way of centre-back Federico Fernandez as he tried to head a clearance and leaving Diego Tardelli free to volley home in the 28th minute.

From that point onwards Brazil were always the better side. Fernandez was at fault for the second goal, beaten in the air by David Luiz at a corner -- the Brazilian centre-back's flick-on was turned in at the far post by Tardelli, who had slipped the marking of Javier Mascherano.

In fact, both Brazil's goals came from corners -- strange because as the game unfolded it was from open play that Argentina looked most vulnerable. The lack of pace of centre-backs Fernandez and Martin Demichelis was exposed time and time again, with Neymar either bursting behind the defensive line or slipping a pass through to a runner.

On another day, Neymar -- anonymous in the early spell of Argentine domination -- could easily have scored a hat trick. New, quicker centre-backs are an urgent need -- substitute Santiago Vergini of Sunderland is surely not the solution. Perhaps Mateo Musacchio of Villarreal, who pulled out of this squad through injury, will be given a chance in next month's international friendlies.

It was a day when Argentina's individual talents did not shine. And once Brazil were ahead they were able to clog up midfield, their task eased by a substandard pitch. But a team that seek to impose themselves on the game, the aim of Martino's Argentina, will inevitably leave itself open at times. These are risks for which Argentina are currently not well prepared.