Friendlies are tricky business; excessive excitement or deflation could prove exaggerated when the competitive games come. Things could have gone either way for Brazil in their displaced derby against Argentina in Beijing, but, after 30 minutes that could have resulted in a score almost as impressive as the infamous German rout in July's World Cup semifinal, the Seleção settled in and managed to claim an encouraging win.
The win gives massive bragging rights to manager Dunga, who has never lost to Argentina in matches with the Brazilian A team (though he did suffer a 3-0 defeat in the 2008 Olympics). But the 1994 World Cup winner will almost certainly not be celebrating too much because his team had a lucky escape that it cannot rely upon getting every week and, for a third of the match, his players were chasing shadows.
In the first 20 minutes, Lionel Messi and co had six shots on target, and Diego Tardelli's opener happened totally against the run of play, when the Argentine defence blinked for a tad too long. Miranda and David Luiz were being overwhelmed, and the PSG defender looked to have fouled Aguero in the box. Having decided against awarding a penalty then, Chinese referee Fan Qi had no doubts at the end of the half, when Danilo brought Di Maria down. Jefferson saved Messi's spot kick and won another of his personal battles with the Barcelona striker throughout the match.
In individual terms, Jefferson and Tardelli will have fond memories from this game. The Botafogo goalkeeper has done enough to claim the No. 1 shirt after a long time waiting on the wings, and the Atletico Mineiro striker, who also scored Brazil's second when he headed in from a corner kick, settled in very well in a No. 9 role that requires much more mobility than predecessor Fred could ever provide for the team.
It was also important that Tardelli, whom many in Brazil wanted to see on the World Cup squad, chipped in because Neymar received some pretty tough special attention from the Argentine defenders and had few chances to make proper impact -- even his Barcelona teammate Javier Mascherano was seen kicking him. Neymar did miss what could have been a gorgeous goal in the first half, though.
"This rough treatment is part of the game. Brazil and Argentina is a derby, and nobody takes it as a friendly. Mascha did hit me, but at the end of the game we did even swap shirts", Neymar joked. Dunga didn't see the funny side, and during the match TV cameras caught him swearing toward the Argentine bench.
The returning Kaká got only nine minutes on the pitch and will have to really impress in the Campeonato Brasileiro and MLS to persuade Dunga to tinker with his midfield of Luiz Gustavo, Elias, Oscar and Willian. The former pair acted like a duo of pit bulls that reduced the space for Messi to operate while the latters used their Chelsea familiarity to their favour. But as discussed before, Kaká's importance for the side is not only related to playing time.
In defence, Filipe Luís seems to own the left-back position and Danilo on the opposite flank finally earned some recognition for his regular work for Porto. It was interesting to see how the Brazilian full-backs didn't break ranks, a fundamental trick for Dunga's system to work. Despite the nervy beginning, Brazil managed quite well to control the pace of the game in the second half and put pressure on Messi and co.
Next step is a friendly vs. Japan in Singapore, where Dunga will possibly give experience to as many players as he can. But the main objective of this Asian tour has been achieved: for morale boosting, it's always very good for Brazilians to have the last laugh against Argentina. However, just as the Albiceleste's 4-2 drubbing of Germany last month was a cuddle for a nation's hurt pride and not really anything else, the Seleção need to take the Beijing result as just a good day at the office.
Three out of the four goals scored in three matches under Dunga so far have come in dead balls, and, as much as these situations can win games, the lack of open play action is a bit worrying. But the high-pressure game was encouraging and even though many people will complain that Brazil seem to be reverting to Dunga's fast-break philosophy, it worked wonders against Argentina's attacking game.
This bizarrely located game celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first time Brazilians and Argentines locked horns. There was a small trophy to celebrate, which Kaká, who ended the game with the captain's armband after David Luiz left the pitch injured, lifted. This was to the delight of the Chinese public, who gave the future Orlando City player an ovation that even One Direction might struggle to receive when they come to town.
"This affection is something quite special, and I am happy to be back in the team after so long. That we beat Argentina is not bad either," joked the midfielder, whose last match for the Seleção had been a friendly against Russia in London in May last year.
So, although getting carried away would be a mistake, there's really nothing bad in having some joy by beating a side that boasted one of the greatest players in history and seven others who took part in a World Cup campaign that reached the final. Ironically, as they did in Beijing, Argentina ended up losing that final to Germany after missing clear chances to go ahead.
Schadenfreude will be quite sweet for Brazilians this week.