A topsy-turvy week on the road to South Africa

During this past World Cup Qualifiers week, Brazil and Argentina switched roles as fast as you can say “hand me an oxygen mask!”

Last Sunday, most of the South American press – including members of the astigmatic Brazilian press corps – slammed Brazil's players for their performance against Ecuador (1-1 in Quito) while praising the Argentina squad for their easy win over Venezuela (4-0 in Buenos Aires).

In truth, Ecuador blitzed Brazil during every one of the 90 minutes, and it was thanks to sheer luck – and the fantastic form of Inter keeper Julio Cesar – that Dunga’s Seleção didn’t leave the thin air of Quito with a hard defeat.

On the other hand, Argentina, playing against the dead chickens of Venezuela, cruised to a 4-0 win. Messi, Aguero, Tevez and Maradona received the ovations as the team of the future, the paradigm of football, the squad every other nation should look up to.

“Showgol," announced the Argentinian newspaper Olé.

March 29: All's well in Argentina...

I know I shouldn’t be, but I’m still amazed at the ability of the press to jump to conclusions so quickly.

Never mind that Ecuador has a strong, competitive squad, and that Quito is 2,850 metres up a mountain. Brazilian players were rapped for not playing the “beautiful game” as if they were volleying on a Rio de Janeiro beach.

But time is the best teacher, they say, and this time he was in a hurry. Three days later, the South American football world was turned upside down.

The brilliant Argentina got pounded, hammered, battered 6-1 (6-1!) by a below-average Bolivia up in La Paz (3,600 metres above sea level).

And Brazil cruised to a 3-0 home win against Peru in Porto Alegre, climbing to second place in the 10-team CONMEBOL group. Argentina dropped to the fourth and final qualifying spot, being leapfrogged by Chile as well.

The Brazilian press suddenly started to celebrate – the Lance! newspaper teased the neighbors with the cover (“9 US, 1 THEM” combining the results of the two matches). The Argentinians were so lost that they couldn’t find the words to describe the blow.

...April 2: Everything's brilliant in Brazil

Of course it was an extraordinary score, boosted by the home side's experience of playing at altitude in La Paz – a controversial advantage for which Maradona, before taking his present job, campaigned against alongside Bolivian president Evo Morales.

But no first-class team, even playing in Mount Everest against the Yeti All-Stars, can concede six goals.

So I guess it’s clear now that Argentina has a lot to prove – proving completely wrong those who bought into the illusion created by two or three good performances by Maradona’s boys.

Meanwhile, Brazil's triumph against Peru was as dull as it could get. A 3-0 win against the continent’s worst team is actually the minimum respectful score.

So there’s nothing to get very excited about – no more than the recent triumphs against Portugal, Argentina and Italy, conquered despite the indecipherable tactics of coach Dunga. Don’t hold your breath.

Bottom line is: Ronaldinho, Robinho, Kaká, Adriano & Co. may not be flying high like some years ago. But they have already done (and won) enough to earn respect from press and fans.

With the help of the new generation – with Keirrison, Hernanes and Nilmar all waiting for Dunga to wake up – Brazil is as dangerous now as any other side in the world, if not more.

Argentina currently has all the hype with Messi and Aguero, and of course the charismatic presence of Diego Maradona on the bench – which is as imposing as it can be, considering the kind of player he was.

But they have to win something. Otherwise the hype will be just... hype.

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