Brazil flatter to deceive against lacklustre Argentina
(Diego Tardelli 28, 64)
Dunga was in the dugout. Kaka came on in the second half and a journeyman scored both goals in a pointless exhibition played miles from home.
Observers checked their watches in the final minutes. They should've checked their calendars.
Brazil played like it was 2009. Argentina played like they'd rather be anywhere else when the two deadly South American rivals met in a friendly in Beijing last night.
Dunga's defensive-minded stalwarts prevailed 2-0, but their meaningless victory tested the sternest of sporting souls.
Their jersey colour still triggers subliminal images of samba, fading flickers of football artistry. But this Brazilian side are as dull as dishwater and twice as dated.
Perspective, if it were needed, came from the goalscorer Diego Tardelli, an obscure journeyman at Atletico Mineiro.
His brace were his first goals for his country. He's 29. He's not the future of Brazilian football.
With Tardelli lumbering around the penalty box, Kaka and Robinho on the bench and Dunga in the dugout selecting two midfield enforcers, Brazil have stepped back in time.
Their formation was often squeezed at the sides, with Willian and Oscar being dragged back to produce a cynical 4-1-1 approach. In such moments, Phil Scolari's World Cup line-ups seemed adventurous in comparison.
Dunga apologists, if any remain, will point to a lack of creative options and a non-competitive friendly as reasons for Brazil's dour approach.
But the Selecao's regression continues nonetheless. They played on the cynical side. Argentina didn't bother playing at all.
It's hard to see what lessons, if any, were learned in Beijing.
Brazil and Japan can only hope the upcoming friendly here doesn't share similar characteristics.
The glorified exhibition felt like a One Direction gig. The mere appearance of the superstars was enough. It didn't seem to matter if they played in the right key or not.
Once the cameras had clicked, the crowd settled into a quiet contentment.
Manchester United wish to fill their empty midweeks with similar money-making, marketing exercises in far-flung venues this season. No wonder Louis van Gaal is sceptical. This was one for the accountants rather than the purists.
In truth, the opening goal neatly summed up the slightly farcical proceedings.
Erik Lamela was caught dithering in possession and Danilo pounced.
The Porto fullback found Oscar whose cross could've been cleared by either Federico Fernandez or Pablo Zabaleta.
Instead, neither man bothered and Tardelli fired a tame volley past Sergio Romero.
The Singapore's Sports Hub should take note. The ball bobbled on the uneven surface to make a fool of Romero. Poor pitches kill contests.
Still, the Brazilian goal was the first for Tardelli; the statistic summed up the dearth of striking talent at Dunga's disposal. It also summed up the strange occasion.
The sense of circus continued in the 41st minute when Lionel Messi's penalty - which should not have been a penalty - was saved by Jefferson.
Messi's spot-kick was poor, but so was the referee's decision in the first place. Danilo's out-stretched boot landed on the ball and missed Angel di Maria entirely. Justice was served by the aptly name Jefferson.
But his save was undermined by Brazil's haranguing of referee Fan Qi. Their pushing and shoving was surreal, so was Qi's penalty decision, so was Messi's spot-kick, so was Tardelli's fluke volley, so was much of the game.
When Tardelli added a second in the 64th minute, he probably needed pinching to check he wasn't dreaming. The global audience knew how he felt.
From an appallingly defended corner, Argentina allowed an unmarked David Luiz to flick on to an equally unmarked Tardelli who just about got all his uncoordinated limbs in the right place at the right time to nod in from three metres.
He almost missed. Forget Brazil 1970. This looked more like Wimbledon 1988.
Messi cultivated three openings and Di Maria looked lively in small bursts, but Argentina were clearly more concerned with plane times than time left on the clock.
They laboured in attack and snoozed at the back. Old habits die hard.
As for Brazil, the global circus rolls into Singapore now for another lucrative friendly.
They'll be plenty of familiar faces at the National Stadium. Dunga's Brazil are firmly stuck in the past.
- BRAZIL: Jefferson, Danilo, Miranda, David Luiz (Gil 90), Filipe Luis, Mendes Trindade, Luiz Gustavo, Willian, Oscar, Neymar (Robinho 90+5), Tardelli (Kaka 82).
- ARGENTINA: Sergio Romero, Pablo Zabaleta, Federico Fernandez, Martin Demichelis, Marcos Rojo, Roberto Pereyra (Enzo Perez 76), Javier Mascherano, Erik Lamela (Javier Pastore 60), Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero (Gonzalo Higuain 60), Angel di Maria.
Brazil are the best team in the world with a great tradition. We have no big players, we are now acting as one team... The whole team is evolving, including me.
— Brazili coach Dunga
We are in a changing process, with a new manager. It will take a while until we know each other better. I hate losing and more so against Brazil, but it is part of the learning.
— Argentina’s Pablo Zabaleta