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Page last updated at 10:23 GMT, Monday, 9 June 2008 11:23 UK

Tim Vickery column

Tim Vickery
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

It's 10 days and counting to the biggest game in international football with Brazil and Argentina set to meet on 18 June in the sixth round of South America's World Cup qualifying campaign.

Argentina coach Alfio Basile
Basile may tinker with his formation for the Brazil game
Both sides are first in action this Sunday in the fifth round. Brazil face the awkward trip to Asuncion to face Paraguay, currently top of the table and always strong at home, while Argentina host Ecuador, a side who on their day can be difficult to break down.

But even though there are other matches taking place before the great derby, the build-up to Belo Horizonte has already begun. In fact, it started the moment that the final whistle sounded last July in the final of the Copa America.

Argentina had been in sparkling form, and truly believed their first senior title since 1993 was within their grasp, but they ran into an ambush and were soundly beaten 3-0.

Coach Alfio Basile brooded on what went wrong. Brazil had managed to stymie his side's passing game, but he has hinted that Argentina will try something different this time.

The recent tour of North America, where they beat Mexico 4-1 and drew 0-0 with the United States, threw some light on what he is planning. Instead of his favourite 4-3-1-2 formation, Basile sent his side out with three centre-backs.

The idea seems to be to give the team more width, with Javier Zanetti free to storm down the right, and Maxi Rodriguez doing likewise on the left. He has Javier Mascherano to balance up the midfield, and Fernando Gago to link the play with his loping stride and slide rule passes.

Trying to organise a team is like having a small blanket on a cold night - pull it over your neck and your feet get cold, cover your feet and your neck freezes

Tim Vickery
Set up like this, goes the thinking, it should be easier to play through Brazil's midfield block and get possession to the front three.

Here, Argentina have the new toy to play with - the partnership between Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero. There is a chemistry between them that Messi and Carlos Tevez have yet to enjoy. Against Mexico they were irresistible.

In the game against the US they were not quite so effective, but Messi only played the first half, and even in that time the pair of them managed to put Julio Cruz clean through on goal on four separate occasions.

Cruz will presumably step down for the return of Juan Roman Riquelme, who was unavailable for the trip to North America.

It is not a straight swap - Argentina lose a target man but gain an organiser. Riquelme, though, is strong enough on the ball to receive back to goal, can break into the area and can be counted to finish somewhat better than Cruz did against the US.

But his real strengths are dictating the rhythm of the game and spotting the right pass. He already works well with Messi. If he can click with Aguero as well then there is the promise of some truly dazzling football, the meeting of brain, skill, pace, agility and daring.

But there is a price to pay for all of this. Like the saying goes, trying to organise a football team is like having a small blanket on a cold night - pull it over your neck and your feet get cold, cover your feet and your neck freezes.

Lionel Messi and Juan Roman Riquelme
Messi and Riquelme have already been a successful partnership
The risk in Basile's planning is that he could leave his centre-backs hanging out to dry.

Gabriel Heinze tends to bring out the best in Brazilian strikers. Brazil's assistant coach Jorginho made it quite clear that before the Copa America final they identified the ex-Manchester United defender as a weak link. Too slow, they said, to be a full-back.

As the left-sided defender in a back three he could be drawn out wide and exposed.

Certainly the US had some success at this on Sunday, both against Heinze and against Nicolas Burdisso on the right. And Martin De Michelis in the middle is a heavy figure who is not at his best with nippy players running at him.

This is precisely why the Brazil-Argentina match is so enticing. Both sides have the firepower to damage the other. And come the day, there is no way that Brazil will be as bad as last week's wretched performances on their own North American tour.

They were lucky to beat Canada 3-2 and suffered a historic 2-0 defeat to Venezuela, so there are problems for coach Dunga to look at.

But Brazil-Argentina is a game apart, an occasion unlike anything else in the world game.

You can put your questions to Tim Vickery every week on the World Football Phone-in on BBC Radio 5 Live's Up All Night programme from 0230 to 0400 BST every Saturday. You can also download last week's World Football Phone-in Podcast.


Seeing as Tottenham have just agreed to sign Giovanni dos Santos, I wonder how highly you rate him and if you think he is capable of playing Premier League football? Ed Billins

A very exciting move. I was knocked out by him when I saw him help Mexico to the World Under-17 Cup win in 2005 - terrific acceleration, used his pace where it counted, lovely left foot.

Clearly things haven't gone quite as he would have wished with Barcelona this season, but then again with Messi, and the emergence of Bojan, the competition is very fierce - so this is a situation where a move is not necessarily a step backwards, it's a chance to establish himself as a first-team player.

If he does move he'll find the Premier League very challenging from the physical point of view, but I'm confident he can adapt. It's a case of deciding more quickly what he wants to do with the ball and choosing the right moment to go with the dribble.

I recently watched the Republic of Ireland game against Colombia at Craven Cottage and although Ireland won the game, they were somewhat fortuitous with Colombia running things in midfield for long periods of the game. I was particularly impressed with Freddy Guarin in midfield. What can you tell us about him? Mike Byrne

He was their leader of the pack at Under-17 level some five years ago, when they really felt they had something special.

He hasn't quite fulfilled those hopes - perhaps some of his early prominence was down to the fact that he matured physically before the others.

A spell in Argentina with Boca Juniors didn't really work out, but he's been finding his feet in France with St Etienne. He strikes the ball extremely well, and, 22 later this month, perhaps the time has come for him to force his way into the Colombia team on a definitive basis

Got a question about South American football for Tim Vickery? Email him at

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