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Page last updated at 09:57 GMT, Monday, 16 June 2008 10:57 UK

Tim Vickery column

Tim Vickery
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

In all their glorious history, Brazil can have played with few central midfields as mediocre as the trio of Gilberto Silva, Mineiro and Josue, who lined up in the 2-0 defeat away to Paraguay on Sunday.

Asuncion is a difficult place to visit and Paraguay are top of South America's World Cup qualification table, so there is not necessarily any shame in losing to them - but the Brazil performance was bitterly disappointing and once again the midfield was the source of many of the problems.

Salvador Cabanas of Paraguay gets past Brazil's Gilberto Silva
Paraguay's Salvador Cabanas easily evades Gilberto Silva

Brazil's formula is looking tired. In the post-Pele era they went 24 years without winning the World Cup.

In that time they tried to imitate the Dutch (in 1978) and the Italians in 1990 - until four years later they ended the barren run.

In USA 94 they played a more Brazilian-style 4-4-2. Their physical preparation was immaculate, they had flying full backs and two central midfielders, Mauro Silva and present-day coach Dunga, who ensured that the side maintained its balance. Mauro Silva plugged the defensive holes and Dunga knitted the team together.

Winners are usually copied and most Brazilian clubs followed the trend but they took a short cut. The coaches, worried for the own job security, played safe.

Instead of developing central midfielders with the technical ability of the 1994 duo, they went with players who did little other than mark and offer a physical barrier. In effect, they played another pair of centre-backs in front of the centre-backs.

The logical degeneration of such a process is Gilberto Silva, a converted centre-back, at the heart of Brazil's midfield.

A win on Wednesday would be an important boost to Brazilian morale.

It is a position that demands the ability to free the full-backs with raking diagonal passes or to dictate the rhythm as the side plays its way forward. Instead of which, Brazil were unable to move the ball with pace or precision on Sunday.

Defeat or even a draw at home to Argentina on Wednesday could leave Brazil outside the automatic qualifying places.

But in the short-term, the news is not all gloom. Argentina, too, were sub-standard in their 1-1 draw on Sunday. Only a goal with the last kick of the game saved them from a historic defeat at home to Ecuador.

Brazil can take heart from the way that Ecuador reduced the spaces, interrupted the circuits of Argentina's passing and then broke away to score - it is exactly the way that Brazil have got the better of Argentina in recent battles.

Moreover, Argentina's central defender Martin De Michelis picked up a second yellow card and is suspended for Wednesday's match in Belo Horizonte.

Perhaps even more significantly, Javier Mascherano picked up a knee injury and had to be substituted. Ecuador's Urrutia scored from exactly the space that he was bossing.

If Mascherano is unfit to face Brazil then Argentina's cumbersome defenders could be left exposed.

Argentina's Rodrigo Palacio celebrates his goal
Rodrigo Palacio saved Argentina blushes with his late equaliser

A win on Wednesday would be an important boost to Brazilian morale but it is not going to paper over all the cracks.

Argentina are perhaps the only side in the world either brave or foolish enough to attempt to pass their way through Brazil and leave themselves open to one of the most devastating counter-attacks in world football.

Brazil have been left with false impressions of themselves after comfortable wins over their old rivals in the finals of the 2005 Confederations Cup and last year's Copa America.

Other games are not like this and Brazil will surely give themselves a better chance of winning them with more midfield guile.

In the long term there are some positive signs. Anderson's development as a central midfielder at Manchester United has added things to his game.

Hernanes of Sao Paulo is an excellent prospect. He strikes the ball well with either foot and his game has been influenced by Pirlo of Italy. Lucas of Liverpool is another good bet.

Coach Dunga will have time to work with these players during this year's Olympic tournament. Maybe in China Brazil can go some way towards recapturing their wonderful tradition for imaginative central midfield play.

It would be one of the best presents the global game could receive.

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.

YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED

How good is/was Ariel Ortega? I remember hearing an awful lot of him. I saw him one day when he was at Valencia and although I was assured he didn't usually play like that, he was outstanding! I just wondered what his standing is and how you personally rate him? Was he just one of those players from South America who didn't like playing over here in Europe? Michael Hadden

He certainly wasn't happy playing in Europe - fans didn't see the best of him in Italy, Spain or Turkey.

He's still playing, indeed he's just helped River Plate to the championship, although his season has been marred by absences and problems with alcohol.

It's a shame that he's not mentally stronger. He really is an extraordinary talent - for me, he's one of the great masters of the sudden stop, which wrong-foots the defender and off he goes in another direction.

He's got plenty of titles, international appearances, World Cups and so on to look back on but it's hard to escape the feeling that he could have done more.

What can you tell me about the Fluminense centre forward Washington? I saw him play for the Urawa Reds in the World Club Championship versus AC Milan. I thought he was not quite world class but a quite imposing figure with a good touch. Any chance he'll ever make it to a big European league? Edward Tu

He was with Fenerbahce in Turkey a few years back, was complaining of chest pains and it was discovered that one of his arteries was suffering a 95% blockage. So the fact that he's back playing at all is something to celebrate - it took three operations.

Because of his ordeal he's known in Brazil as Brave Heart - and Mel Gibson couldn't have scripted his year better.

He came back from Japan at the start of the year to be part of Fluminense's Copa Libertadores campaign. They now find themselves in the final after eliminating the favourites Sao Paulo and Boca Juniors - both times Washington came up with big goals at vital moments.

As for the future, he's now 33, so it's hard to imagine him returning to Europe.

Got a question about South American football for Tim Vickery? Email him at vickerycolumn@hotmail.com


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