Argentina favorites for finals: Brazil

Brazil granted archrival Argentina was a slight favourite for their Copa America final clash.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:08 IST
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Less than 24 hours after scraping through the semifinals, Brazil granted archrival Argentina was a slight favourite for their Copa America final clash on Sunday. "They are not 100 per cent favourite, but they are a step ahead of us right now," Brazil captain Alex said. "We have a young squad that just got together, while they have been playing with their top players." The makeup of the squads mattered little to Argentina coach Marcelo Bielsa. As usual in any Argentina-Brazil match, winning was all that mattered, and the Copa America final was a nice backdrop to fight for national bragging rights. "If they have brought their B team, I don't think that's important," Bielsa said. "That certain players aren't here isn't what obligates us to win, those feelings arise from our own desire to win." The match up comes more than a month after Brazil defeated Argentina 3-1 in a World Cup qualifier, a loss that triggered another round of public criticism of Argentina's direction under Bielsa. Home advantage But Argentine fans and press have started warming to the national team as Bielsa's attacking style has eased the team into the Copa final with a tournament-high 14 goals in five games. And Bielsa said he'll stick to his all-out offense, setting up as many as six forwards to flay Brazil. "We'll be attacking as we have done throughout the tournament. We'll be looking to send as many as six players forward," he said. As for handling Brazil's own high-octane front line - Adriano leads the tournament with six goals in five games - Bielsa had a simple plan in mind. "By defending with one more player than they have in their attack," he said. "But our emphasis will be on offense, looking to press Brazil in its own half of the field. "We know we won't have a chance to win if we don't keep up the pressure." Argentina's relentless go-forward has impressed all observers, and was the reason it was favored against Brazil by Uruguay midfielder Marcelo Sosa, who played and lost to both teams in the Copa. "If Argentina keeps pressuring the way that they have been I think they'll easily beat Brazil," Sosa said. After thrashing Mexico 4-0 in the quarterfinals, Brazil's standing fell somewhat in its struggle to overcome Uruguay in their thrilling semifinal on Wednesday, ultimately ending in a penalty shootout Brazil won 5-3. Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira praised his second-stringers for passing a testing challenge from the 14-time champions. "Our boys showed against Uruguay that they have nerves of steel," he said. Penalty shootout hero Julio Cesar, the goalkeeping backup to Brazil regular Dida, was proud of his team's accomplishments in a short time together. "Argentina definitely deserves our respect," Cesar said. "But our team has shown it has quality, it wouldn't be a surprise if we beat them." Past record Brazil's World Cup qualifying victory last month evened the teams' series since 1916 at 33 wins each and 23 draws. But the record is one-sided in Copa finals. Argentina has won a record-equalling 14 Copa titles, eight of them at Brazil's expense. Argentina has never lost to Brazil in the finals. It will be Argentina's first final since its last victory 11 years ago. Brazil has six titles, the last in 1999. "They played more consistently throughout the tournament, they should be seen as the favourites, but we feel we are prepared to face them anyway," Brazil defender Gustavo Nery said. Brazil reported no injuries, while Argentina hoped FC Barcelona striker Javier Saviola and Wolfsburg midfielder Andres D'Alessandro would be available. Saviola scored a hat trick in the opener against Ecuador but has missed the last three games with a muscle injury. D'Alessandro missed the semifinal with a pulled thigh muscle. Bielsa said a decision on their availability would be made this weekend. (AP)