DOHA: Looking to put their World Cup blues behind them, Brazil and bitter South American rival Argentina play an eagerly anticipated friendly in the Gulf which also heralds the return of playmaker Ronaldinho in a yellow shirt.
Wednesday’s match will be a key test for Brazil coach Mano Menezes and Argentina’s Sergio Batista as they gear up for the Copa America in July, which Argentina will host.
Since the World Cup, both teams have impressed with Brazil easily beating the United States, Iran and Ukraine while Argentina has beaten Ireland and Spain, but fell to Japan in its last outing six weeks ago.
Brazil won their last clash 3-1 in Rosario in World Cup qualifying. Argentina has not beaten Brazil since 2005.
It will be Batista’s first match since taking permanent charge of the team, but he was without injured players Esteban Cambiasso and Fernando Gago. He will, however, have Lionel Messi.
“We are looking to prepare for the next World Cup and our preparations start now. That’s our main objective,” Batista told reporters. “We are not afraid of Brazil. We respect them. They respect us. We hope it will be a classic game of football.”
Messi, a Barcelona forward, said in an interview on FIFA’s website this week that he was looking forward to the friendly because he has yet to beat Brazil in a senior international.
“It’ll be special thanks to the team we’re playing and also the fact I’ll come face to face with Ronaldinho, a person I’ve got great affection for,” Messi said. “To me, he’s truly like a brother and someone who, along with Deco, helped me so much when I was starting out at Barca. I care about them a lot and always wish them the best.
“Do you know what? I’ve never beaten Brazil with Argentina’s senior side, including that defeat in the Copa America final in Venezuela (in 2007). I think it’s about time I broke my duck.
For Menezes, this will be his biggest test since taking over from Dunga, who was fired following Brazil’s disappointing World Cup campaign. He has promised to restore the “Jogo Bonito (Beautiful Game)” which Dunga had replaced with a much-criticized defensive strategy.
“We’re expecting it to be a game full of creative of play and good quality,” Menezes said. “No doubt it will be a great game because we have two great teams.”
Menezes said he was hopeful a victory would continue what has been a good run in which he has won all three of his games as Brazil coach. He said the addition of Ronaldinho would “bring a lot of experience and technical quality to the team.”
“We have had only three games so far. I’ve been happy with the outcome. Of course, the first one was the best one,” he said, referring to a 2-0 victory over the United States.
“With Ronaldinho joining the team, it’s all part of our plan of getting good results,” he said.
Ronaldinho, for his part, said he was just happy to be back in the national side which he said “marks the beginning of a second career.” The 30-year-old AC Milan midfielder played in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups but missed out this year.
Ronaldinho hasn’t played for Brazil since a World Cup qualifier against Peru in 2009.
“The Selecao jersey is my second skin,” Ronaldinho said in Tuesday’s Gazzetta dello Sport.
“I hope to play in and win the next Copa America. I would also like to play in the London Olympics. I don’t look at my ID card (for age), I look at my enthusiasm.”
Menezes has been keen to go with youth as he looks to build a squad for the 2012 Olympics in London and the 2014 World Cup on home soil. But Ronaldinho’s solid form for Milan in Serie A has persuaded Menezes to bring him back.
“Everybody dreams about playing the 2014 World Cup in Brazil,” Ronaldinho said before leaving Brazil. “And it’s the same with me. It’s still possible that I play and that’s my goal.”
Brazil will be without AC Milan striker Alexandre Pato and Manchester United right back Rafael, who are injured.
The match will be a chance for the tiny desert nation of Qatar to further promote its bid for the 2022 World Cup. Brazil’s Ricardo Teixeira and Argentina’s Julio Grondona are on the FIFA executive committee which will vote on Dec. 2 on the hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
However, Qatar has been investigated for alleged corruption in the bidding race, and FIFA’s ethics panel is set to announce its decision on Thursday.
FIFA has not named the two bids under suspicion, but FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s former right-hand man, Michel Zen-Ruffinen, was shown telling Sunday Times reporters posing as lobbyists that Qatar and Spain-Portugal arranged to secure seven of the 24 votes.
Additional reporting by Tales Azzoni.