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Diego Tardelli is Brazil’s late bloomer as Argentina lack balance

Every so often, famous footballing nations produce talents that blossom around the age of 30. Step forward Diego Tardelli who, upon the occasion of his eighth cap, endeared himself to Brazil fans everywhere by bagging a brace in their Superclasico de las Americas clash with bitter rivals Argentina in the Bird’s Nest amid Beijing smog.

The Chinese capital, half a world away, had been a happy hunting ground for La Albiceleste. Some six years prior to this meeting with the Samba Boys, Argentina scooped Olympic gold, beating their continental enemy across town at the old Workers Stadium in the semi-finals.

Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Lionel Messi played key roles in that successful squad, but the latest chapter in South America’s fiercest football rivalry belonged to Brazil. A prestige friendly on paper, this was anything but.

Messi’s uncharacteristic, scything and needless lunge on David Luiz close to the touchline after 10 minutes rather set the tone for this deadly derby. Fellow Barcelona forward Neymar remains a natural target of physical attention, and faced an Argentine back four comprised entirely of Premier League players.

Both these football superpowers are under new management after coming up just short at the recent world cup in Brazil. The Samba Boys turned back to their trophy lifting captain from USA 1994, Dunga, while Argentina appointed Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino, who can consider himself fortunate to find work so fast after a reputation-damaging season at the Nou Camp.

Snatching no silverware with Barca doesn’t make Martino, who coached Paraguay to the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the only South American who has failed to be successful in Europe. La Albiceleste were undone by a player that fits this description in Tardelli.

Premier League audiences, Arsenal and Liverpool fans in particular, got brief glimpses of the Brazil frontman in Champions League action for PSV Eindhoven way back in the 2006/07 season. This loan spell with the Dutch giants was the first of two botched transfers to European football made by Tardelli.

He tried again with once mega-rich Anzhi Makhachkala, but stayed in Russia for just one campaign (2011/12). It has been at Atletico Mineiro where, over two spells, Tardelli attracted attention with prolific form.

Dunga saw something in the striker during his first stint in charge of the Samba Boys, but in five caps he failed to make an impact. A return to the international fold for Tardelli followed the reappointment of this modern era Brazil legend, and now he has delivered.

The goals he scored here, to hand his country bragging rights over their rivals, and wipe some of the shame away from that World Cup hammering on home soil handed out by Germany in the semi-finals, were nothing fancy. Tardelli took full advantage as Swansea City summer signing Federico Fernandez headed Oscar’s hopeful cross up rather than out and volleyed past Sergio Romero.

Before sealing victory with 25 minutes left, Messi saw a tame and late first half penalty saved by new Samba Boys number one Jefferson. Argentina lacked balance, essentially set up by Martino in a 4-2-4, with rejuvenated Spurs winger Erik Lamela joining Di Maria, Aguero and La Albiceleste’s skipper in a top-heavy XI.

Juventus loanee Roberto Pereyra was handed a debut here but, for all his energy and endeavour, a midfield runner of his ilk failed to connect a sensational front four from the back five. Martino’s machinations on the Argentine tactics board are a far cry from his Paraguay side of four years ago.

Attacking imbalance is not a new phenomenon for La Albiceleste, but most punters will have grown up watching Javier Zanetti, Roberto Ayala, Walter Samuel and Juan Pablo Sorin – as solid a back four as Argentina have ever had.

You can add left-footer Gabriel Heinze in there too, and his successor, both for country and Manchester United, Marcos Rojo, still has a question mark about going forward. La Albiceleste conceded from a set piece here; Luiz allowed to flick on former Chelsea teammate Oscar’s corner to the back post for Tardelli to tap in.

None of the Argentine defenders matched the aggression of anchorman Javier Mascherano, who remains as vital a part of their spine as Messi. He’s now surpassed Diego Simeone’s number of caps and, if he chooses to quit internationals after the Copa America next summer, then Martino has a major problem.

Martin Demichelis gave away expert fouls, but is a declining force that could easily be replaced in the side by the currently out of international favour Spurs signing Federico Fazio, injured Ezequiel Garay or Nicolas Otamendi, who is unbeaten with Valencia.

Etihad teammate Pablo Zabaleta, meanwhile, looks more comfortable in the Sky Blue jersey and white shorts of Manchester City than the similar colours of his country. Martino has more to ponder on the road next summer’s Copa America in Chile than Dunga, who could afford to give Brazil old guard Kaka and Robinho token caps in late cameos here.

Tardelli’s time is now on this evidence. He should learn a lesson from Samba Boys predecessor Fred and fellow late bloomer Luca Toni, who won a global crown with Italy, and unlike them keep as active in the box as he can. Brazil are 10/1 to lift the next World Cup with Coral.