Brazil Is Sent Off By Argentina, 3-0

By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 20, 2008

BEIJING, Aug. 19 -- Brazilian goalkeeper Renan was furious Tuesday night. In the haze of the Olympic pitch, he pulled the ball from his net and hurled it to the turf. Arms raised, he waved his hands at his teammates walking quickly away. They did not turn around. Nor did they look at the group of Argentine players celebrating off to the side.

Nearly half a game remained in this Olympic men's soccer semifinal, but mighty Brazil was beaten.

Brazil was supposed to own the Olympics, having thundered through the preliminary rounds. Then, on the soft turf of Beijing Workers' Stadium, its fleet attack went soft, its defense fell apart and its 3-0 loss to the defending Olympic champion was over long before Argentina's coach, Sergio Batista, embraced his players in elation. Brazil was crushed like it hadn't been in a long, long time.

Afterward, Batista sat in a news conference, his long, dark hair slicked back, blue shirt sleeves rolled up, delighted at the upset in one of the biggest soccer matches in the world this year and faced the first question. It came from a man wearing a shirt and cap that read "Nigeria." What about Nigeria, Argentina's opponent in the Olympic gold medal match on Saturday? The man wondered whether Argentina has a chance against Nigeria.

Batista looked startled to be asked such a question after destroying the team that was supposed to be the best in the Olympics. He whispered to the interpreter beside him.

"Right now we are savoring this victory," said the coach who had just beaten the presumed gold medal winning team. "We should take a day off to savor the victory."

To understand how big an upset this really was, Brazil had come into the match having outscored Olympic opponents 11-0. It had on its roster one of the world's finest players, Ronaldhino. Few expected it would lose this game. Almost no one anticipated the vanquishing this game would turn out to be.

But Brazil had no answer for Argentina forward Sergio Aguero. Aguero sliced through Brazil's porous defense for two easy goals. The first came not long after halftime, in the 52nd minute, when Aguero cut in front of the Brazil goal and stood in perfect position for Angel Di Maria's line drive pass that smacked Aguero in either the left arm or the chest and into the net.

The second came just six minutes later when Argentina's Ezequiel Garay slipped past a defender and flicked a quick pass to Aguero, who this time was more open than the last. He simply tapped the ball past Renan for the second score and Brazil's goalie fumed.

"It was like the final for us," Aguero said later. "Beating Brazil is the best thing."

Then came the red cards. After Argentina added one last score on a penalty kick, Brazil's players raged at the embarrassment of such a decisive defeat. First, midfielder Lucas was kicked out for pushing his Liverpool teammate Javier Mascherano in the back. Then Thiago Neves went out four minutes later, leaving Brazil with just nine players with which to run out the time.

How Brazil could fall apart so fast seemed inexplicable to most of the 52,568 fans in the stadium. Strangely, despite the great stakes of a match between two of soccer's biggest powers, the stands were not filled. Swaths of red seats at the field's center were empty, as were most of the last 10 rows of most of the upper sections. Because neither country had a large fan base here, the usual rowdiness of a World Cup match was missing, which seemed to mute the jubilation of Argentina's players.

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