Robinho was named the Copa America’s best player and also finished as top scorer with six goals, one ahead of Juan Roman Riquelme who today merely embellished his reputation for being one of football’s most enigmatic stars.
Speaking after the final whistle Robinho recognized that Brazil had not exactly shone through the tournament.
“This was a group that worked and fought loads and knew that we had to get better. We achieved our objective. He had problems since the beginning. We knew it was going to be difficult but we achieved our objective.”
While Robinho was fundamental in getting Brazil out of the group stages many will argue that he was not the tournament’s best player. Javier Mascherano who battled bravely and vainly right through the final has a claim to that distinction and Riquelme had an even stronger one going into the final.
Up until then he was the Copa’s best player and his performances had football purists around the world – and nowhere more so than in Brazil – applauding in admiration.
But Riquelme is frequently referred to as enigmatic for a reason. Many Argentines have long worried that he is someone who disappears when the pressure is on in the biggest games. This is unfair on an player who has led teams to Copa Libertadores titles but it contains a grain of truth. Today will have provided more ammunition for his critics as he had no answer to the tough marking of Josué and Mineiro.
And while Riquelme is Argentina’s best player and greatest threat he can be their Achilles Heel. If he is not on form, the team – designed around him – loses its sense of itself. In the final the previously slick Argentine machine looked disjointed.
So today’s final will only have added to the great mystery that surrounds this amazingly talented player. Of course blame cannot be laid exclusively at Riquelme’s boots. Argentina have been blowing crunch matches for more than a decade now and soon it will not just be Brazilian fans who mock them as chokers.
Basile deserves credit for trying to win the tournament playing beautiful football. Dunga has been vilified by much of the press at home for trying to win ugly. But maybe it is Dunga, the novice, rather than Coco the old hand, who understands best the sad realities of the modern athletic game.
The World Cup qualifiers later this year will provide us with the first clues of how both nations digest the lessons of tonight. Tostão feared before the game that a Brazil victory would lead to the marginalization of players like Ronaldinho and Kaká in favour of the midfield battlers Dunga built this victory on.
For Argentina they must ask if this defeat means they must adapt or abandon their dedication to their short passing game in the search for something that wins titles rather than praise.
We will have early indications of the answers to those questions by the end of the year.
For fans who have long looked to South America for attacking flair with their football this Copa was great to watch and an antidote to the dullness of the last World Cup and much of the current international game in Europe in general.
But for many who fear that athleticism and tactical conservatism are squeezing the beauty out of football the wrong team will have won today, no matter how deserved that victory was. And that is why for all the goals and attacking intent this Copa will have ended in a question mark rather than a great affirmation of all that’s good in the game.