Coaches face ultimate test
WANDERLEY Luxemburgo and Marcelo Bielsa lead eternal rivals Brazil and Argentina into a Copa America quarter-final battle knowing that a hitherto gentle introduction to international management is about to turn into a white knuckle ride.
Luxemburgo took over the hottest seat in international football last year from Mario Zagallo in the wake of Brazil's 3-0 World Cup final defeat by France, which was seen as a national disaster.
Zagallo, uniquely, was the one man to have been associated with all four of Brazil's World Cup triumphs.
A player in 1958 and 1962, Zagallo was coach to the legendary 1970 winners and was technical adviser to the 1994 champions coached by Carlos Alberto Parreira.
So Luxemburgo's appointment was truly a new start for the most successful team in World Cup history.
But now as the team enter the knockout stages of the Copa America - against their biggest rivals to boot - Luxemburgo knows he is doing the football equivalent of dipping his toe in the nearby Parana River.
If Argentina prevail in this clash of the continent's big fish, Luxemburgo will undergo the media equivalent of being thrown to the piranhas that infest the rivers in these parts.
The former Corinthians boss saw his team win all three Group B matches (against Venezuela, Mexico and Chile) but has enjoyed frosty relations with the ever-critical media.
But Luxemburgo is an assertive coach. He has swept away the USA 94 old guard in the shape of Romario, Dunga and Taffarel.
And he has dumped troublemakers such as Edmundo, Leonardo and Edilson without ceremony.
He has put his faith in youth by pitching in newcomers such as Palmeiras midfielder Alex and Gremio striker Ronaldo Gaucho.
But for the titanic encounter against Argentina he brings back the experienced trio of Rivaldo, Emerson and Cafu.
Skipper Cafu was bullish going into the clash, saying: 'It is a classic, an eliminator and we want to win it.' There could hardly be a more appropriate venue for this match. The Paraguayan town of Ciudad del Este borders both Brazil and Argentina and neighbours one of the world's most spectacular waterfalls.
Luxemburgo may feel he is shooting the rapids but he may take comfort from the fact that his Argentinian counterpart, Marcelo Bielsa, is also negotiating his first tournament as national team boss.
Bielsa has already had to don his flak jacket once after the comprehensive 3-0 Group C defeat by Colombia.
But history is on the side of Bielsa. While Brazil's record at world level is unmatched, Argentina have eclipsed their rivals at continental level. Argentina have 14 Copa America titles - a figure matched only by Uruguay - while Brazil can boast only five.
Another boost for Bielsa is that playmaker Ariel Ortega is once again available for selection. Ortega missed the group matches as he was serving a ban after being sent off in 1998's World Cup quarter-final defeat by Holland.