BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AFP) - Three
penalties from Brazil's 2002 World Cup hero Ronaldo saw the world
champions to a 3-1 victory over arch-rivals Argentina here in their 2006
World Cup LatAm qualifier.
The victory saw Brazil leapfrog
Argentina - whose goal came from Juan-Pablo Sorin nine minutes from time
- into top spot in the table, though the match ended with Argentine
coach Marcelo Bielsa pulling his players away from referee Oscar Ruiz as
they voiced their frustrations over the penalties.
Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira
said his side had won on merit.
"We had a difficult moment towards
half-time but I told the players not to be so nervous and in the
second-half we more than merited our victory," said Parreira, who
coached Brazil to the 1994 World Cup triphy.
"Argentina is one of the most
accomplished technical sides in the world but I was delighted how we
played once we adapted to their style.
"The sweetness of this victory is
indescribable," he added.
Parreira was also lavish with his praise
for Ronaldo defending him against recent criticism.
"He is the best striker in the world and
he plays for Brazil.
"I don't understand why people question
that and tonight Ronaldo provided the perfect riposte for those critics,"
For Ronaldo it represented a perfect
return to a city where he started his career with local side Cruzeiro.
"This is my home," he beamed.
"To come back here after not playing in
the stadium for 10 years is very emotional and to score three goals
against Argentina is a dream even if I didn't think it was possible,"
said Ronaldo, who admitted it hadn't been one of the world champions
Bielsa bemoaned his side not being able
to keep up their performance throughout the match.
"The first-half I thought we were
excellent in turning the pressure on but in the second-half we lost our
ability to keep the ball and win it back.
"Also we failed to provide a service to
the front two and found it difficult to get in our crosses which is
something we must rectify before we play Paraguay at home on Sunday,"
added Bielsa, who was fortunate to keep his job after Argentina were
knocked out of the 2002 World Cup finals in the first round.
Bielsa said he thought it lamentable
they could not highlight the poor performance of the referee and all but
accused Ronaldo of cheating.
"It is clear that Ronaldo is very
determined and carved out the three fouls for the penalties which
defined the match.
"As for the referee it is unfortunate we
are not allowed to point out the errors he made," he added.
Ronaldo - who took his total goals for
the qualifiers to six - had slotted away his second penalty of the match
to put Brazil 2-0 up in the 68th minute after Javier Mascherano had
fouled in the penalty area.
Roberto Carlos almost made it 3-0 a few
minutes later as his fierce drive from outside the area shaved the far
post with the keeper Pablo Caballero beaten.
Sorin reduced the deficit in the 81st
minute minute after Hernan Crespo's header was turned onto the post by
Dida and the long-haired midfielder was on hand to tap the ball into an
Sorin's Paris Saint Germain team-mate
Gabriel Heinze nearly redeemed himself after being responsible for
giving away the first penalty when he had a great chance to level the
match five minutes from time as unmarked the Manchester United target
saw his header flash over the bar.
In a frenetic finish Javier Saviola
ghosted into the area but his delicately guided shot was safely gathered
down by the post by Dida.
However Brazil wrapped up the three
points when Caballero was harshly judged to have brought down Ronaldo in
the penalty area in stoppage time - the Real Madrid striker looked to
have lost control of the ball and the keeper did not make any contact
Ronaldo had opened his account in the
16th minute after being upended by Heinze and easily beat Caballero,
celebrating by kissing the top of his Real Madrid team-mate Roberto
Crespo had a golden opportunity to level
on the half hour mark but his free header from a corner went over the
bar leaving Sorin shaking his head in frustration.
However Brazil almost went 2-0 up five
minutes later as a trademark rasping freekick by Roberto Carlos just
Mauro Rosales came on for Cesar Delgado
- who had earlier had the ball in the net only for it to be ruled out
because the Argentinian corner had gone out before curling back in again
- just after Roberto Carlos's effort.
Seconds later Argentina had another
chance to level as Roberto Carlos's header fell to Sorin but the Paris
Saint Germain star could only toepoke it over the bar from seven yards
However despite the Argentinians
relative dominance in the first-half - they had four shots on target
compared to the world champions one - they had nothing to show for it as
the half-time whistle blew and things were not to get any better in the