During Adriano Ribeiro Leite's first game with FC Internazionale, he waved off his veteran teammates to take a 35-yard free kick against Real Madrid. Adriano was 19 when he drilled that shot into the net at Estadio Bernabeu. This was a summer exhibition match, but it was an impressive debut, though it did not guarantee Adriano a place on the team. In fact, Adriano was loaned to Fiorentina and Parma and has performed only briefly for Inter. In 68 Serie A games, Adriano has scored 38 goals.
Adriano is 22 now, and he could displace Italian national team star Christian Vieri as Inter's main striker.
But Adriano has still not convinced his countrymen, despite being named outstanding player of the Copa America tournament in Peru. Adriano scored seven goals in the tournament, including the last-second tying score as Brazil shocked Argentina, 2-2, then won on penalties Sunday at Estadio Nacional in Lima. Adriano, at 6 feet 3 inches and 192 pounds, relies too much on power to appeal to most Brazilians, who prefer their strikers to be more like Romario or Ronaldo, who display cleverness, flexibility, and versatility.
Adriano also converted a penalty kick, so even though he accomplished little in much of the match, the last two times he touched the ball, he scored. That type of explosiveness compensated for the fact that Adriano impeded ball movement as often as he facilitated it. In fact, Argentina displayed a more fluid game than the Brazilians, and dominated play. Brazil also scored on a header by Benfica defender Luisao at the end of the first half, but produced few threats in the run of play.
This was a remarkable accomplishment for Brazil, which was missing Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Ronaldinho Gaucho (Barcelona), and Kaka (Milan). Julio Baptista (Seville), one of the top scorers in Spain, and Ricardo Oliveira (Valencia), performed only briefly. Carlos Alberto (Porto), who scored the deciding goal in the Champions League final against Monaco, was not only missing from this team, but will not likely figure in the Selecao until qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.
This was a young Brazilian team, but the players displayed more maturity and patience than the Argentines. After Argentina took a 2-1 lead in the 88th minute, the actions of players such as Andres D'Alessandro and Carlos Tevez provoked the Brazilians. D'Alessandro and Tevez played keepaway by standing on the ball, inviting the Brazilians to slide in and/or foul them.
"This shows that Brazil not only has great football players, it has intelligent players, who know to respect the opponent," midfielder Edu said.
Brazilian midfielder Alex said: "Seeing them [D'Alessandro and Tevez], really you couldn't expect anything else. We respect them a lot, which is something Argentinians sometimes don't have for Brazilians. This was more proof that Brazilian football has much more to show than Argentinian football."
Tevez performed a similarly costly stunt for Boca Juniors after scoring the go-ahead goal against River Plate in the Copa Libertadores semifinals this year, removing his shirt and imitating a chicken, for which he was ejected in the 90th minute. Five minutes into injury time, River Plate reserve Cristian Nasuti converted the series-tying goal.
"The result of the game, which has the objective of determining the best team in the tournament, contradicts the football presented by the two teams," Argentina coach Marcelo Bielsa said. "For everything that happened, the game shouldn't have been decided by penalties. Argentina was superior the whole game."
Argentina was certainly the best team for most of the 41st Copa America, but the final seconds of the tournament were costly. The Argentines probably could have stalled away the final minutes without inciting Brazil. That extra motivation made the difference, since Brazil might otherwise have required more time to recover from the demoralizing effect of Javier Delgado's goal.
Adriano, though, apparently requires no extra stimulation.
"In Europe, I am well regarded and in Brazil I am not," Adriano said. "But, as I have already said, the work I do in the Selecao could open the doors to be recognized in Brazil."
Iraq accomplished the upset of the Asian Cup, taking a 2-1 victory over Saudi Arabia Sunday on an 86th-minute goal by Younis Mahmoud in Chengdu, China. This was Iraq's first win over the Saudis since 1988 and led to the firing of Saudi Arabia's Dutch coach, Gerard van der Lem.
Iraq finished second in Group C, behind Uzbekistan, and will meet China in the second round in Beijing Friday. The Iraqis were cheered on by the Chinese crowd and have become sentimental favorites of the event.
"The world's football family has taken Iraq to its heart and has rallied to the country's cause," noted the official publication of the Asian Football Confederation.
Yamam Nabeel, an Iraqi exile working for AKB Media, a television production company in the United Kingdom, has financed and organized the preparations for Iraq's national team, which is coached by Bernd Stange, a German.
Meanwhile, van der Lem became the 13th Saudi coach to be fired in 10 years. "We gave him two years and offered him everything but he failed," said Prince Nawaf Bin Faisal, vice president of the Saudi Football Federation.
Shalrie Joseph and Steve Ralston will join Revolution teammate Pat Noonan on the MLS Eastern Conference All-Star team for Saturday's game in Washington. Revolution midfielder Clint Dempsey (broken jaw) was also chosen but is not expected to return until the Revolution-San Jose game Sept. 4. That match will be the second of a doubleheader involving the US and El Salvador in a World Cup qualifier at Gillette Stadium.