POWER PLAY : Argentine, Brazilian Soccer Teams Will Square Off at Coliseum Tonight

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Special to The Times

Two of international soccer’s ranking powers, the national teams from Argentina and Brazil, will meet at the Coliseum tonight in a game that has significance not only for the teams but also for the sport.

The Argentines and Brazilians are en route to South Korea, where they will be among the favorites to win the gold medal in the Olympic Games. Brazil won the silver medal here in 1984, and Argentina is one of the teams the United States must play in the first round.

Beyond that, tonight’s 7:15 p.m. encounter--the first of the four-game Camel Nations Cup tournament being held tonight and Friday--pits two of South America’s fiercest rivals, each with something to prove.


Argentina is the defending world champion, having won the World Cup in Mexico in 1986. Coach Carlos Bilardo is rebuilding the team, however, and the team that takes the field tonight is the nucleus of the one he will send to Italy for the 1990 World Cup.

Brazil, likewise, is preparing for the Olympics but has an eye on 1990. Eliminated by France in the World Cup quarterfinals in 1986, the Brazilians have since enjoyed better luck under new Coach Carlos Alberto Silva. They won the gold medal at the Pan American Games in Indianapolis last year. And in Australia, they recently won the Bicentennial Gold Cup tournament over Australia, Argentina and Saudi Arabia.

But both teams also have had setbacks since the last World Cup. Neither was able to win the quadrennial South American championship in 1987, that honor going to Uruguay. And both have suffered surprising defeats.

Brazil was soundly beaten by upstart Chile in the South American championships, 4-0, and Argentina endured even greater embarrassment in a 4-1 loss to lowly Australia in the Gold Cup.

Argentina’s defeat was labeled “a national disgrace” and “a catastrophe” by the Argentine press, and it had Bilardo scrambling to explain how the world champions could lose to a team from a country where soccer has no better status than it does in the United States.

“This was only an experimental Argentine team,” he said. “Our full team would beat Australia anywhere, anytime--even in Australia and with an Australian referee.”


Bilardo and Silva were among those attending a Nations Cup kickoff luncheon in Los Angeles Monday, and both stressed the importance of tournaments such as this to the development of “a soccer awareness” in the United States, which will play host to the World Cup in 1994.

Of course, that awareness might be helped if the United States team were playing in the tournament. After all, it is training at UC Irvine in preparation for the Olympics. But the U.S. team does not attract the fans who pay the bills for such events, so the Americans will be watching from the stands.

In tonight’s second game at 9, the El Salvador World Cup team--a possible opponent of the United States next year in 1990 qualifying play--will face Club America of Mexico, the Mexican league and cup champion.

Tonight’s losers will play for third place at 7:15 p.m. Friday, and the Nations Cup championship match is set for 9 p.m. that night.