One great footballer can outsmart two opponents, but to get the best of one opponent, two players don't need to be great. They merely have to work together, position themselves and move the ball well enough to play their rival out of the game.
As football has developed away from one-on-one duels towards a more dynamic contest of 11 permanently against 11, the quest to achieve numerical superiority where it matters is one of the key tasks of the coach. Little Defensa y Justicia did it wonderfully well in the all-Argentine final of the Copa Sudamericana, winning the club's first major trophy with a thumping 3-0 win over Lanus on Saturday.
Before the game there might have been more focus on the Lanus individuals -- especially the 40-year-old centre-forward Jose Sand, his strike partner Nico Orsini and teenage attacking midfielder Pedro De La Vega -- but it was the collectivity of Defensa y Justicia that won the day. It was a triumph not only for Hernan Crespo, whose young coaching career has now received an enormous boost, but also for a club that has risen fast in recent times as a result of a commitment to an idea of play.
The Sudamericana is very much South America's second-string competition. The Copa Libertadores -- all-Brazilian final takes place next Saturday between Palmeiras and Santos -- has much more quality and prestige, but the Sudamericana has interest of its own, not least as a staging post.
Last year it was won by another fascinating little club, Independiente del Valle of Ecuador. The achievement of Defensa y Justicia is not quite as staggering; Independiente del Valle are superbly proficient at producing their own players, then selling them on and promoting the next generation. The youth work of Defensa are not nearly so impressive, with busy midfielder Valentin Larralde the only member of Saturday's starting lineup to have emerged from the youth ranks. But coaches come and go, often to bigger things, and players the same -- the identity remains. Defense are able to assimilate players quickly, to bed them into an idea of play with three centre-backs and a mobile midfield, and a philosophy that goes as follows: We may not be able to match you individually, but we can beat you collectively.
This is what they did to Lanus in the harsh afternoon sunshine of Cordoba, just over 400 miles northwest of Buenos Aires. They moved the ball crisply in the heat, working their moves from flank to flank, and they had Lanus chasing all over the field in the Mario Kempes stadium.
Defensa y Justicia deserved to be ahead before taking the lead just after a half hour. The goal came from a corner, taken from the left by striker Braian Romero. The ball was cleared, and in the second phase Romero cut in on a diagonal run, exchanged passes with Francisco Pizzini, who gave him a delightful back-heeled return, and squared across goal. Walter Bou laid the ball back, and defender Adonis Frias, up for the corner, planted home.
Outplayed in the first half, Lanus coach Luis Zubeldia had a rethink at half-time. His usual 4-4-2 had not worked. Wide men De La Vega and Lucas Vera had spent all their time chasing backwards, helping out a pair of central midfielders who were being overrun, so Zubeldia switched to something more proactive. He went 4-3-3, with De La Vega on the left and Orsini on the right. He aimed to take away Crespo's cover, and match the opponent's back three man to man. Vera came inside to sit on Enzo Fernandez, the holding midfielder who so often gives the vital first pass forward.
Given time and a bit of luck, it might have worked. But before that could happen, Lanus self-destructed. Centre-back Alexis Perez found himself under pressure out by the left flank. He hooked in a back-pass in the direction of keeper Lautaro Morales, and could only watch in horror as Romero nipped in to beat Morales with a subtle lob.
There was no way back. It was hot out there. The idea of a 5 o'clock kickoff had originally been made with late November in mind. The pandemic took away the supporters, forced a late change of referee (Leodan Gonzalez of Uruguay tested positive and was replaced by Jesus Valenzuela of Venezuela) and it also pushed the match back from spring to high summer. Lanus tried to haul themselves back into the match, but they looked a tired side, and near the end Rafael Delgado sliced through their ranks with ease, running all the way from his own half to square for veteran Uruguayan substitute Washington Camacho to complete the scoring.
It was an emphatic victory for a team brought together during the course of the year. Crespo took over when his predecessor resigned in protest at player sales. Players have come in during the past 12 months, a trio are on loan from River Plate. There are some old campaigners among them, and others with stories to tell -- playing for Newell's Old Boys, keeper Ezequiel Unsain suffered a horrific double fracture of the jaw a couple of years back after a collision with Carlos Tevez of Boca Juniors.
Now the pain has turned to glory. Crespo deserves huge credit, too. True, Defensa y Justicia have proved a good place to work for a number of coaches in the past few years. The club is sustaining the team; so often in South America, the reverse is true, and the task proves beyond the coach. Crespo has worked within the club's identity, but has added plenty of himself as well. Calm and determined, he has combined an assortment of youths and journeymen into a team with a continental title to boast about.