Brazil’s 3-0 drubbing of Argentina last night leaves Tite’s side top of the CONMEBOL qualification group for Russia 2018, while Argentina languish outside the top five.
Suffice to say, the trademark flair and excitement has been missing from Brazil’s game in recent tournaments. Early exits from the last two Copa Americas were the sign of a national team in ruin following the 7-1 humiliation at the hands of Germany at the last World Cup.
However, last night’s comfortable victory over Argentina was a footballing masterclass. The front three of Neymar, Coutinho and Gabriel were irresistible, wreaking havoc on an error-strewn Argentine defence. Governed by the impressive Marquinhos, the back four were unmoved, as Lionel Messi struggled to impose himself in a game of great importance.
All in all, there is cause for cautious optimism ahead of Russia 2018 based on last night’s performance, in a game that was a real test of Brazil’s mettle. Meanwhile, Argentina will be left searching for answers as their qualification campaign experiences another setback.
BRAZIL REVITALISED UNDER TITE
Following Dunga’s underwhelming second spell as manager – in which he oversaw two early Copa America exits – there was a lingering taste of failure to the Brazilian national team. The bruises from their infamous World Cup capitulation never fully healed under Dunga as the team struggled to find their identity.
However, the arrival of Tite following Dunga’s sacking has brought a newfound belief and freedom to the team. The shackles are off in an attacking sense, allowing the likes of Neymar and Philippe Coutinho to assert their influence. Brazil are top scorers in CONMEBOL qualification, and are demonstrating the kind of free-flowing football that is synonymous with Brazilian football.
With 11 games now played in qualification, the question is whether Tite and Brazil can maintain this fine form all the way to Russia, where they will hope to win a sixth World Cup. Brazil are always expected to challenge, and this expectation has proved too much for the sides of the past three World Cups.
COUTINHO THE REAL DEAL
Perhaps the telling thing about Philippe Coutinho’s fine performance last night was how unsurprising it was. His rifled strike into the top corner to give Brazil the lead was as much expected as it was inspired.
This season – for both club and country – Coutinho has added a level of consistency to his game that has been absent in previous seasons. His talent was never in doubt, but his inability to showcase it on a weekly basis was often the frustration of Liverpool fans in the past.
At 24, Coutinho is still a very young player, a fact that is often forgotten. He is one example from many of a player who is flourishing under the guidance of Jurgen Klopp, and Brazil are reaping the benefits from this. With the Liverpool playmaker in such fine form, rumours about him joining teammate Neymar at Barcelona in a big money move are unsurprising.
ARGENTINA LOOK JADED
While Brazil’s recent tournament performances have been little short of catastrophic failures, Argentina’s have been a series of near-misses. Three finals in recent tournaments have yielded three defeats; to Germany in the World Cup final two years ago, followed by successive Copa America final losses against Chile.
There’s a sense of fatigue about this Argentina side. For large parts of last night’s game, they looked disinterested, a rare failing in a fixture that usually evokes such passion. In the second half, Argentina’s front three consisted of Messi, Aguero and Higuaín, three of the world’s finest forwards. However, they exhibited nothing of the sparkling form they’re currently enjoying at their respective clubs.
Much of this must fall at the feet of coach Edguardo Bauza. Defensive errors cost Argentina dearly last night – Pablo Zabaleta demonstrating poor positional play for the first two goals, and Emmanuel Mas misjudging the flight of the ball for Paulinho’s third. These errors, combined with the overall lack of fight in Argentina’s performance leaves Bauza with a lot of work to do.
It’s rare that the word ineffective is used in the same sentence as Lionel Messi, but the Argentine captain’s performance last night was largely non-influential. He struggled to exhibit his trademark dribbling skills and found Marquinhos and Miranda immovable.
So crestfallen was Messi at recent international disappointments, the 29 year-old announced his retirement from the Argentina setup after the Copa America in June. Bauza has convinced him to continue playing, but the Barcelona magician might regret reversing his decision if Argentina can’t turn around their poor form and qualify for Russia.
A LONG WAY TO GO FOR BOTH SIDES
Just as Brazil have a lot to do to continue their fine form and head to Russia with the best possible chance, Argentina will also have plenty of chances to arrest their recent slide. These storied footballing nations are experiencing contrasting fortunes at the moment and last night’s result was a clear reflection of that.