There are few matches in world football that can capture the imaginations of fans around the globe quite as much as the old rivalry between Argentina and Brazil. 102 years on from their first ever meeting, the two nations have enjoyed more than their fair share of success and boasted a plethora of the greatest players to have ever played the game. It is a game that needs no added subplot but Thursday’s World Cup qualifier in Belo Horizonte has just that, with Brazil looking to vanquish old demons and Argentina simply aiming to get qualification back on track.
It’s been over two years since the neverending chorus of ‘Brasil, decime qué se siente’ plagued Brazilian football supporters. The 2014 World Cup witnessed Brazil’s greatest ever embarrassment with the 7-1 drubbing at the hands of Germany and saw Alejandro Sabella restore faith in Argentina as La Albiceleste reached the final before sparing the host nation the ultimate humiliation by losing in the final.
Argentina might be fielding much the same team as they did in that World Cup final on Thursday night but much has changed. La Albiceleste have since lost two further major finals and while both nations have had relatively recent coaching changes, Brazil now sit top of qualifying with a resurgent young team while Argentina are perhaps one defeat away from major crisis.
Argentina haven’t missed a World Cup tournament since 1974 but after a string of poor recent results in the absence of Lionel Messi, culminating in last month’s home defeat to Paraguay, and FIFA’s punishment of Bolivia boosting rivals Chile, Edgardo Bauza’s side sit uncomfortably outside the qualification places. A daunting trip to Brazil followed by a tricky visit of Colombia on Tuesday may make the situation look a whole lot worse in a week’s time.
As La Albiceleste’s fortunes have taken something of nosedive, Brazil have emerged from the ashes of the German humiliation to capture Olympic gold last summer and under new coach Tite, record four straight qualifying wins. Thursday will see the Seleção return to the same site of that defeat, the Mineirão in Belo Horizonte, but make no mistake the pressure is on the visitors.
— Selección Argentina (@Argentina) November 9, 2016
With that in mind, Edgardo Bauza has picked his Argentina starting eleven accordingly, with avoiding defeat being the main goal. Lionel Messi’s return is the major boost and the Barcelona star will be given something of a free role off Gonzalo Higuaín in a compact 4-4-2. This narrow midfield with Ángel Di María and a recalled Enzo Pérez, is similar to the formation that Alejandro Sabella reverted to in 2014 and it will look to drop deep into two banks of four to stifle Neymar and Philippe Coutinho before springing forward on the counter.
Tite will see no reason to change the way his Brazil side have been playing and so his 4-1-4-1 or 4-3-3 will look to Fernandinho, Paulinho and Renato Augusto to control midfield and then to the flanks where Neymar and Coutinho will provide the drifting threat behind the pace of Gabriel Jesus.
Brazil’s only lingering problem is the continued injury absence of Casemiro because while Fernandinho did a fine job in the victories over Bolivia and Venezuela, Lionel Messi should ensure a far more thorough examination of his credentials to replace the Real Madrid holding midfield.
Dunga’s Brazil ground out a 1-1 draw in the Monumental last November against a Messi-less Argentina, this Tite side will be a completely different proposition and Edgardo Bauza will be wary.
Brazil have never lost a World Cup qualifier at home and Argentina have so far won every match in the current process when Messi has played so something has to give.