Edgardo Bauza’s team selection left little doubt that the under pressure coach was selecting a team to avoid defeat in Belo Horizonte, to stifle Brazil’s talented forwards and hope Lionel Messi could provide a moment of magic. For 25 minutes or so, the game plan worked but when Phillippe Coutinho cut inside and unleashed a powerful right footed shot into the top corner, any strategy and, as it transpired, hopes of an Argentina win went out the window.
The opening stages had been what many had expected from the game with neither side yet taking a grasp of the match and Neymar and Messi both drawing plenty of fouls as the two defences quickly identified the main threats.
Lucas Biglia had come closest to opening the scoring with a volley that drew a fine save from Allison but in one of the first opportunities for Neymar and Coutinho to find space, Bauza’s creaking defence were exposed. Barcelona’s Brazilian icon found the Liverpool midfielder and easily evaded the attention of Pablo Zabaleta and Nicolás Otamendi to hammer the ball past Sergio Romero.
The energy and pace of Brazil’s attack aged Zabaleta almost instaneously and all of the doubts surrounding the central defensive pairing of Otamendi and Ramiro Funes Mori came flooding back.
While you could argue Bauza’s initial plan to sit deep with two banks of four was suitable in the situation, there appeared no backup if Brazil took the lead. Messi’s influence gradually diminished and as the midfield lost control, the Seleção took greater control.
The contest was effectively ended on the stroke of half time when the Argentine defence failed to track the run of Neymar allowing Gabriel Jesus’ to slip the ball through to the 24-year-old, who was left with the simple task of rolling the ball past Romero for his 50th Brazil goal.
If you could argue that for 25 minutes of the first half there was little between the two sides, there was no doubt which team was in charge after the break. Edgardo Bauza’s decision to add another striker in the form of Sergio Agüero and sacrifice Enzo Pérez saw any semblance of balance disappear and Brazil ran amok.
Paulinho had already had one effort cleared off the line when he should have scored but minutes later, more calamitous defending allowed the former Tottenham midfielder to slam in a third.
Brazil lost 7-1 to Germany the last time they played in the Mineirão and in the second half, Tite’s side could conceivably have scored a number closer to that than the three they did manage.
Brazil have a foot in Russia after a fifth straight win while Argentina face a nervy run-in that begins on Tuesday against Colombia. La Albiceleste sit down in sixth, outside the final qualification place, but it remains tight and three points against Colombia could elevate Bauza’s side back into third, depending on other results.
While the pressure increases on an Argentina coach who looks increasingly out of his depth, El Patón remains confident. “We still have a lot to do before the qualifiers end. We know that classification still depends on what we do. The game against Colombia will be different.”
As much of a worry as potentially missing the 2018 World Cup is how poor Argentina are playing and how Bauza continues to rely on the same misfiring stars. The over reliance on the same players is hurting Argentina but a coach must be able to identify these points and make the necessary changes.
Lionel Messi said after the defeat, “We are more than aware that we have to change a lot. Of all the bad points, the good one is that we depend on ourselves but we can’t be giving away any more points.”
That is true but the changes that Messi refers to are the same ones that have been evident for over a year and yet Gerardo Martino nor Edgardo Bauza have made them. With the Argentina Football Association in no situation to pay the money required for a top coach with European football experience, La Albiceleste must hope that Bauza can see what must be done.
Brazil 3 – 0 Argentina