Mercado hands Sampaoli winning start as Argentina defeat Brazil (VIDEO)

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Jorge Sampaoli began his highly-anticipated Argentina tenure in front of over 95,000 spectators in Melbourne and while the clash with Brazil was far from a classic, Gabriel Mercado ensured that La Albiceleste’s new era got off on the right foot.

A hugely promising opening 45 minutes, full of intense pressing and neat, quick passing, as is typical of a Jorge Sampaoli side, gave Argentina a deserved half time lead. Gabriel Mercado volleying in from close range after a Nicolás Otamendi header had come back off the post.

However, La Albiceleste lost their way somewhat after the break perhaps not aided by the changes in personnel and system and were ultimately fortunate to leave the MCG with the win. Brazil enjoyed superiority throughout the second half and will still be wondering how they didn’t equalise when Gabriel Jesus rounded Sergio Romero only to hit the post with the goal open followed by Willian’s rebound striking the other upright.

Lionel Messi was something of a peripheral figure and aside from a few deft touches here and there, the Argentina captain didn’t hold the limelight as expected. Instead it was Ángel Di María, who provided the greatest threat in the attack. The Paris Saint-Germain wide-man clattering the post early but constantly stretching Brazil down the left.

A promising debut performance for Sampaoli but one that is still in obvious need of work. The defence were not always entirely comfortable playing out from the back, the midfield didn’t entirely link with Messi, attacks were too focused down the left and Higuaín cut a fairly isolated figure but in a such a short space of time that was expected.

The positives far outweighed the negatives and inflicting a first defeat on Tite’s Brazil will only serve to increase confidence.

Messi, Nicolás Otamendi and Gonzalo Higuaín will all miss Tuesday’s friendly against Singapore and presumably Sampaoli will take a closer look at the rest of his squad to try and get a clearer idea in his mind ahead of the critical World Cup qualifiers in a couple of months.

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