More than 95,000 supporters crammed into the famous MCG on Friday for a clash between Argentina and Brazil that Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho correctly said ‘is never a friendly’ but this latest Superclásico de las Américas was of even greater importance as Argentina shepherded in a new era under Jorge Sampaoli to put a dismal year behind them and get one over their resurgent old foe.
Gabriel Mercado’s 44th-minute winner proved enough to get the new regime off to a winning start but only an amazing Gabriel Jesus miss denied Brazil a deserved equaliser when Argentina noticeably dipped after half time. Brazil are almost a year along in their progression and while victory serves as a morale boost, Sampaoli will need time.
A coaching change can make all the difference and one need only look at the past year for the two South American giants to see that. Brazil were sixth in World Cup qualifying when Tite took the helm but have rattled off nine straight wins since to guarantee their spot in Russia while Argentina have gone from third to fifth and won only three of the eight matches Edgardo Bauza oversaw.
Brazil emerged as FIFA’s number one ranked side, the favourites for next summer’s World Cup and implemented an attractive, young side that was the envy of Argentina while struggling with the same aging squad under the dour tactics of Bauza.