Hosting the World Cup was a tragedy for Brazil in 1950 and a farce in 2014. But there’s one fortress that has but to fall. They have by no means misplaced a World Cup qualifier at dwelling — although this has by no means appeared extra seemingly than Tuesday evening when world champions Argentina pay a go to to Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã stadium.
After 5 rounds of the 2026 qualifying marketing campaign, Argentina are high of the desk. Brazil are down in fifth, and if Ecuador had not been punished for administrative irregularities, they might be sixth. After 4 dangerous video games in a row — and an unprecedented two consecutive defeats in qualification, some are suggesting that that is the worst Brazil aspect in reminiscence. And this leads to the guts of the matter — Argentina seem like a crew, Brazil seem like a shambles.
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga & extra (U.S.)
The Selecao’s coach Fernando Diniz has run into predictable difficulties. He has constructed a profession round being unorthodox. He trusts his gamers to assemble relationships that can lead to flowing off-the-cuff passing actions. But this wants time to implement, and lack of time to practice is the bane of the nationwide crew coach.
With no earlier expertise on the degree, Diniz is struggling badly. At least in final Thursday’s 2-1 defeat to Colombia, his aspect created probabilities — they did little or no of this within the earlier three video games. But the defensive aspect was a catastrophe. Even together with his membership sides, a Diniz defence will be uncovered.
His Brazil aspect have already conceded six objectives within the present marketing campaign — greater than they let in throughout your complete 2022 qualifiers, and greater than everybody else this time spherical bar the underside two, Bolívia and Peru. And final Thursday was an excessive amount of. Colombia had a barely credible 22 probabilities. Two-goal hero Luis Díaz alone had 10. A crew that gives so many alternatives to the opposition is coming into a lottery somewhat than enjoying soccer.
Will Diniz go for one thing extra conservative towards the Argentines? It is a risk. Instead of what successfully was a 4-2-4 towards Colombia, there have to be a temptation to play an additional man in midfield on Tuesday — the place Douglas Luiz of Aston Villa, for instance, is available in for the injured Vinícius Júnior. But Diniz is simply as seemingly to double down and go daring, with Gabriel Jesus coming in to function in a entrance 4 with Raphinha, Rodrygo, and Arsenal clubmate Gabriel Martinelli.
It was seven years in the past on this fixture that Gabriel Jesus actually introduced himself as a global footballer, trying method too sizzling for the Argentina defence to deal with in Belo Horizonte. And the identical might occur once more on Tuesday. The fascinating facet of this match is that it’s so simple to see the place both sides can do harm to the opposite.
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni has constructed a aspect principally made up of Lionel Messi and his fan membership. Those round Messi will do his operating for him and permit him to save himself to make his dramatic interventions. The midfield of Enzo Fernández, Alexis Mac Allister, and Rodrigo De Paul weave their patterns in possession, circulating the ball and in search of to carry Messi into the sport shut to the opposing aim.
And so if Brazil solely play two in midfield (André and Bruno Guimarães have been the pairing towards Colombia), then Argentina will hope to lead them in a merry dance, enjoying round them and thru them and exposing Brazil’s weak spot at full-back because the Colombians did to such good impact. It may very well be painful looking ahead to the house crowd — and the Maracana public can flip viciously towards their very own aspect.
But for all the truth that they’re a consolidated crew, Argentina stay a crew with an Achilles heel. Were it not for a magnificent save from goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez within the final seconds of the World Cup closing, then your complete narrative of Qatar 2022 — and the biography of one of many all-time greats — would learn very otherwise. If Randal Kolo Muani’s shot had gone in, then the story would have been that Messi had been let down by Argentina’s suspect defence. The again line creaked beneath stress towards Australia and the Netherlands and got here shut to collapsing within the closing towards France.
True, for eight video games after Qatar they didn’t let in a single aim. But this was all the time a little too good to be true — and it had loads to do with the dearth of high quality of the opposition. That run ended on Thursday. While Brazil have been dropping in Colombia, Argentina have been taking place 2-0 at dwelling to Uruguay — and Diniz will certainly be enthused by sitting down to watch the highlights.
Uruguay have been in a position to block Argentina after which pose a main menace on the counterattack. A few instances, Darwin Núñez was too fast for Nicolás Otamendi. He received behind the veteran defender and charged for aim — and the second time, he ended his run with a cool end which clinched the three factors.
Brazil lack a centre-forward with the ability of Núñez. But they’ve loads of tempo, and slipping it behind Argentina’s defensive position is the place Diniz will depend on successful the sport and ending the yr on a excessive. There is clearly extra at stake for him than for his opponents.
Whatever occurs on Tuesday, Argentina will nonetheless be forward of Brazil within the desk. True, a second consecutive defeat will probably be a blow to morale, however Scaloni has all the time been conscious that he would want to exchange Otamendi earlier than the following World Cup. He may have greater than two years to discover a resolution. It continues to be not clear how lengthy Messi will probably be round — however Scaloni has already had an encouraging take a look at Julián Álvarez as a Messi substitute.
Argentina, then, can afford to lose with out it changing into a disaster. The similar isn’t true of Brazil, for whom a first-ever dwelling defeat in World Cup qualification can be seen as an additional dose of humiliation.