By Samindra Kunti
November 11 – Neymar and Phillipe Coutinho starred in Brazil’s comprehensive 3-0 win against Argentina in Belo Horizonte. The result leaves Argentina in danger of missing out on Russia 2018.
Argentina remain sixth in the 10-team South American qualifying group, with the top four automatically qualifying. The fifth-placed country in the group will go into a play-off with the Oceania group winners.
The Argentines have 16 points from 11 games, one point adrift of fourth-placed Ecuador but eight behind leaders Brazil, who have 24 points. On Tuesday, they host Colombia.
Messi, Aguero and Higuain point to the depth of talent Argentina are providing to Europe’s club game, but questions have to be asked if they have what it takes as a group on the international stage. Against Brazil, in a crucial World Cup qualifier, the visitors suffered from too many architectural flaws. They were top-heavy and had little to offer in both the defense and midfield.
The duel between Fernandinho and Lionel Messi was fascinating – a serial fouler vs genius to steer the match in a deciding direction. Messi had the better of Fernandinho in the first 25 minutes, with the overzealous Manchester City player getting close to a sending off, but Philippe Coutinho’s goal changed the complexion of the game.
Neymar provided Coutinho with a deft touch that almost surprised the Liverpool player, who quickly scampered forward, cut inside, and, reducing Nicolas Otamendi to a conspicuous cone, drove home into the top corner. In the Coutinho cosmos, the goal was of a textbook craftsmanship.
Gabriel Jesus was next to provide a goal, with an ingenious assist. Neymar picked up Jesus’s dainty and well-camouflaged through-ball and his subsequent goal – his 50th in the Brazil shirt – was testimony to an excellent partnership between the two that has blossomed under Tite’s management. Jesus allowed Neymar to play his Barcelona role. They had an understanding, both in terms of movement and swapping positions.
Argentina’s defense was poor. After the break Argentina coach Bauza substituted Enzo Perez for Sergio Aguero, but the visitors and star player Lionel Messi struggled to make an impact and Paulinho added Brazil’s third.
With the victory, Brazil celebrated a return to the Mineirao stadium, where they suffered an unforgiving 7-1 defeat at the hands of Germany at the 2014 World Cup.
“When they hit us hard, we struggled to recover,” said Messi, who plays alongside Neymar at Barcelona.
“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.”
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