There are few things that Lionel Messi has not achieved in his career. One of them is to score a goal against Brazil in an official match. The holder of eight “Golden Balls” has five goals against the big rival, but all of them have been scored in friendlies.
Tomorrow he will have the chance to change that when the world champions visit Brazil in a world qualifier. All 69,000 tickets for the Maracana clash have long since been sold. Many Brazilians want to see Messi in what could be his last match in Rio de Janeiro. At the same stadium, he lost the 2014 World Cup final to Germany and won the Copa America final against Brazil.
The Argentines are leading the South American qualifiers, although a few days ago they suffered their first loss since winning their world title. They lost to Uruguay 0:2 in Buenos Aires. The situation of the Brazilians is a bit more complicated. The Cariocas lost their last two matches against Colombia and Uruguay, and before that they drew at home with Venezuela.
Much of Brazil has been affected by incredible heat, which has even led to deaths. A week ago, a temperature of 42.5 degrees was registered in Rio de Janeiro, which is a record for November. These conditions are a month before summer sets in in the Southern Hemisphere. In the last few hours, the temperatures have dropped a bit thanks to light rain, but the temperatures and emotions are expected to be very high at the Maracana.
Brazil has one record that will be at risk. “Karioki” have never lost a match of world qualifiers as hosts in their history. The coach Fernando Dinis is under huge pressure after the weak performance of the team in the last matches. Against Colombia, the team at least created a goal chance – something that rarely happened to them in the previous three meetings.
However, the Brazilians’ defense is a tragedy. The team has conceded six goals in the five games since the start of the qualifiers – more than all the goals they conceded last year. In the last meeting, the Colombians created as many as 22 chances. Home hero Luis Diaz, who scored twice, had 10 chances. A team that allows so many situations in front of their goal is playing the lottery.
Will Dinis bet on something different against Argentina? It is possible to drop an extra man into midfield, where Douglas Lewis from Aston Villa could come in alongside Bruno Guimaraes and Andre. However, Dinis can also take a risk and go boldly forward, with Gabriel Jesus operating ahead of Rafinha, Rodrigo and Arsenal team-mate Gabriel Martinelli.
The five-time world champion also has personnel problems. Important players like Neymar and Vinicius are seriously injured. In view of this, it is possible that the new hope of the team Endrik will start as a starter. The 17-year-old talent debuted for the team a few days ago in the match against Colombia.
Argentia manager Lionel Scaloni has built a team around Lionel Messi. Those around him are willing to run more to allow him to perform in the decisive moments. The midfield of Enzo Fernandez, Alexis McAllister and Rodrigo De Paul play the ball with the idea of finding Messi near the opponent’s goal.
If Brazil play with only two typical midfielders, the Argentinians will try to take advantage of this by moving around them and exploiting the opponent’s weaknesses on the wings. It was with this idea that Scaloni tested Angel Di Maria as a starter in one of the last training sessions.
Although Argentina is a solid team, it has an Achilles heel. If it wasn’t for Emiliano Martinez’s fantastic save in the final seconds of the World Cup final in Qatar, the entire history of the World Cup and Messi’s biography would have been different. If Randall Kolo Muani had sent the ball into the net, the story would have been how Leo was failed by the weak defense of the “Gauchos”. She bent under pressure in the matches against Australia and the Netherlands and came close to doing so in the final against France.
It is true that in eight games since Qatar, the Argentines have not conceded a goal, but this is a bit deceiving and largely due to weak opponents. That streak ended last Thursday when Uruguay scored two goals against them. Darwin Nunes proved too quick for Nicolas Otamendi on several occasions. The Brazilians do not have a striker with the power of Nunes, but they have a lot of speed that can cause problems for the “gauchos”.
A loss for either of the two South American giants will be taken hard by the fans and the year will end on a sour note for them. Argentina can easily handle a possible defeat, as they will remain in a good position for the classification and will have time to improve things. For Brazil, a third loss in a row and first home loss in world qualifiers, and it will be perceived as a humiliation by the great rival.
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