Brazil-Argentina: Five talking points ahead of the clash in Saudi Arabia
Ahead of the hotly anticipated clash between Brazil and Argentina in Riyadh, we review some of the major talking points.
Messi returns after lengthy ban
Lionel Messi makes his return to the Argentina squad following his three-month suspension .
The Barcelona forward was handed the ban for calling the Copa América tournament organisers and referees “corrupt” following his sending off in the third-place play-off against Chile in July.
Rodrygo: Real Madrid it-boy could make debut
Brazil captain and PSG defender Thiago Silva said he has no concern about facing the returning Lionel Messi on Friday evening.
However, after his first brief training encounter with Rodrygo at the start of the week, he admitted to being more worried about facing Real Madrid’s young starlet when PSG face Los Blancos in the Champions League in a few weeks’ time.
"I hope Zidane leaves him on the bench," Thiago Silva said jokingly when asked by AS at a press conference on Monday.
He added: “We have done a quick training session and in the ‘rondo’ it could be seen that his way of touching the ball is different.
“He’s skilled. I hope he can help us a lot now and in the future. Being in the national team is a unique opportunity and I hope he knows how to take advantage of his experience wisely."
Brazil head coach Tite, who omitted Madrid’s other samba starlet Vinicius this time around, could hand Rodrygo that unique opportunity against Argentina. Rodrygo, who netted a hat-trick in his Champions League debut last week, has surpassed Vinicius in Zidane’s pecking order at the Bernabéu and his Brazil call-up confirms he has also done so with Tite.
Superclásico de las Américas: a Saudi Affair
This is the second time that Saudi Arabia hosts the Superclásico de las Américas in little over a year. Last October, the two South American heavyweights clashed in Jeddah, with Brazil running out 1-0 winners to claim the trophy for the fourth time thanks to a 93rd-minute goal by Miranda, the former Inter Milan defender now plying his trade in China. This was followed by Argentina’s second consecutive defeat to their arch rivals in the Copa America semi-final.
Since the creation of the Superclásico de las Américas trophy in 2011 there have been five editions, with Brazil winning four titles and Argentina one.
This time it is fans in Riyadh who are set for a taste of one of football’s oldest and most intense international rivalries. The Kingdom is fast becoming a hub for major sporting events. Earlier this year it hosted its first European Tour golf event and in December will stage the hotly-anticipated heavyweight boxing match between Andy Ruiz and Anthony Joshua.
Contrasting form: Argentina’s resurgence; Brazil’s downward dip
Argentina’s World Cup disappointment led to the sacking of coach Jorge Sampaoli. Things didn't immediately improve under his successor Lionel Scaloni, whose first matches in charge were the highly embarrassing 3-1 defeat to Venezuela in Madrid and a rather limp 1-0 win against Morocco four days later in North Africa.
A 5-1 victory over minnows Nicaragua preceded yet another disappointing Copa America campaign, which saw La Albiceleste lose 2-0 to Colombia in the Group stages before they crashed out in the semi-final to Brazil.
However, since that loss to Brazil, Scaloni’s side have built up a five-match unbeaten streak (their longest for two years), which has included a 4-0 win over Mexico, a commendable 2-2 draw with Germany in Dortmund, and a 6-1 trouncing of Ecuador the last time out. Wins over Brazil and Uruguay would top off a very decent five months for the new head coach since their Copa exit.
Brazil, meanwhile, have had very contrasting fortunes to Argentina since the lifting the Copa America trophy for the ninth time. Tite’s side have failed to win all four of their friendlies ahead of the clash in Riyadh, with a 2-2 draw with Colombia being followed by a 1-0 defeat to Peru and separate 1-1 ties with Senegal and Nigeria.
Surprising stalwart omissions: Alves, Marcelo and Di Maria
Brazil’s Dani Alves and Marcelo and Argentina’s Angel Di Maria have been stalwarts in their respective national squads over the years, but all three have been left out this time around.
Since returning from a knee injury in June for Brazil’s Copa warm ups against Qatar and Honduras, Dani Alves had started 11 of La Canarinha’s last 12 fixtures – making his omission a major surprise.
Also surprising is that of Angel Maria for Argentina. Alves’ former PSG team mate has been in scintillating form for the French champions, providing eight goals and nine assists in 18 games this season.
Less of a surprise was the omission of Alves’ long-time international full back partner Marcelo. The Real Madrid defender has been struggling for form at the Bernabéu and has been far from his best for a year or so. This season he has also had to contend with an injury that saw him miss four games in late September/early October, which may have had some bearing on his omission from Tite’s squad. Neymar also misses out, though only because of injury.
Marcelo’s Real Madrid team mate Vinicius, who has faded into background somewhat at the Bernabéu while his young compatriot Rodrygo has taken centre stage, will also be disappointed to have been left out of the trip to Riyadh.