Gabriel Mercado scored Argentina’s lone goal against Brazil – Credit: Marca

Jorge Sampaoli did not have a good track record in his recent debuts, but he broke the curse this Friday in Melbourne, Australia.

With an intelligent tactic, a late-goal in the first half and a bit of luck, Argentina came out on top with a 1-0 win over Brazil in a friendly match. The lone strike of the game came thanks to Gabriel Mercado, who capitalised on a rebound towards the end of the first half to put La Albiceleste on top against their bitter rivals.

Team News

While Brazil deployed their usual 4-3-3 tactic since Tite’s arrival, it is worth noting La Selecao presented an alternative squad. Players such as Neymar, Marcelo and Casemiro did not feature due to rest, so elements such as Willian, Filipe Luis and Fernandinho received a golden chance to prove their worth in the starting XI.

On the other hand, Argentina showed an interesting tactic. Sampaoli flirted with several possibilities during training in the past few days, but he ended using a 3-3-3-1 scheme. It was quite similar to what Marcelo Bielsa used to do, and it seemed the idea was to use the width of the pitch properly.

Brazil started dominating early on

Both sides started the match with an attacking stance, but Argentina had the first chance to score just five minutes into the game. A swift counter attack led by Angel Di Maria on the left saw the PSG winger smash the post when Weverton was absolutely beaten. Meanwhile, Brazil started the game pressing high on the pitch, perhaps knowing Argentina would struggle to settle out there.

Brazil began to control the match as the game progressed, and at times their supremacy was noticeable. Gabriel Jesus constantly bothered the opposing defenders and the attacking runs from Coutinho complicated Mercado. However, there weren’t many clear chances aside from a wide shot from Renato Augusto in the 18th minute.

La Canarinha came close to score the first goal in the 21th minute. A through ball from Gabriel Jesus found Willian on the left, and the Chelsea winger sneaked inside the box with ease. He crossed the ball into the middle towards Coutinho, but the Liverpool star couldn’t capitalise from close range. It is worth noting that Sergio Romero did a good job to close out the striker’s angle, though.

Argentina reacted in the final minutes of the first half

La Albiceleste showed some signs of life in the final 10 minutes of the first half. A header from Gonzalo Higuain and a shot from Di Maria complicated Weverton, but the goalkeeper responded on both sequences. Paulo Dybala had an attempt as well, but his shot from the edge of the box went wide.

Argentina’s constant pressure paid dividends. A cross from Di Maria found Nicolas Otamendi, and even though the defender’s header hit the post, Mercado found himself inside the six-yard box to tap the ball home into the open goal. It was a surprising result based on how the first half happened, but at the same time it was a fair prize for an Argentinian side that decided to take more risks towards the end of the first half.

Brazil increased the tempo after the break

Tite changed his approach for the second half, and Brazil adopted a more attacking stance. They only needed a few minutes to test Romero once again, but the goalkeeper was well positioned to stop a shot from Gabriel Jesus. Meanwhile, Argentina played with a more defensive stance since they looked to exploit the spaces on the counter. Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus (twice more) tested Romero in the early going, but he responded time and time again.

Brazil had their best chance of the game in the 62th minute, but they couldn’t capitalise it. Gabriel Jesus left Romero behind and shot into the open goal, but his effort smashed the post. The rebound fell to Willian while Romero was completely out of the sequence, but his attempt once again hit the woodwork, and Argentina ultimately cleared the danger away.

It is worth noting the tempo decreased notoriously after the 65th minute. Both sides began to make substitutions that reflected what each manager wanted to do: while Argentina made way for a few defensive specialists such as Guido Rodriguez and Tagliafico, Brazil tried to add pace and an attacking intention with the entrances of Costa and Rafinha.

La Selecao faded away down the stretch

It is safe to say Brazil looked in control the rest of the way. Argentina finally approached Weverton’s goal in the 75th minute thanks to Angel Correa, but his attempt was easily saved by the goalkeeper. Brazil responded quickly with a couple of low crosses looking for Gabriel Jesus, but Romero was magnificent once again.

Despite their clear attacking intention, La Canarinha lacked ideas in the final third. Willian and Douglas Costa stopped winning duels on the wing, and Argentina’s defensive line neutralised Gabriel Jesus effectively. There wouldn’t be time for one final chance, and La Albiceleste escaped with a massive win,

Final thoughts

Brazil was unfortunate to lose the game. They had more possession, they created the best scoring chances, and were quite unfortunate in the final third. But at the same time, there should not be too many conclusions out of this game. Brazil had several regular starters out of the lineup, and the absence of key players such as Neymar, Marcelo, and Casemiro was noticeable.

Argentina needs to receive the proper credit, though. Even though Sampaoli only had a few training sessions with the team, there was a marked improvement over the team’s recent performances. They still need a lot of work defensively and at times they left too many spaces. However, there is no question this was a very good start to Sampaoli’s tenure.

Game Notes

Brazil: Weverton; Fagner (Rafinha 73′), Thiago Silva, Gil, Filipe Luis; Fernandinho, Paulinho (Giuliano 81′), Renato Augusto (Douglas Costa 66′); Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus (Taison 92′), Willian

Argentina: Romero; Mercado (Mammana 74′), Maidana, Otamendi; Gomez (Tagliafico 52′), Banega (Lanzini 81′), Biglia; Messi, Dybala (Rodriguez 69′), Di Maria; Higuain (Correa 46′)

Yellow Cards: Maidana (30′), Paulinho (78′)

Goals: Mercado (44′)

Attendance: 95,569

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