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Poor starts to World Cup qualifying add spice to Argentina vs. Brazil

Poor starts to World Cup qualifying add spice to Argentina vs. Brazil

Posted by PanamericanWorld on November 11, 2015

Adversity and uncharacteristically poor form means the always electric atmosphere between Argentina and Brazil is likely to be more intense than ever when the two clash in a World Cup qualifying tie in Buenos Aires this Thursday.

Geographical proximity plays a part, as does history–the teams first met in 1914, and the central role that the game plays in the cultural and social development of both countries helps explain much of the passion that surrounds the fixture.

But what really makes Brazil vs. Argentina special is that it is a feud based largely on sporting pedigree, rather than the settling of historical or military scores. Unlike England vs. Scotland or Netherlands vs. Germany, Brazil vs. Argentina matters so much simply because the two nations have for so long dominated the South American and the world game.

While many derbies are merely squabbles over local bragging rights, Brazil vs. Argentina often feels like a battle for global supremacy.

And in countries often troubled by social conflict and political upheaval, the grandeur of their national teams, and the mythic status enjoyed by their two greatest icons, Pelé and Maradona, are sources of tremendous pride. The debate over who is the best pumps through the blood from the terraces to the Vatican.

But there will be no Pelé and Maradona on show at a combustible Estadio Monumental this Thursday. And the dismal recent form of their modern day equivalents–if that is the right word–will turn the pressure cooker atmosphere up a notch or two.

For Brazil, which lost away to Chile in its opening qualifying tie and then beat Venezuela at home, the period of painful self-scrutiny that began with that humiliating 7-1 dismantling by Germany at the World Cup shows no sign of coming to an end.

Sure enough, after a few decent friendly results, the Seleção’s not-exactly-new clothes were ripped off by Paraguay at this summer’s Copa America, leaving a decidedly scrawny-looking body underneath.

Brazil was no match, either tactically or physically, for Chile and Alexis Sanchez in Santiago last month and, with 35-year-old Santos striker Ricardo Oliveira up front, even looked labored against lowly Venezuela.

With South American World Cup qualifying arguably more competitive than ever, some–either heretics or soothsayers–have suggested that Dunga’s squad may struggle to make it to Russia 2018.

“Many people believe that Brazilian football hasn’t yet reached rock bottom, and the next disaster will be failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup,” wrote Brazil's 1970 World Cup winner Tostão last July.

by Ben Lyttleton On a brighter note, help is on the way, and what a cavalry it is. Neymar missed Brazil’s first two qualifiers through suspension, and his country has never needed him more.

The argument that rumbled on at the Copa America over whether Brazil was overly dependent on its young Hector has now fallen silent–after all, the blindingly obvious can only be debated for so long.

Neymar himself certainly seems up to the task. The stupendous sleight of foot of his goal against Villarreal last weekend showed the confidence, composure and exuberant talent of a player who, like those other Barcelona idols Ronaldinho and Messi, is now beginning to operate at level of intuitiveness, vision and creativity that few will ever reach. Afterwards, Marca described him as a “genius at 23”, while Mundo Deportivo christened him “Neymardinho”.

The Neymar of Barcelona has not always been the Neymar of Brazil, though. The negative side of the player’s importance to his team is that a fearful amount of pressure is heaped upon his slim shoulders. With an often listless supporting cast around him, such pressure can often give way to frustration and ultimately petulance.

That was certainly the case when he was sent off following an altercation with Jeison Murillo and Carlos Bacca at Copa America. If the Colombia players had a plan to needle Neymar throughout the game, it worked, for, obviously frustrated by the lack of assistance he was given by the likes of Diego Tardelli and Roberto Firmino, his was a snapping, snarling performance from the outset.

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