Brazil took a giant stride towards World Cup qualification last night with a comfortable 3-0 victory against fiercest rivals Argentina, ending Matchday 11 top of the South America qualifying table by 1 point. More surprisingly however is where the result leaves their opponents; Argentina currently languishing 8 points behind in 6th place with 7 to play.
Their display in Brazil’s return to Belo Horizonte was a joyful one, unlike a little over 2 years ago when the hosts were humiliated by the eventual World Cup champions Germany. While this victory cements a turn around in form under new boss Tite, with a 5-0-0 record, 15 goals for but only 1 against, what of World Cup 2014 finalists Argentina? Following Lionel Messi’s International retirement u-turn in August his country have only won 1 of 5 matches since, and although they sit only 1 point away from the 4 qualification spots available in CONMEBOL Round 1, their performance in Brazil was devoid of any belief.
The return of Messi, which dominated headlines off the field, has gone unnoticed somewhat on the field due to his side’s performances lacking conviction and confidence since the arrival of new coach Edbargo Bauza. And although it is early days with a new manager in charge, he hasn’t got many games to get it right. Of those remaining fixtures include potentially precarious trips to Uruguay and Ecaudor, the latter having already beaten them in the corresponding home fixture, along with having to once again face their Copa America final opponents Chile, the team who sit just above them currently.
“We still have a lot to do before the qualifiers end,” a bullish Bauza said following the Brazil defeat “We know that classification still depends on what we do. The game against Colombia will be different.”
That Columbia match takes place Tuesday night, and a win would indeed put them closer to the top 4 mix, whereas a defeat could leave a side, who have not missed a World Cup since Mexico 1970, potentially having to think about the lottery of a fifth-place Oceania play-off. It certainly will be another stern test, with a revitalised Radamel Falcao recalled to international duty and again on the hunt to become Columbia’s all-time top scorer, Messi and co certainly have their work cut out.