A couple thoughts about the upcoming match:
- During the World Cup, I never thought Argentina were a truly “great” team. In fact, I thought they were the worst World Cup finalist since Italy in ’94. (Both teams had wonderfully talented players, but neither team actually played that well during the tournament.) Argentina made the final by virtue of an extremely favorable draw, gutsy defending, and because they held their nerve in key moments. That said, I expect Argentina to win tomorrow simply because of momentum and experience. But it will be very tight.
- Brazil have never had a problem creating chances against Argentina, but with such a technically mediocre double pivot in Gustavo and Elias, I’m worried Brazil will resort to lumping the ball up the pitch, or rely on Neymar to drop extremely deep to receive the ball. If the latter happens, Brazil are in trouble. Neymar has never played especially well against Argentina, and he’ll probably feel a lot of pressure tomorrow going up against Messi. More importantly, the deeper he drops into the midfield, the more he’ll come up against Mascherano, a beast of a defender who has plenty of experience marking Neymar in training. The movement of Tardelli, Oscar, and Willian is going to be very important in this match, as it may be largely up to them to drag defenders out of position in order to create space for Neymar to operate.
- If Messi is able to run directly at the center-backs, then look out! That’s where he’s done so much damage to Brazil before. That said, I feel more comfortable with Miranda on the pitch, as unlike David Luiz (or Juan Jesus and Bruno Uvini before him), he is less likely to backpedal and cede space to Messi. There may be no defender in the world who has done as well as Miranda when it comes to shutting Messi down…although his former club-mate Filipe Luis might have something to say about that. Still, even with Miranda and Filipe’s historic success against Messi, they will need Gustavo and Elias to remain compact with the back four so as not to allow space to open up between the lines. Such space is meat and drink to a player of his caliber.
- I think Dunga made a mistake recalling Kaka…but his record against Argentina is, quite simply, terrific. To my knowledge, he’s only lost one match against La Albiceleste, a World Cup qualifier back in 2004. Can he torment them again? He’s long since lost his pace, but if he can still orchestrate the perfect counter attack, it’s not out of the question. If ever Diego Tardelli is to shine for Brazil, you would think it would come off a Kaka-inspired counter.
- Set pieces are almost certainly going to be a factor in this match, and it’s where Brazil have had a lot of success against Argentina in the past. Set pieces are also Brazil’s only source of goals thus far since Dunga’s return. In fact, five of Brazil’s last six goals have come from set pieces (Oscar’s goal vs Germany being the only exception). It’s also not uncommon for Brazil to open up the scoring through a set piece. That’s been the case in 5 out of Brazil’s last 10 matches, if my statistics are accurate. The same holds true against Argentina. In 3 out of the last 5 matches in which Brazil have scored against Argentina (dating back to the famous 2009 victory in Rosario), Brazil have opened their account on a set piece. Dunga has always specialized in preparing his team on dead ball situations, and it’s not hard to envision David Luiz or Miranda scoring off a corner-kick tomorrow.
Regardless of the outcome, expect a cracking match as these two arch-rivals square off. “Superclassicos” aren’t always high on quality, but they’re almost never short on drama.