Friendlies harder to come by
Argentina and Brazil follow the money
“We have to recover things that are part of our footballing identity” Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez
International football in South America follows a four-year cycle in which the 12 months after a World Cup become “the silly season”, with no more competitive games until the Copa America next June – a tournament that many will treat as a warm-up for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.
This season’s FIFA dates are therefore strictly for friendlies – which are now harder to organise against European opposition due to the Nations League.
With both sides chasing the money, this helps to explain why Brazil and Argentina met in Saudi Arabia in October. However, the so-called “super-classic” showcased two sides in vastly different states.
After the shambles of the World Cup in Russia, Argentina are under the command of caretaker coach Lionel Scaloni. The official line is that they are taking their time to make the right definitive choice, but financial constraints are also likely to be a factor.
In spite of his lack of experience, Scaloni has not done a bad job. There is – at least for the time being – no Lionel Messi, and a choice has been made to renew and rejuvenate the squad. Despite little training time, Scaloni’s side have at least looked competent, with a clear idea of play – which is something that could not be said for the team under predecessor Jorge Sampaoli. The stoppage-time goal that brought defeat against Brazil – glanced home by centre-back Miranda from a corner – was the first Argentina had conceded in four games.
Brazil, then, came away with victory, but there was much for coach Tite to mull over as next year’s Copa is no mere warm-up for the Selecao. They are hosts, their recent tournament record has been poor and his job could well be on the line.
Brazil must win the Copa – which means that, while Tite has half an eye on long-term rebuilding, the main focus is on the here and now. Barcelona midfielder Arthur was the only member of the starting line-up in Saudi Arabia not to go to the World Cup, while only four of Scaloni’s side were in Russia.
However, the fact that a full-strength Brazil attack did not really function is a cause for concern. Roberto Firmino was ineffective at centre-forward, where he seemed to have no relationship with Neymar; relocated to the right flank, Gabriel Jesus made little impression; and Phillippe Coutinho had a poor game in midfield.
The clear advantage of having Coutinho as part of the midfield trio is that it enables him to combine with Neymar. The evidence of the World Cup, though, was that Coutinho is not a genuine midfielder and that the left side is therefore vulnerable defensively.
Tite appears to have responded after the World Cup by calling for a more cautious approach from his fullbacks in a bid to balance out the side. But the question left by the Argentina game is, does this takes away more than it gives? It will be fascinating to see how Tite
constructs his team in the next match: a meeting with Uruguay in London on November 16.
With contract negotiations complete, Oscar Tabarez slipped back in as Uruguay coach for their trip to the Far East. Ever since his reign began in 2006, Uruguay have skilfully used the silly season to introduce and consolidate new players, usually graduates of the highly successful under-20 setup. Results are secondary, though Tabarez was not pleased to lose 2-1 to South Korea and 4-3 to Japan.
“We have to recover things that are part of our footballing identity,” says Tabarez, “especially in terms of our defensive play.”
The problem was clear. In the absence of Jose Maria Gimenez, Sebastian Coates came in to partner Diego Godin at centre-back and as a pair they are too slow, which prevents the team from pressing effectively. But there is more to celebrate than lament for Uruguay as the Tabarez project moves smoothly on for what will surely be its final four years.
Peru are also making progress. Paolo Guerrero has now succumbed to his drug ban, but otherwise coach Ricardo Gareca is entitled to believe that his young side can still improve. They tested themselves in Europe in September, taking the lead before going down 2-1 to Holland and Germany, and beating neighbours Chile 3-0 in Miami in October.
That was the second defeat, and the first bad result, in the eight games Chile have played this year under Reinaldo Rueda, who has the hard task of replacing the country’s golden generation. His side are much more orthodox than the Bielsa/Sampaoli teams and have looked organised. But it is hard to see where the outstanding talent will come from. Chile bounced back from the Peru loss with a 1-0 win away to Mexico – the first time since March that Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal had been in harness.
Elsewhere, Colombia have accumulated three wins and a draw under a caretaker coach, Arturo Reyes, while Ecuador have reappointed a Colombia, Hernan Dario Gomez, who is open about the fact that he will not seriously start to build a side until next year.
Ecuador were another team who headed to Asia – losing 4-3 to Qatar and drawing 0-0 with Oman – and Bolivia were also there, beating Myanmar 3-0 and going down 2-1 to Iran.
Venezuela, meanwhile, beat the United Arab Emirates 2-0 in Barcelona. Coach Rafael Dudamel took the side to the Final of last year’s Under-20 World Cup and has faith that many of that generation will get the team through to Qatar 2022.
Winner...Brazil defender Miranda celebrates his goal against Argentina
Struggling...Uruguay’s Sebastian Coates fouls South Korea’s Hwang Ui-Jo
progress..peru’s Anderson Santamaria tackles Junior Fernanades of chile