Friendlies harder to come by

Ar­gentina and Brazil fol­low the money

World Soccer - - World Service - TIM VICK­ERY

“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

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