The Jorge Sampaoli era got off to the best possible start in Melbourne on Friday as his Argentina side defeated rivals Brazil 1-0 in his first game in charge.
95,569 fans packed into the Melbourne Cricket Ground on a bitterly cold night to see a strong, Lionel Messi-led Argentina side put an end to Brazil coach Tite’s 100% record in charge of the Seleção.
From the off, however, it was Angel Di Maria rather than Messi who provided the teeth to Argentina’s attacking bite, hitting the post with just six minutes gone. The goal did eventually come for the team in sky blue and white, albeit from a rather unlikely source – Sevilla defender Gabriel Mercado pounced on a rebound to put his side ahead on 44′.
— Poor First Touch (@InvertdWhinger) June 9, 2017
Brazil had chances, too, with Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus hitting the post despite having a painfully open goal to aim at – and that was just the beginning of a tough night for the 20 year-old, as the youngster was later stretchered off after receiving an elbow to the face from club teammate Nicolas Otamendi.
Brazil and Argentina played a friendly in Australia and Gabriel Jesus missed this absolute sitter. pic.twitter.com/b16iPVlO2Z
— J?Y BUCKS ?? (@TheMasterBucks) June 9, 2017
Apart from that, however, this hype-heavy edition of the Superclasico did little to get the heart racing, and it was clear from Brazil’s team selection that the match was more a PR gig than a real contest.
Speaking back in March, then Argentina coach Edgardo Bauza remarked on the game’s significance, or lack thereof, following the announcement in February:
“They [the players] want to go on holiday, they’re planning which beach they’re going to be lying on with their women. And then you tell them that they have to go to Australia!”
The feeling was apparently much the same in the Brazil camp, too:
“I ran into [Brazil coach] Tite in Europe recently, and I asked him if he wanted to go and play the game. He said that he didn’t. ‘OK,’ I told him, ‘let’s play out a 0-0 draw so neither of us gets attacked by our press.’ And we burst out laughing.”
That being said, Bauza is no more, and it can be certain that Sampaoli utilised the game to its full effect in testing his 3-3-3-1 system. He also used the match to hand first-team debuts to Jose Luis Gomez, Manuel Lanzini, Nicolas Tagliafico, Joaquin Correa and Guido Rodriguez.
“It’s always a clasico and helps for the future”, he said afterwards.
“What we have to improve is to try to dominate for longer and not be dominated. We will aim to improve this form of play, which is just beginning.”
Sampaoli’s next challenge will have a rather more serious tone to it, when La Seleccion face Uruguay in August’s all important World Cup Qualifier.