World Cup stars – Brazil’s Neymar, Argentina’s Messi shine

South America’s four World Cup squads – Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Ecuador – all played friendlies on Monday as they prepare for Qatar.

Brazil and Uruguay each beat teams who will also be at the World Cup (5-1 against Tunisia and 2-0 against Canada), while Ecuador drew 0-0 with Qatar-based Japan. Argentina, meanwhile, won convincingly 3-0 against Jamaica.

Taking their performances into account, we answer a key question for every CONMEBOL side as they continue their preparation for the game’s biggest stage.

Is it possible? to good for Brazil?

Tunisia hadn’t conceded a goal in seven games – and then they met Brazil in Paris. Thanks to Raphinha (two goals), Richarlison and Neymar, the Brazilians had a four-goal lead by half-time and ended the game with an impressive 5-1 victory after Pedro’s superb shot in the 74th minute.

Everything is going well for Brazil. Each of Coach Tite’s tactical formations – he’s now used three different formations – seems to work. Every player he brings seems to be on the right track. Shots go to the post and in, attackers are just played offside. And after his penalty against Tunisia, Neymar is just two goals shy of surpassing Pele’s 77 mark.

Since losing the Copa America final in mid-last year, Brazil have won 12, drawn three and lost none, scoring 38 goals and conceding just five. It’s a fabulous record achieved with a style that makes them justifiable favorites when it comes to bringing home the trophy from Qatar. But world championships aren’t won with a series of romps. Even the 1970 side had to overcome some troubles along the way, notably against England and Uruguay. The 2002 team was lucky not to be beaten by Belgium.

Truly victorious teams have to work their way through the toughest challenges – something Brazil didn’t have to do last year. They’ve improved significantly since losing to Argentina in the 2021 Copa America final, offering a far greater range of attacking options. But it’s worth remembering how they lost that game – falling behind after a defensive error and then making it harder for themselves to get back into the game because they were foolishly involved in spats and tussles, even though they didn’t Ball should have kept rolling. The site seems to have a handle on size. Realizing potential may depend on the team’s emotional control when push comes to shove.


What will we do without Messi (and will Argentina adapt)?

It is quite possible that Lionel Messi’s international career will be over in three months. It doesn’t have to be. He’s obviously having fun with Argentina, so he might move on. But a sixth World Cup would certainly be asking too much. There’s no way around it. The end is near. What on earth are we going to do without him?

More specifically, what will Argentina do? Coach Lionel Scaloni might think about it. He made his three-man debut against Honduras last Friday – centre-back Nahuel Perez, central midfielder Enzo Fernandez and attacking midfielder Thiago Almada. These players may not play a big part in the World Cup, if they go at all. But they will play a role in the future of the team – on that dreadful day when Messi will be gone.

There was a preview in New Jersey on Tuesday night when Messi did not start in the 3-0 win against Jamaica. The good news was that Argentina comfortably took control without him. The better news was a goal from Julian Alvarez, a player who has plenty to offer in the years to come. And the even better news for the sold-out crowd at the Red Bull Arena was that Messi was brought on early in the second half. The game seemed to drift off until he scored two wonderful late goals to seal the win and send the fans home happy.

Argentina are now 35 games unbeaten and one of the most interesting aspects of that latest triumph was that they ended it with a three-man centre-back formation – Lisando Martinez came off the bench to play on the left side of a trio with Nicolas Otamendi in the Center and Cristian Romero on the right. Scaloni may be eyeing a post-Messi future. But his focus is clearly Qatar and it was fascinating to see him experimenting with a formation he could use as an upset as the World Cup progressed.


In 4-4-2 or not in 4-4-2? That’s Uruguay’s question.

It’s been less than two months and Uruguay coach Diego Alonso could still be confused about how his team will compete at the World Cup. The standard formation in recent years has been 4-4-2, with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani spearheading the attack. Now they are aging, and the couple is unlikely to be used together. But even when they fired on all guns, there is pressure within the ranks to try something else.

Uruguay now have a good generation of midfielders who are probably better suited to other systems. They could be best with the trio in the center of the pitch with Matias Vecino anchored between Federico Valverde and Rodrigo Bentancur. That’s how they started last Friday against Iran, with Darwin Nunez up front on the left flank of an attacking trio. It didn’t sit well with Nunez and Uruguay reverted to 4-4-2. But once they made the switch and took Vecino away, they conceded the only goal of the game.

On Tuesday against Canada they were again in the lead in a 4-4-2 with Nunez and Suarez. Nunez helped his cause by scoring a goal to seal a 2-0 win. But without the trio in midfield, Uruguay looked more vulnerable defensively. They were often in overdrive to keep the Canadians out and would certainly have been punished by a stronger side. They finished the game as lone strikers while playmakers Nico De La Cruz (who scored the first goal) and Giorgian de Arrascaeta acted behind, a system that probably suits these players better.

So what to do? Can a team with Suarez, Nunez and Cavani really only play one up front? Is the balance of the site better that way? Or will they go for the tried and tested two-man attack? For Alonso, the decision day is approaching.


Is Ecuador’s glass half full or half empty?

Five games in a row without conceding a goal, five times in a row without conceding a goal – a number that will inspire any coach. But Ecuador boss Gustavo Alfaro is clearly concerned that his side have scored just two goals in those games – and clinched a second straight 0-0 draw, this time against Japan.

They next meet World Cup hosts Qatar in the opening game. The eyes of the whole world will be on the young Ecuador team as they open the entire tournament. The problem is that all of Alfaro’s attacking players seem to have been out of form at the same time – which was confirmed towards the end of the game against Japan when Ecuador were a little lucky to get a penalty and all-time top scorer Enner Valencia had saved his penalty. Valencia are firing blanks, lanky centre-forward Michael Estrada is on a poor run and Alfaro have failed to impress either alternative.

But of course they are always in the game, even if they don’t concede a goal. And even with senior central defender Felix Torres injured, the defense has been solid for the most part. Most of their problems are self-inflicted – a slip or a poor pass on defense rather than failing to deal with the opposition threat. But the level of the opponents at the World Cup will certainly be higher, and the need for goals will be greater. Ecuador will find out in November if the glass is half full or half empty. World Cup stars – Brazil’s Neymar, Argentina’s Messi shine

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