There was a stark contrast in the moods in which Argentina and Brazil exited the World Cup three months ago. For Argentina, of course, Qatar 2022 was a moment of triumph almost too dramatic for words, and even sweeter than dramatic. A first World Cup win in 36 years and a win for Lionel Messi at 36, the script could hardly have been more perfect.
Meanwhile, Brazil limped home with the long journey made worse by another loss to European rivals at the quarterfinal stage. And while many Brazilians were happy to see Messi having his day, any sporting reaction to his neighbor’s victory also served to heighten bitterness toward his own team. They were able to do it, so why not us?
Three months later, the contrast remains as the teams take the field for the first time since the World Cup.
Argentina is in full celebration mode. On Thursday they host Panama in Buenos Aires, before next Tuesday they head north to Santiago del Estero to take on Curacao. The opposition doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter that Panama comes with a B team. These aren’t just soccer games. They are extensions of the crazy scenes when the team flew back from Qatar after the tournament and attempted a street parade that had to be turned into a helicopter flyover because there were so many millions in Buenos Aires to see them.
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Thursday’s game is an event, a joyous gathering that has a soccer game somewhere in the middle. Before the kick-off there is a DJ, bands, a film about the coach Lionel Scaloni and his, his men and a multitudinous singing of “Boys”, the anthem of the fans in Qatar. There’s another band at halftime. After the final whistle, the World Cup trophy will be awarded and then there will be more bands to keep the crowd happy for the night.
The World Cup team has been called up. Decisions will soon have to be made about the 35-year-old trio. The central cycle Nico Otamendi must surely be coming to an end. The cases of Messi and angel di maria they are more delicate. Scaloni has stressed that a place on the plane to the next World Cup is theirs if they want it, but it is still early to know if it is a real possibility. And although Scaloni is already planning the future, it is too early to think about it. What Argentina really wants to do in the next few days is throw a party.
Brazil, on the other hand, are the visitors of someone else’s party. They play Morocco in Tangier on Saturday, with the hosts looking to celebrate their run to the World Cup semi-finals. Coach Walid Regragui has assembled the squad that he took to Qatar.
Faced with such continuity, Brazil finds itself in a strange state of flux. They have an interim coach, U-20 coach Ramón Meneses, who will likely be in charge of just this game. At the upcoming FIFA dates in June, he will be busy with the U-20 World Cup in Indonesia. The hope is that a big-name European manager has been appointed by then, with Carlo Ancelotti at the top of the wish list. At some point, then, a new project will be released. Meanwhile, there is the idiosyncratic Meneses project.
leaving the likes of gabriel martinelli and Bruno Guimaraes Outside the call, he has left the coach’s stands open due to the accusation that he has not followed his matches too closely. This is almost certainly correct. In January and February, Meneses was very busy winning the U-20 South American Championship, a competition with such an intense schedule that there could not have been much time for anything else. Five players from that squad have been promoted. Portly Center Forward vitor roque could well see some action on Saturday, along with the right-back Arthurwho promises to be the solution in what has surprisingly become a problematic position for Brazil.
At the other end of the age scale, Thiago Silva He is injured, and his time with the national team could well have come to an end anyway. And with marquinhos also forced to retire, the match will be an opportunity to see how eder militao He responds to being the senior centre-back.
Right in front of him could be a debut for andre from Fluminense, widely regarded as the best of the new batch of defensive midfielders. And in the absence of the wounded neymar there is an opportunity for Rodrygo of Real Madrid to strengthen his claims to be the future versatile mastermind of the Brazilian attack.
The meeting with Morocco, then, is not an occasion to put Brazil’s collective game under the microscope: this particular collective will probably never meet again. But there should be a lot to learn about individual performances. How these players deal with the euphoria of the Moroccan party will help the future manager gauge whether or not they can play a role in Brazil’s quest to recapture a bit of euphoria of their own.