Nothing will let them forget that July afternoon but Brazil showed they can live it down with an exhibition of pace and panache that had football rivals Argentina looking lost on the long road to Russia.
This was the first time since the 7-1 drubbing from Germany in the 2014 World Cup semi-final that Brazil were playing at Belo Horizonte’s Estadio Mineirao and there were moments when it looked like they could cause serious damage to Argentina’s self-pride. And of a certain Lionel Messi.
It fit that Brazil remembered their 1970 World Cup winning ‘Capita’ Carlos Alberto Torres with a performance this imperious. At Belo Horizonte’s Savassi, where the steaks are superb and outdoor cafes stay in good spirits till early morning, this must have been reason enough to ring in the weekend early.
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Under new coach Tite, Brazil have won five games on the trot. At times on Friday morning (in India), they looked so fast that Argentina were chasing crooked shadows; their centre-backs Nicolas Otamendi and Ramiro Funes Mori behaved like bouncers at a nightclub struggling to impose order and, as a consequence, having to use force. Down 0-3 and with the team unable to combat a flood in canary yellow, even the versatile Javier Mascherano looked angry and helpless. To think that in Roberto Firmino and Douglas Costa, Brazil had more speed which Tite unleashed later!
“Since 2012, Tite has been the best coach in Brazil. And that means he is more prepared.” This is what FC Goa coach Zico had told HT last month. Zico has been a staunch supporter of Tite and the world at large, which doesn’t know much about the former Corinthians’ coach, is beginning to understand why. For one season, Tite also coached former Chennaiyin FC striker Stiven Mendoza, who set ISL 1 and 2 on fire before being loaned by Corinthians to New York City FC.
Hitting on the break
The last time Brazil played here, they had homeboy Fred as centre-forward in Luiz Felipe Scolari’s 4-2-3-1 formation. The No.9 had a forgettable World Cup; someone had calculated during the tournament that Fred had a shot on target every 78 minutes.
On Thursday, Tite lined up a 4-3-3 Brazil that had Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho in front. It was in the way Jesus and Neymar combined for the second goal at the stroke of half-time that killed the game. A pass from the inside by Jesus, a run from the outside of Pablo Zabaleta and Neymar got his 50th international goal at age 24.
Like with the second goal, Countinho’s screamer of a strike too came when Argentina looked the more positive of the teams. And that made it reminiscent of the 2007 Copa America final where too Brazil led 2-0 at half-time. From that Copa final, Alves was the only Brazilian playing. For Argentina, it was Messi and Mascherano.
That too was a display in counter-attacking football but Dunga’s team didn’t have so many flair players in the form of their lives. Now, even Willian doesn’t always make it to the starting 11. Once, Marcelo cut in on the inside of an Argentina player in the rival penalty area. The left-back had a hand and more in two of Brazil’s goals, having set off the second with a smart throw-in and the third with an overlap before finding a marauding Dani Alves who set it up for Paulinho.
In the World Cup semi-final, Brazil didn’t have Alves. And they didn’t have Paulinho in the first half. Luis Gustavo and Fernandinho were unable to cope with the ball pinging off German feet in the midfield when Brazil conceded four goals in six minutes. On Friday, Paulinho and Fernandinho --- the only other player from the World Cup semi-final was Marcelo --- cut off Messi’s supply. And even though they have so many stars, as Zico had pointed out in that interview, Argentina haven’t yet shown they can play when Messi’s kept quiet and his free-kicks have an ordinary night. On the break, they were a lot slower than Brazil.
Belo Horizonte has a thing for surprises. It was here in 1950 that England lost to the USA 0-1. In 2014, Iran nearly stole a point from Argentina in the World Cup before Messi uncorked magic. Then Germany won 7-1. After Friday, Argentina may not remember the city because it means beautiful horizon.