Jorge Sampaoli’s reign as Argentina boss got off to the perfect start as Argentina edged arch-rivals Brazil 1-0 in a hard-fought friendly at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Friday.
Gabriel Mercado’s goal at the stroke of half-time proved to be enough as the Alibiceleste took some measure of revenge for their humiliating 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Selecao in their World Cup qualifying in November 2016.
Lionel Messi, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain all started for Argentina, with Sampaoli leaving no stone unturned to begin his stint with the national side on a winning note.
Brazil, in stark contrast, were bereft of talisman Neymar, given time off after his excursions for club Barcelona. They still had plenty of firepower in attack, however, with Willian, Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho forming a very potent-looking triumvirate. Thiago Silva, on his first start since the 2015 Copa America was given the captain’s armband and Brazil, after a rocky start, emerged the stronger side of the two.
Angel di Maria went close to open the scoring in the 6th minute, hitting the post from an acute angle but for the next half-hour or so, Brazil were utterly dominant.
Liverpool midfielder Coutinho was guilty of being ponderous in possession inside Argentina’s box, twice being tackled with the goal at his mercy.
Those missed chances came back to haunt the Brazilians as Argentina started to come back into the match as half-time neared. Their concerted pressure paid off handsomely in the last minute of regulation time when Nicolas Otamendi hit the post from a Dybala cross but luckily for them, Mercado was on hand to tap in to an empty net.
Higuain came off at half-time after being ineffectual but his replacement, Joaquin Correa, didn't have much joy either as it was all Brazil in the second-half.
Jesus, on fire for Manchester City in the Premier League last season, seemed to have left his scoring boots at home, missing a flurry of chances including an incredible sitter in the 63rd minute. Having rounded Sergio Romero, Jesus somehow contrived to hit the post from inside six yards and while Willian was there to follow up, his powerful shot cannoned off the post to give the Argentines a reprieve.
Brazil continued to dominate possession and kept up the pressure but Sampaoli’s influence was there for all to see as the Albiceleste impressively kept their discipline and hung on for a morale-boosting win.