MELBOURNE, Australia, Jun 9 – Argentina gained a confidence-boosting 1-0 win over Brazil in their Superclasico in Melbourne Friday ahead of their make-or-break World Cup qualifiers later in the year.
A goal from Sevilla defender Gabriel Mercado right on half-time proved the eventual winner as Argentina matched the world’s number one ranked Brazilians before 95,000 fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The two-time world champions and second ranked team are struggling outside the automatic qualifying positions in fifth spot in the South American group with four games left while Brazil have already qualified for the World Cup finals in Russia next year.
Argentina have a friendly in Singapore next week ahead of their crucial next qualifier against Uruguay in Montevideo on August 31.
In manager Jorge Sampaoli’s first game in charge Argentina weathered a second-half fightback from Brazil with Gabriel Jesus and Willian hitting either posts in one flurry on goal.
Argentina’s superstar and skipper Lionel Messi was largely contained by the Brazilian defence, but thrilled the crowd with his touches, flicks and darting runs in his much-anticipated appearance in Australia.
“I really rate the performance of our players today, even when they were not in the most comfortable situations,” Sampaoli told reporters.
“I think that some of our preparation wasn’t the best, but in the game the team played well and defended the Argentina shirt.
“It’s a very important win for us –- it wasn’t just another game.”
Mercado put Argentina ahead just on half-time with a tap in after Nicolas Otamendi’s header came off the upright into his path.
The Argentines had more of the play with Paris Saint-Germain’s Angel Di Maria a constant threat on the left.
Brazil’s best chance came midway through the opening half when Chelsea’s Willian was set free and he found Liverpool’s lively Philippe Coutinho in Argentina’s penalty area.
Coutinho checked inside and lined up a shot but a diving tackle by Otamendi smothered the scoring chance.
Juventus midfielder Paulo Dybala linked up well with Messi behind striker Gonzalo Higuain and fired just wide moments before Mercado’s goal.
Brazil had several chances to score in the second half with Manchester City’s Jesus and Willian both hitting either post in a flurry in Argentina’s goal-mouth in the 62nd minute.
“It’s easier to analyse a game when we win,” Brazilian manager Tite said.
“The team played well, but we had some trouble marking their top players in the first half, and they were playing faster than us.
“In the second half, we had more possession and played better.
“We had the effort and the formation we wanted but we need more of the players performing at a higher level.”
The flying Willian was a constant threat and one of his pinpoint crosses almost led to another goal chance for Jesus.
Messi was sent tumbling by a robust Rafinha challenge late in the game which earned the Brazilian substitute a yellow card.
Jesus failed to finish the match when he was carried off and taken to hospital for observation after collecting an elbow in the face in an aerial challenge in the final minutes.