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The World Cup trophy being raised above their heads, the admiration of the world, and a perfect fairytale ending. In the past, these were all associated with Brazil on the global stage, almost entirely.
It has been more than 20 years since the Selecao last won the World Cup. To make matters worse, their biggest rivals are now celebrating their own victory and basking in the joy with the rest of the world. These same rivals will soon be competing at the Maracana, brimming with confidence and hope for the future as world champions.
Argentina, with Lionel Messi, finally feels like a mission completed. But that doesn’t mean their story is over; simultaneous holders of both world and continental titles, they’ll be aiming to write more history next summer as they bid to become the first South American nation to ever retain the Copa America while also being World Cup champions. The only team to really come close was, of course, Brazil: Copa winners in 1997 and 1999, they reached the final of France’ 98 in between but lost out to the hosts.
Although it may seem like the ideal opportunity for Brazil to overcome the obstacles, defeat their opponents, and reclaim their position as Conmebol’s top team, this is only true in theory. The situation of this match adds additional challenges.
To begin with, this qualifying match for the 2026 World Cup will be held at the same location where Argentina achieved their first victory in this cycle: the Maracana stadium where they defeated Brazil 1-0 in the 2021 Copa final. Taking into account a draw during the qualifying round for the 2022 Qatar World Cup and the cancellation of the previous fixture, it has been more than four years since Brazil was last able to defeat Argentina.
In more immediately concerning matters, the Selecao have won just two of five qualifying matches this time around, are missing Neymar, Vinicius Jr and Richarlison through injury in attack and a host more defensively, including captain Casemiro, Man City goalkeeper Ederson and Real Madrid centre-back Eder Militao.
Brazil is currently facing a difficult situation with no straightforward solution in sight.
However, there is no need to panic about the World Cup. Six of the ten Conmebol countries will qualify automatically, and another will have a chance through playoffs. It is unlikely that Brazil will not make it to the World Cup, but there is currently a significant gap of five points between them and their competitors after only five rounds of the total 18.
In order to address many of these issues, the responsibility naturally falls on the current head coach, Fernando Diniz. He is facing a unique situation: experiencing great success at the club level while also dealing with struggles on the international stage, all while being in a temporary position. Diniz, who recently won the Copa Libertadores with Fluminense, has a contract that will end in the summer. It is widely believed that Carlo Ancelotti will take over before the Copa America begins.
Prior to that, Diniz must focus on improving Brazil’s tactics and technical skills, even if they do not see immediate success against Argentina or in a March friendly against England. This task becomes more challenging due to the absence of key players due to injury: Vinicius, who has become integral to the team, Militao, who was their top performing center-back, and Neymar, whose status remains significant despite his declining performance.
Antony, Emerson Royal, and Renan Lodi are often rotated in and out of the squad depending on availability, but they are never considered key players and their performance is usually below par. There is room for improvement, especially in the central midfield, and his time with the team will quickly come to an end.
Diniz may be looking at the bigger picture when it comes to restoring Brazil’s enthusiasm for the game, but for now, he is only a short-term solution. The country’s media will always be focused on the present, especially when it comes to facing their rivals. It would not be received well if they were to suffer a heavy defeat on their own turf, regardless of any future plans being put in place.
However, despite these challenges, we have witnessed Brazil overcome setbacks in the past. We have also observed Argentina faltering despite having a strong position.
Soccer, known for its unpredictable and ever-changing nature, often witnesses teams defying odds – and the lack of risk that the Argentine national team faces in this particular match may contribute to this phenomenon.
Argentina has finally ended their long wait. The most significant part of their story has been revised, and their most revered hero has had his shining moment. The reconstruction of their team’s approach and the inclusion of fresh talent to lay the foundation for their future squad is now complete.
Brazil are still trying to find those first steps to take. Perhaps they can unexpectedly do so here, in this stadium, just as the Maracana was the stage for their rivals to take an enormous one of their own almost two-and-a-half years ago.