Argentina has the tools to punish Brazil

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The endearing frustration around this version of Argentina is what the sum of its vast array of talented parts has never quite been.

That a line-up at any one time over the past decade boasting names such as Messi, Di Maria, Aguero, Mascherano, Otamendi, Di Michelis, Higuain and Dybala has underwhelmed so spectacularly is the life-blood of a suffocating weight of expectation described by the latest manager tasked with fixing it, Lionel Scaloni, as ‘war’.

In an eerily similar pattern to its 2018 World Cup qualification, Argentina almost tumbled out the backdoor of the 2019 Copa America, only to rally to a 2-0 win over Qatar in its final group game, before seeing off Venezuela 2-0 to set up what, on paper, is a mouth-watering semi-final against Brazil.

The irony of the most underwhelming team throughout the group stage becoming the only team to score a goal in regular time during a thoroughly dull quarter-final phase, speaks volumes for all that is dangerous about this mis-matched assortment of superstars.

Before trying to remember the last good Argentina performance you witnessed, consider what a ‘bad’ Argentina achieved at the 2014 World Cup, grinding and battling its way to the final, where it squandered two great chances before finally being put out of its misery by Germany.

Looking every inch a player who had spent the last of his reserves on another arduous club campaign for Barcelona, Lionel Messi dug deep to almost single-handedly guide his national team through to that tournament’s final match.

By his own admission, Messi hasn’t yet turned up to the 2019 edition of the Copa America, but therein lies the quandary with Argentina; while ever there are stars of Messi’s calibre on the pitch, the Albiceleste are capable of producing the results required, even if the football being played would struggle to ‘beat Tonga’, as the legendary Maradona recently lamented.

Messi and Di Maria can punish you with the dead ball. Sergio Aguero is always a threat around the edge of the 18-yard box, although his kryptonite seems to be the national team jersey. The fresh legs of Dybala can catch you out off the bench. And let’s face it, when it’s Argentina, there’s always a player on the bench who should be starting.

So now we get to Brazil – the host nation which flattered to deceive with a flurry of goals in the group stage, only to almost suffer an unthinkable elimination to Paraguay – the only team that advanced to the final eight without winning a game - in the quarter-finals.

This Brazil outfit likes to boss possession, less making the ball sing than bludgeoning both it, and its given opponent, into submission. Fast, physical and relentless, Brazil has rattled off a tournament-high 84 shots – 19 more than Uruguay in second – 28 more than third-placed Argentina.

But where the Albiceleste resemble a wounded lion, still capable of punishing you if you get too close, Brazil is a picture of what might have been. Six of those 84 shots ended up being goals that were ultimately disallowed after arduous VAR reviews.

Many others have been hopeful slaps borne out of frustration, rather than clinical exclamation marks to sign off on flowing moves. Last out, Brazil seemed vulnerable through the middle minus the suspended Casemiro and the injured Fernandinho. Paraguay’s disorganised ‘gang-tackling’ frustrated the home side, which struggled to cope with fast counter-attacks and a loss of control through the middle.

Only a brave punter would tip this Argentina to come up with the solution to winning the midfield against Brazil, but it would take a braver soul to completely write off a team containing such a glorious, if ill-fitting collection of individual match-winners.