Brazil and Argentina will continue one of the world’s great rivalries on Saturday, although the venue this time around won’t be Rio de Janeiro’s famed Maracana or Buenos Aires’s Estadio Monumental, but instead Beijing’s Birds Nest. For Brazil, it is nothing new to be flying to different corners of the world to play exhibitions. This time around, though, the challenges amount to more than just the long flight times and changing time zones, with the match at the 2012 Olympic venue reported to be under threat due to heavy smog in the Chinese capital.
If the smog does clear sufficiently, fans may still have to rub their eyes to in order to make sure that they are indeed seeing a Brazil more closely resembling its 2010 version rather than the leap forward hoped for after the disaster of the 2014 World Cup on home soil. After Luiz Felipe Scolari’s departure as coach, the Brazilian Federation took the surprising and, to many, bizarre choice of reappointing Dunga. The former World Cup winning midfielder’s style of play during his four-year reign hardly made him the most popular coach even before it ended with a disappointing quarterfinal defeat at the World Cup in South Africa.
Following 1-0 wins over Colombia and Ecuador last month, Dunga has taken a further turn toward the past by calling upon the pillar of his side in 2010, Kaka, after an injury to Cruzeiro striker Ricardo Goulart. The 32-year-old, currently back in Brazil on loan while waiting for his time at Major League Soccer side Orlando City to begin play next year, has impressed so far while at Sao Paulo. Still, his reemergence for the national team is a surprise, given his disappointing showing the last time he was brought back into the international fold, in a friendly against Russia in Match 2013.
“I'm incredibly happy to be back,'' Kaka said,” reports the Associated Press. “After a long time away from the national team, this comes as a reward for the work that I have been doing. It shows that I've been doing something good.”
Other than the injured Ramires, though, it is likely to be a similar lineup as the one that took the field last month. That would mean Miranda again partnering David Luiz in the center of defense, with Thiago Silva still unavailable. Up front, Diego Tardelli is again expected to start along with star man Neymar.
Before Brazil’s capitulation to Germany in the semifinals, a final between the host nation and Argentina had looked on the cards. Instead Germany went onto thwart Argentina’s attempts to get their hands on the trophy for the first time since 1986 with a late goal in extra time. Like, Brazil, Argentina were soon looking for a new coach. After Alejandro Sabella’s departure, as expected, former Barcelona and Paraguay boss Gerardo Martino took the reins.
His debut could not have gone any better. In Dusseldorf, an Angel di Maria-inspired Argentina thumped the side that had just beaten them in the final in Brazil 4-2, having at one stage been 4-0 up. And for the meeting with Brazil, Argentina will be boosted by the return of Lionel Messi. Midfielder Leonel Vangioni and goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin have also been added to the party.
“We will try to do the same thing we did against Germany,” Martino said, according to the Buenos Aires Herald. “Argentina against Brazil is the most important derby between national teams. It doesn’t matter where the match is held, it’s important for the history between them and now for the players.”
Prediction: The decision to re-hire Dunga remains perplexing and, while he may solidify things at the back, it is difficult to imagine him taking Brazil forward in the long term. Argentina have the superior quality going forward, particularly with Messi hitting form with Barcelona and Di Maria playing sensationally to start his Manchester United career. Martino could well make it two impressive wins on the bounce.
Argentina 2-1 Brazil
Kickoff time: 8.05 a.m. EDT
TV channel: BeIN Sports
Live stream: BeIN Sports Connect