At the end Brazildependence on Neymar was greater than Argentinais on Lionel messi. Argentina’s 12th goal of the tournament was the first and only not to involve Messi – and that was enough to bring Messi the first senior title in his international career, and Argentina’s first since 1993.
The victory is the result of Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni’s desire to change a winning team – or at least one that had qualified for a semi-final after a shot on goal. He changed five on the side – half of the outfield contingent – from Tuesday’s roster against Colombia. One was routine – central defender christian romero come back after an injury. Both full-backs were swapped out – Scaloni clearly wanted fresh legs on the flanks.
And the other two changed the structure of the side. The most defensive midfielder, Guido Rodriguez, gave way to Leandro Paredes. It may have sounded strange. But Scaloni decided he didn’t need to start with Rodriguez as he strengthened the sector. Instead of the normal 4-3-3, Argentina lined up with a 4-4-2. Nicolas Gonzalez placeholder image on the left wing gave way to Angel Di Maria.
It was a match winner, a title change.
There was a price to pay. Young Lo Celso was pushed further to the left, further from Messi. It is the partnership that has always allowed the team to start quickly throughout the tournament. There was no quick start this time. But there was something to celebrate at the end, as the thinking behind Di Maria’s inclusion turned out to be correct. His role was to cut inside, behind the left rear Renan Lodi, attacking the space of Thiago silva. This is where the game was won.
Rodrigo De Paul, a strong candidate for the man of the match, gave a long diagonal ball for Di Maria to chase after him. Renan Lodi couldn’t control, and Di Maria was there to beat Ederson with a nice lob. Scaloni has been rewarded for making changes to his squad.
Brazil coach Tite might regret not having done the same. He sent the same line-up that had beaten Peru Monday. Some of their problems were predictable. A major flaw in the goal was the lack of pressure on De Paul in midfield. Brazil lobbied better when Eder Militao played at center-back. But Tite stayed with Thiago Silva, who inevitably lost a bit of his rhythm. It tends to stay deeper, and the team splits up into separate units accordingly.
In attack, Tite has gained little from the hero of 2019, the winger Everton, which was not in top form. The Brazil coach worked overtime trying to rebuild his attack during the game. Roberto Firmino came on at the break, fending off Argentina’s center-backs and giving Neymar space to bring Richarlison in the game, cutting to the right. It was Brazil’s closest to a goal, with Richarlison having a goal ruled out for a narrow offside and another well saved by Emiliano Martinez.
On came Vinicius Junior to provide a push to the left. Striker Gabriel Barbosa came on, which forced another smart save from Martinez. Argentina withdrew. Messi was left all alone up front, although he had a chance to win things towards the end after a superb brace with De Paul, only to then lose control at the crucial moment. the action was now taking place at the other end.
Argentina decided to stop Neymar in any way they could, by fair means and by fault, even lining up to try and tackle him in rugby in desperation. It was time for cold heads and Brazil struggled to stay calm. The faults, the constant interruptions, the yellow cards, everything worked in Argentina’s favor.
It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t classic. But it will be remembered for a long time in Argentina, especially in the memory of those fans – 10% of the stadium’s capacity – who were controversially and chaotically allowed to enter the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
A long wait has come to an end. At the final whistle, the whole squad ran towards Messi – a graphic illustration of his integration into the squad. Few will blame him for his moment – and the long embrace between him and Neymar minutes after the whistle was blown was as memorable as anything that happened on the pitch.