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Messi and the spectre of the 7-1 – Tite faces his biggest test in Brazil´s Mineirao return

As Andre Schurrle controlled the ball on the left-hand side of the box before thumping home the seventh goal of the match, a voice from the back of a Rio de Janeiro restaurant shouted in Portuguese: “10-0, 10-0, 10-0!”

It did not get that bad for Brazil, but a 7-1 defeat to Germany in the 2014 World Cup semi-final was undoubtedly one of the most crushing losses in the history of sport, not just football.

The confidence of the most successful footballing nation was destroyed in the space of 90 minutes in Belo Horizonte. The spectre of that result continues to haunt Brazil, but they will attempt to vanquish their demons on Thursday when they return to the Mineirao for the first time since that dark day.

As if the lingering memories of that seismic blow were not enough to contend with, their opponents in the 2018 World Cup qualifying clash will be their eternal rivals – Argentina.

When La Albiceleste come to town, so often the focus is on how to stop the seemingly unstoppable – what can be done to keep the mercurial Lionel Messi at bay.

The talismanic forward is nigh on impossible to contain in his worst of matches, but he will be taking on the responsibility of turning around Argentina’s recent slump in the Superclasico in Minas Gerais.

Without captain Messi in their previous two qualifiers due to a groin injury, Edgardo Bauza’s team were held to a 2-2 draw in Peru before suffering a surprise 1-0 defeat at home to Paraguay – results which mean the former Sao Paulo boss is coming under increasing pressure.

Since then, a FIFA ruling against Bolivia for the use of an ineligible player – Paraguay-born Nelson Cabrera – resulted in their draw against Chile being declared a forfeit. The two-time defending Copa America champions were handed a 3-0 win and consequently two additional points, sending them up to fifth in the CONMEBOL section and the last qualifying spot at Argentina’s expense.

Yet, in Brazil, much of the build-up to the clash has been dominated by one thing – the 7-1 defeat which came to be known as the ‘Mineirazo’.

A lot has changed since July 8, 2014, though.

The Selecao are onto their second different coach with Dunga’s unpopular return, which followed the departure of Luiz Felipe Scolari, fizzling out after a positive start. A quarter-final exit at Copa America 2015 was followed by failure to progress from the group stage in the centenary edition of the competition last June, making his position untenable.

Now, Brazil are under the stewardship of Tite. The former Corinthians coach had widespread backing when he took the helm earlier this year, and he has begun his tenure with four successive victories.

The Selecao are playing with greater freedom, and the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Willian have helped to take much of the creative burden off Neymar’s shoulders. With Roberto Firmino, Douglas Costa and Gabriel Jesus also in the squad, Tite has undoubted attacking quality at his disposal and has tried his best to utilise it as much as possible.

 

Happy

A photo posted by Nj neymarjr (@neymarjr) on Nov 8, 2016 at 4:43pm PST

However, Argentina represent his biggest challenge since taking over as coach.

Winning away against an improving Ecuador in the altitude of Quito in his first match in charge was no simple feat, but now the obstacles to overcome are psychological, not physical.

Argentina forward Lucas Pratto initiated the mind games this week when he claimed Brazil are scared of Messi, though Dani Alves, one of the seven players who took part in World Cup 2014 remaining in the squad, insisted there is only respect.

The experienced right-back also cooled concerns regarding the team’s mental state ahead of running out at the Mineirao, saying: “There have not been any feelings other than the opportunity to come back here and play in a world-class derby like Brazil-Argentina.”

It is a mindset Tite and the rest of the group will want to tap into as they look to provide a boost for Brazil by triumphing against their grandest rivals at the scene of their greatest woe.

Thu 10 Nov, 2016
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