The four South American teams headed to the World Cup, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Ecuador, all participated in a friendly on Monday to get ready for Qatar.
Brazil and Uruguay each defeated World Cup-bound opponents (5-1 over Tunisia and 2-0 over Canada, respectively), while Ecuador drew 0-0 with Japan, which is headed to Qatar. Argentina defeated Jamaica by a score of 3-0 in the meantime.
How is Brazil looking so far in the friendlies? Tunisia had gone seven games without giving up a goal when they faced Brazil in Paris. Raphinha (two goals), Richarlison, and Neymar gave the Brazilians a four-goal lead at the half, and Pedro's outstanding effort in the 74th minute gave them a decisive 5-1 victory.
For Brazil, everything is going well. Coach Tite appears to have found a tactical configuration that works in each of his three formations thus far. Every athlete he signs seems to get started right away. Attackers are played just onside as shots strike the post and are successful. And after the goal he scored from the penalty spot against Tunisia, Neymar is now just two goals away from tying Pele's record of 77.
Brazil has won 12, drawn three, and lost none of its games since falling in the Copa America final in the middle of last year, scoring 38 goals and allowing just five. They have a fantastic record and have done it in such a way that they are clearly favorites to bring the trophy back from Qatar. However, several romps do not win World Cups. Even the 1970 team encountered challenges along the way, particularly while playing Uruguay and England. It was fortunate for the 2002 team that Belgium did not defeat them.
Truly successful teams must play their way through the most difficult obstacles; this is something Brazil has not had to accomplish in the past year. Since losing to Argentina in the 2021 Copa America final, they have obviously made significant progress and have a far wider variety of attacking alternatives. But it is important to bear in mind how they lost that game: after making a defensive mistake, they fell behind and then made it more difficult for themselves to recover by foolishly getting into fights and arguments when they ought to have been maintaining the momentum. The group appears to be capable of greatness. Whether promise materializes could depend on the group's ability to maintain composure under pressure.
What about Argentina and Lionel Messi? It's extremely feasible that Lionel Messi's international career may end in three months. It is not necessary. He may continue as he is obviously having a good time with Argentina. However, a sixth World Cup would undoubtedly be too much to ask. There isn't a way to avoid it. It's about to end. How are we going to survive without him?
What is Argentina planning to do, specifically? Lionel Scaloni, the coach, maybe debating it. He awarded three players their international debuts last Friday against Honduras: Nahuel Perez at center back, Enzo Fernandez at center midfield, and Thiago Almada at attacking midfield. If they participate in the World Cup at all, these players might not have much of an impact. However, they will play a role in the team's future — on the terrible day when Messi passes away.
On Tuesday night in New Jersey, there was a sneak peek when Messi did not start the 3-0 victory over Jamaica. Argentina took comfortable command without him, which was fantastic news. A goal from Julian Alvarez, a guy who will be very valuable in the years to come, was better news. The fact that Messi entered the game early in the second half was even better news for the Red Bull Arena's full house. Before he scored two superbly executed goals in the dying minutes to secure the victory and send the supporters home satisfied, the game appeared to be lurching.
Argentina has gone 35 games without losing, and one of the most intriguing things about their most recent victory was that they finished it with a three-center back formation, with Lisandro Martinez coming off the bench to play on the left of the trio, Nicolas Otamendi in the middle, and Cristian Romero on the right. It's possible that Lionel Scaloni has a dim view of life after Messi. But it is evident that Qatar is at the forefront of his mind, and it was exciting to watch him play about with a system that he might surprise with during the World Cup.
Is Uruguay ready to bring black its glory from the old days? Diego Alonso, the coach of Uruguay, may still be unsure of how his team will line up at the World Cup less than two months from now. Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani have served as the attacking spearhead in the 4-4-2 style that has been the norm for the past several years. It seems unlikely that the pair will be used together given their advanced age. However, there is pressure inside the ranks to try something else even if they were operating at full capacity.
The current generation of midfielders in Uruguay is excellent, yet they may be more effective in alternative formations. They might perform best as a trio in the middle of the field, with Matias Vecino serving as the anchor between Rodrigo Bentancur and Federico Valverde. Against Iran last Friday, they got off to that start, with Darwin Nunez up front on the left of an attacking three. Nunez did not like it, thus Uruguay switched back to the 4-4-2 formation. However, as soon as they made the switch and removed Vecino from the game, they let up the game's lone goal.
They again started in a 4-4-2 on Tuesday with Nunez and Suarez up front against Canada. Nunez aided his cause by scoring the winner to make it 2-0. But Uruguay's defense appeared weaker without the central trio on the field. They were frequently exerting themselves to keep the Canadians out, and a stronger team would have undoubtedly punished them. They eventually used a lone striker, a formation that presumably works better for playmakers Giorgian de Arrascaeta and Nico De La Cruz (who scored the game's opening goal).
Last but not least is Ecuador. Five games in a row without allowing a goal, five clean sheets, is a statistic that would make any coach happy. Gustavo Alfaro, the manager of Ecuador, is obviously concerned about the fact that his team has only scored twice in these contests and has played through a second straight scoreless draw, this time versus Japan.
They will next take the field in the tournament's opening game against hosts Qatar. The entire world will be watching Ecuador's youthful team as they begin the full competition. The issue is that Alfaro's attacking players appear to have all lost their edge at once, as was seen toward the end of the Japan match when Ecuador was fortunate to be given a penalty and all-time leading scorer Enner Valencia saw his attempt saved. Valencia is struggling, rangy center forward Michael Estrada is having a rough patch, and Alfaro isn't sold on the options.
Of course, they are constantly in the game even though they are not giving up. And despite the absence of senior center back Felix Torres due to injury, the defense has generally been strong. Instead of failing to cope with the threat posed by the opposition, the majority of their issues have been self-inflicted — a slip or a terrible pass out of defense. However, the World Cup will undoubtedly include tougher competition and a greater demand for goals. In November, Ecuador will learn if the glass is half full or half empty.