The best two teams in South America met once again for the World Cup Qualifiers. In this analysis, we dive deep into the tactical insights of a goalless and yet very competitive match.

The two stand-out sides in South America met once again on Tuesday evening firmly establishing that status having only suffered defeats in the past couple of years against one another. Argentina unbeaten since the 2019 Copa América semi-final and Brazil’s only loss coming in this year’s final. It’s been otherwise a period of dominance across the continent.

The stakes were far lower in San Juan with Brazil already guaranteed their place in Qatar and Argentina ultimately able to follow them with a point. Yet it didn’t make the latest clásico any less competitive.

Argentina welcomed Lionel Messi and Leandro Paredes back into their starting eleven, to be on paper at least close to full strength. Messi wasn’t 100% and Paredes lasted only 45 minutes but in theory, Lionel Scaloni went with a side similar to the one that triumphed at the Maracanã a few months ago.

Tite was forced into changes in the absence of the influential duo of Neymar and Casemiro. Despite the apparent inexperience in attack of Matheus Cunha, Vinícius Junior and Raphinha, Brazil’s changes largely stifled Argentina.

Gone are the days when Argentina are simply stopped by getting to Messi, Tite knew the real key to the new-look Albiceleste is the midfield.

Messi and Di María roamed behind Lautaro Martínez with Lo Celso tucking inside to form Argentina’s settled midfield three but they were unable to have any real impact particularly in the first half.

Fabinho and Fred were outstanding in Brazil’s central midfield, the full-backs remained disciplined in their approach, the attacking quartet harried Argentina as soon as the ball came out of defense and Eder Militao in central defense allowed the side to be that little more aggressive higher up the pitch. His added pace in comparison with Thiago Silva, who played the Copa América final, meant Brazil didn’t have to be quite so wary of the ball behind and could avoid leaving gaps between midfield and defense.

Brazil were far more effective in their press as a result and Fred in particular had the confidence in the system around him to push high up and deny Paredes the opportunity to dictate from deep. This restricted the PSG midfielder to a meager nine forward passes in the first half, only six of which were successful.

On the occasion where either side managed to wriggle away into a dangerous area, the tactical foul was prominent. 22 fouls during the tetchy first 45 minutes was the third-highest in CONMEBOL 2022 qualifying and it prevented both sides but particularly Argentina to find any real rhythm.

With greater possession (56%) Argentina were more patient while Brazil played the greater number of long passes (8% of their total passes as opposed to Argentina’s 4%), aiming to release their pace on the counter.

Brazil’s defensive qualities, collective pressing and pace saw them create a couple of good opportunities and had Vinicius Junior had a little more composure the game not only would have had its opener but would have undoubtedly opened up.

After a frustrating opening period, Argentina had to wait until five minutes before the break until their first real success. A passage of 25-plus passes eventually cut through Brazil and only a good stop from Alisson denied Rodrigo De Paul.

After his match-winning display in the Copa América final, it was no surprise to see De Paul gradually exerting his influence on the game. The 27-year-old has established himself as one of Argentina’s most important players and again on Tuesday De Paul was heavily involved.

No player made more passes (64), actions (118), duels (35) or interceptions and clearances (4/3). It was another all-round display that provided Argentina with its midfield heartbeat.

Rodrigo De Paul against Brazil

But in a game of few chances, it was of course the defenses that came out on top. Aside from Fred hitting the crossbar from distance and Messi testing Alisson late on, chances were at a premium.

And while it’s been South America’s attacking talents that have caught the eye traditionally both Brazil and Argentina have developed a defensive resilience that looks to serve them well going into 2022.

Brazil have conceded only four goals in their 13 World Cup qualifiers and Argentina aren’t far behind with six, a total still less than half that of the next best defense in South America.

Cristian Romero has clearly had a huge impact on Argentina’s defense and his controlled aggression to quickly step up and win the ball early has helped the Albiceleste play more on the front foot.

The Spurs defender’s recovery pace is also an asset and his assured displays have helped raise the level of those around him. The often-maligned Nicolás Otamendi, fortunate VAR deemed his first half elbow on Raphinha accidental, was again solid, particularly when injury forced Romero off.

Otamendi’s 21 duels with a success rate of 76% was the highest of the game, so too his 14 recoveries and his 86% win ratio from defensive duels was only topped by the outstanding Eder Militao and Marquinhos.

The goalless draw is just about fair, one that keeps both sides unbeaten in qualification, secured of their places in Qatar and increasingly sides that could cause problems for the European favorites next year.

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