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Argentina inflicts historic defeat on Brazil

China Daily | Updated: 2023-11-23 09:10
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Nicolas Otamendi rises highest to score Argentina's winner in a 1-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Brazil at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday. The ill-tempered clash was marred by crowd trouble that forced kickoff to be delayed. REUTERS

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Nicolas Otamendi scored with a towering header to give Argentina a 1-0 away win over Brazil in a bad-tempered World Cup qualifier that was delayed by half an hour on Tuesday after police clashed with fans at a sold-out Maracana Stadium.

The long-standing rivalry between two of the most successful teams in world soccer hit fever pitch after the Brazilian police charged Argentinian fans in response to fighting in the stands during the national anthems.

The world champions, led by captain Lionel Messi, went over to the terraces to try and calm the situation before leaving the pitch and returning to the dressing room for more than 10 minutes.

The players eventually returned and the match started in a tumult of noise as local fans roared their support of the five-time world champions, who were looking to get their campaign back on track after losing successive qualifiers for the first time.

Instead, Brazil plunged to a third straight defeat and first ever loss at home in a World Cup qualifier to stand sixth in the standings, eight points behind leader Argentina and in the last spot that guarantees a berth at the 2026 finals.

"The truth is that this group continues to achieve historic things, once again," Messi told reporters.

"Obviously, at the beginning it was bad because we saw how they were beating people.

"You think about the family, the people who are there, who don't know what's going on and we are more concerned about that than playing a match. At that point the match was secondary.

"After that, winning a game like this I think is one of the most important wins that this group has achieved. It is something very nice to be able to win here in Brazil, after how strong they have been at home throughout their history."

After all the prematch drama, it was a nervy first half with 22 fouls, three bookings and several skirmishes as rival players frequently faced off and the referee flashed cards in an attempt to calm the situation.

Brazil was arguably the better side and almost scored from a corner just before halftime through a Gabriel Martinelli strike that defender Cristian Romero cleared off the goal line.

Despite being without key players like Vinicius Jr and Neymar because of injuries and losing their captain Marquinhos to a leg issue halfway through the game, Brazil kept up the pressure after the break.

Martinelli howler

The host wasted a golden opportunity to score in the 47th minute when Martinelli missed an absolute sitter, striking a close-range shot straight at the goalkeeper.

Argentina held on and made the most of one of the few chances it created in the 63rd minute when defender Otamendi rose high to power home a corner from Giovani Lo Celso.

It was Argentina's only shot on target and Brazil's misery was compounded when substitute midfielder Joelinton was sent off for hitting Rodrigo de Paul in the face in the 82nd minute, only three minutes after he came off the bench.

The Brazilian fans unloaded their frustration on the team, screaming "Ole! Ole! Ole!" as Argentina passed the ball around in the last few minutes, an attitude that angered caretaker manager Fernando Diniz.

"The fans have the right to do what they want," Diniz, who was roundly booed at the final whistle, told a news conference.

"The fans are passionate and want to win, so they have the right to boo, but I think shouting "Ole" to Argentina is a bit much."

Scaloni mulls exit

Argentina's World Cup-winning manager Lionel Scaloni made the stunning admission that he was contemplating walking away from his position after the match.

Scaloni's shocking pronouncement about his future came out of nowhere during his post-match new conference.

"Argentina needs a coach who has all the energy possible and who is well ... I need to stop the ball and start thinking, I have a lot of things to think about during this time," Scaloni, who took no questions, said in his opening remarks.

"These players have given a lot to the coaching staff and I need to think a lot about what I'm going to do.

"It's not goodbye or anything, but I need to think because the bar is very high and it's complicated to keep going and it's complicated to keep winning.

"These guys are making it difficult, so I need to think about it for a while. I will talk to the FA president and the players afterward."

The 45-year-old took over as manager in 2018 and led Argentina to the Copa America title in 2021 — their first major trophy since the 1986 World Cup — before the Albiceleste landed their third global title in Qatar last year.

His captain, Messi, retired from the international game in 2016 before returning to reassume — and subsequently deliver on — the huge burden of expectation of success from a country where soccer has been likened to a religion.

"We are sure and hope that Scaloni will continue," Argentina defender Romero told reporters.


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