La Albiceleste off to a perfect start under Sampaoli
Sampaoli’s era had a dream kick-start as he saw his lads break down Brazil for a 1-0 victory.
Mercado’s 45th minute tap-in proved to be the difference between both the teams as Argentina beat ‘eternal rivals’ Brazil at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Friday.
Sampaoli made numerous changes in Argentina’s starting eleven after taking over from Edgardo Bauza, who was sacked after a 2-0 defeat in Bolivia in March.
One of those included moving to a 3-4-3 formation, with the side having worked on a front trio of Lionel Messi, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain.
Brazil, meanwhile, were without star attacker Neymar, but Tite did name Premier League trio Gabriel Jesus, Willian and Philippe Coutinho in his line-up.
Having been stripped of the captaincy and lost his place in the Brazil line-up under Dunga, Thiago Silva was welcomed back into the fold by Tite. The Paris Saint-Germain centre-back made his first start for the Selecao in almost two years, and he wore the skipper’s armband for the first since the 2014 World Cup.
Both the teams observed a minute’s silence for the death of two Australians in the London Bridge attack last weekend.
Argentina were trying to hold onto the ball in the early stages but Brazil were pressing them high. Silva got a roar of approval from the stands after turning away from a closing Higuain inside his own half.
The first real chance to score in the match fell in Argentina’s path and Di Maria was unlucky to not get his name registered on the scoresheet. In the 6th minute Coutinho dribbled into the box after regaining possession on the left but he failed to get a shot off as Argentina charged up the other end. Dybala slided a lovely pass down the left-hand channel for Di Maria, who cracked a powerful shot against the near-side upright!
The Selecaos had their fair share of chances but lady luck seemed to be rude on them today. In the 16th minute Coutinho raced away down the right after a one-two with Gabriel Jesus and tried to find Willian rushing in on the left-hand side of the box. His delivery was cut out by Otamendi.
Brazil’s first real chance to score in the match came in the 22nd minute when Filipe Luis fizzed a pass into Jesus and he sent the ball around the corner for the run of Willian down the left. He drove into the box and squared for the unmarked Coutinho on the opposite side. He took a touch before trying to round Romero, but the recovering Otamendi made an important block to stop him from hitting the target!
Argentina had the next laugh as Di Maria saw an attempt to cross for Higuain headed straight back to him by Gil, and he unleashed a volley at the near post in response. It skidded towards the bottom corner and Weverton could only push it behind for a corner.
Argentina finally got the lead in the 45th minute as a short corner for the La Albiceleste was worked back to Di Maria and his cross found Otamendi. The City defender saw his header hit the post, with the rebound falling perfectly for Mercado to fire into an open goal from inside the six-yard box!
Brazil went in search of the equaliser after the break but they fell miserably short of finding the equaliser as they ruined 3 clear chances within 3 minutes.
First, a magnificent flick to Jesus by Coutinho was met with an excellent return pass that released him down the left. The Liverpool man skipped inside a pair of challenges and fired a cross-goal effort towards the far post. Paulinho got in the way of it, though, and he did so from an offside position!
In the very next minute Brazil had another chance to bag the equaliser when Jesus checked inside of Maidana and tried to bend a shot into the top-right corner. Romero batted it away unconventionally, but Fagner pounced on the loose ball and drew a free-kick. Willian’s free-kick was flicked on Silva and dropped for Jesus on the left-hand side of the box. He side-footed a first-time shot towards goal, failing to hit the target.
Brazil refused to give up, though, and the Selecaos should have levelled the scoring in the 62nd minute. The Selecaos hit the post twice in succession to revamp everyone’s heart around the globe. Jesus was released by a sublime pass through the heart of the Argentina defence from Fernandinho and he rounded Romero before sending his shot against the upright. Willian latched onto the rebound and he too hit the woodwork! Paulinho couldn’t get the ball under control for a third attempt as the White and Blues cleared the ball.
These misses proved to be costly for Tite’s men as the Argentina defence held firm in the remainder of the game to get Sampaoli off to a triumphant start.
Brazil take on Australia on June 13 in another friendly, while Argentina meet Singapore before they attempt to revive their stuttering World Cup qualifying campaign against Uruguay in August.