Argentina vs. Brazil: Key Issues That Will Shape International Friendly
Brazil and Argentina will clash in the latest South American Superclasico encounter in Beijing this weekend, with the two sides meeting with full-strength squads for the first time since 2012.
Lionel Messi came up trumps in New Jersey that day, scoring a hat-trick against a Brazil side deep in preparations for the London Olympic Games. It was a thrilling tie, finishing 4-3 in favour of Messi and his cohorts.
Following rather different World Cup experiences this summer, despite both finishing in the final four, it will be an interesting marker of the current state of development of both sides ahead of next summer's Copa America.
Where, then, will the game in China be won and lost?
Can Brazil Contain Lionel Messi?
It almost goes without stating in games involving Lionel Messi that his performance and ability to influence proceedings will go a long way to deciding the overall outcome.
While Neymar and Angel Di Maria are both wonderful players capable of conjuring moments of pure magic at any opportunity, Messi is just another notch higher on the scale of brilliance.
A lot of responsibility will fall upon defensive midfielder Luiz Gustavo when it comes to dealing with his threat, but Brazil will have to ensure he is not overworked when the likes of Di Maria and Sergio Aguero move into similar areas of the field.
Dunga will have to think more about his strategy for this tie than he did against either Ecuador or Colombia last time out, with Messi's unique threat cause for special attention.
Will Dunga's Counter-Attacking Pay Dividends?
Argentina's defence was widely derided prior to the World Cup earlier this summer and gained a great deal of respect for their fine performances in reaching the final. However, there can be no denying that they lack pace as a unit.
Generally, that will not prove too great an issue for them moving forward, but Dunga's is a Brazil side designed to attack with speed and precision. No longer is there a Fred-like figure in attack, rather a quartet of Oscar, Willian, Diego Tardelli and Neymar that possesses speed in abundance.
On paper, it will be Brazil's best chance of opening up Argentina. If they can draw the likes of Javier Mascherano forward and leave the centre-backs (potentially Federico Fernandez and Martin Demichelis) exposed, the Selecao could enjoy a profitable evening in the Chinese capital.
How Will Elias Fare?
Given he will likely start on Saturday, if previous Dunga selections are anything to go by, much attention will understandably be focused upon Corinthians midfielder Elias. The 29-year-old's last international start came under Mano Menezes in 2011.
Elias has been ridiculed on occasion, despite strong perfomances in the Brasileirao in two spells at Corinthians and last season with Flamengo. On his venture to Europe with Sporting and Atletico Madrid, though, he failed to make an impact.
With the national team, he has fared little better, failing to stand out and, indeed, rarely completing 90 minutes when handed an opportunity.
Surprisingly given another chance, he will face a stern test against Argentina's combative midfield and will need to step up if his side are to stand a chance of bettering their rivals.
Angel Di Maria vs. Danilo: A Potential Opening?
Angel Di Maria has been in sensational form of late, and on his last outing for Argentina he provided three assists and a goal in a 4-2 victory over world champions Germany.
While Tata Martino's side is very flexible in its approach, Di Maria will largely stick to his preferred left flank and be encouraged by Brazil's likely selection of Danilo—a fine player, but one not always noted for his defensive work.
The Porto full-back is a decent defender, but he excels further up the pitch—understandable, considering he is a converted midfielder. There are weaknesses in his reading of the game defensively and Di Maria can exploit any gaps if Danilo switches off for even a moment.
It is an aspect of his game the Porto player has undoubtedly improved upon, but the likes of Di Maria rarely need more than the slightest invitation to attempt to wreak havoc.
How Strong Are Brazil Mentally?
The end of Brazil's World Cup campaign was an unmitigated disaster, with collapses against Germany and Netherlands coming as the pressure got too much for the side on home soil.
While much of that pressure has now been relieved, there can be little doubt that such devastating blows would leave deep scars on a side's psyche that are unlikely to have healed so soon.
The question is, then, if Argentina were to begin to freely cut Brazil open in Beijing, would the same weaknesses by evident? It is hard to say, but it will be a worry.
The Selecao will have restored some confidence with their two wins last month but this is Argentina and a true top-level opponent. On Saturday we will get a real indication of just how far, if at all, Brazil have moved on from the events of July.