Since when have we not looked at Argentina and Brazil and said: the Argentines, if the World Cup started today, would they have more chances for the title than the national team?
I think the year was 2002. Argentina came from a brilliant tie, with 13 wins in 18 games, a team that flew with Verón, Batistuta, Gallardo, Ortega, Crespo, all under the command of Marcelo Bielsa. Brazil, on the other hand, had changed coach twice in the cycle from one Cup to another, struggled to qualify and had its main players, Ronaldo and Rivaldo, shot.
It can be said that, in 2002, Argentina was one of the favorites to win the Cup. Brazil did not arrive with this status. He ended up finding his best moment at the Worlds and taking the fifth championship.
After that, there was never this scenario again. Brazil dominated continental football and was stronger than Argentina for two decades, even though there was a Messi on the other side. Argentina went further than Brazil in the 2014 World Cup, they almost won the title. But it was not more popular that year than the Brazilian team – which played the World Cup at home and was coming from a Confederations Cup title on top of the famous Spain.
I’m talking about perspectives, the expectations that a team generates, and not the results. Now, answer quickly: if the World Cup started today, who looks more ready? The Argentinean or the Brazilian team?
I believe that, for the first time in nearly two decades, the answer is Argentina. Age comes for Messi, but he remains a genius. And coach Scaloni, for whom no one gave a penny, found a way to build a solid and creative team around him. The goalkeeper, Martínez, proves to be the first safe Argentinian archer in years. The fullback duo is still unreliable, it’s true. But the team found chemistry in midfield with Paredes, De Paul, Lo Celso and, up front, Lautaro and the Correas are on the rise.
And there was obviously a doping of confidence in Argentina after they won the Copa América, breaking a 28-year stint without a senior title. Now that they managed to get that weight off their backs, it looks like a loose team on the field. Messi has nothing left to prove to the local crowd and to himself, he is smiling and having fun on the field. It’s a lighter guy.
In 2010, 2014 and 2018, Messi and Argentina were heavier on the field. Yes, even at 14, with Sabella, it was like that. The final against Germany was very well played, but the campaign also had bumps and bumps.
Is Argentina better than Brazil? I’m not saying that. Only that, today, Argentina found confidence and solutions. Brazil accumulates doubts and, even with good results in the qualifiers, is losing confidence.
Tite is doing tests in relation to names – this is valid – but, as there are no big differences between the good Brazilian players scattered in the European leagues (many good ones, none out of grade), it seems that the tests bring more doubts about the what certainties. The games against Venezuela and Colombia were frankly bad, and now there is talk of Raphinha, from Leeds, as the solution to all the problems. Obviously it isn’t.
World champion teams tend to be teams that are ready and eventually find a solution at the last minute, that touch that makes the difference between winning and losing a championship.
France was a ready-made team, which got a certain Mbappé a year before the Cup. 2010 Spain, for example, were already European champions, but found in Busquets a super important piece for defensive consistency in midfield. Anyway, there are many cases like that.
The Brazil of 94 was a ready team, but it took the leap with Romário. The Brazil of 2002 was not a ready team, but Ronaldinho also found a player who took the leap in quality at the right time. Argentina, in 2021, found a solution called “trust”.
There are many strong European teams that will enter the 2022 World Cup as candidates. France, without a doubt, is the main one. But there are Italy, Portugal, England, Belgium, Germany and this young and talented Spanish team. Brazil, Argentina and even Uruguay and Colombia can win from any of them.
But today, today, and I emphasize again “today”, despite the qualification of the qualifiers showing something else, Argentina seems to be the South American team best positioned to win the Cup. If it were today. But it’s next year.