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How Argentina defeated Brazil: Tight defence, clipping wings and isolating Neymar

A solid defence led by Nicolas Otamendi, a midfield crowding the flanks to negate Brazil's pace and old-fashioned man-marking of Neymar were the crucial elements as Argentina beat Brazil in the Copa America final.

Midfielder Rodrigo de Paul was named the Man of the Match in the final. (AP)

Tight defence: The Argentine backline, led by the error-prone Nicolas Otamendi, has a flakiness about it, but it put on a solid show. Otamendi was inspirational, perhaps his best outing in an Argentina jersey. His tackling and interception were critical in not letting Brazil settle into a rhythm, while he won personal duels with Neymar and Richarlison. Some of his tackles were far from clean, in the grey area between tactical fouls and cynicism. But nothing mattered to him. He was well allied by Cristian Romero.

Importantly, both were happy sitting deep and repelling wave after wave of Brazilian invasions. Both Romero and Otamendi are otherwise enterprising centre-backs, but in the final, creating chances or marauding upfront was the least of their priorities. Even if Brazil somehow managed to breach them, goalkeeper Emilio Martinez was in impenetrable form, as he had been throughout the tournament.

Clipping wings: Even without the absent Gabriel Jesus, Brazil had pace on the wings. Argentina were aware of that threat, and in a head-to-head encounter between wing-men of both teams, Brazil would easily come up trumps. So, Argentina congested the wings.

Their full-backs were more defensive in their approach and seldom forayed forward. They joined the midfield pair of Leandro Paredes and Rodrigo De Paul in stifling the middle of the pitch, which irritated Brazil and blocked their usual attacking channels. De Paul was magnificent, the game’s match-winner, maintaining 100 per cent passing accuracy, winning 11 duels and six fouls, making four tackles and setting up Angel di Maria’s goal.

The five, including Giovani lo Celso, crowded out Brazil’s midfield. To help them out, Brazilian defenders sometimes joined the midfield, leaving space behind them for Argentina to manipulate. One such occasion resulted in Argentina’s goal. For the first time in many games, they succeeded in disrupting Brazil’s shape.

Neymar an isolated figure: The ploy, whenever Neymar got the ball, was simple: old-fashioned man-marking. Just crowd him out, even if it takes four or five men, make him do something silly rather him dragging them to a clumsy or costly challenge, which he’s so good at. If Neymar’s left frustrated in the first half, he tends to over-elaborate his moves.

Evident was a lack of chemistry with other members of the forward-line. He missed his communication with Jesus and Philippe Coutinho. Though Richarlison is a hardworking, space-creating forward, he has not quite settled into a strong alliance with Neymar.

The right-sided forward, Everton, too is just settling in. Neymar could have perhaps benefitted more from Roberto Firmino and Vinicius Junior. Not surprisingly, after the latter pair came on as substitutes, Brazil looked more deceptive.

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First published on: 11-07-2021 at 07:41:07 pm
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