[dropcap]A[/dropcap]fter slow starts to their respective World Cup qualifying campaigns, South American heavyweights Argentina and Brazil met in Buenos Aires last night and shared the spoils in an at-times tetchy 1-1 draw.
The hosts, desperate for their first win of the campaign and without Lionel Messi and Sergio Agüero, dominated early proceedings and were good value for their 1-0 lead at the break.
The visitors rallied to get a hard-fought equaliser and will have been the side most content with the point at the final whistle.
With star names on show and no shortage of passion, here are five thoughts from the game.
Di María Argentina’s spark – but Messi missed
With no Messi to carry the side forward, the individualism and spark necessary to make inroads in the final third was provided by Ángel Di María, who wore the Barcelona star’s number ten jersey.
The gifted wideman has been rejuvenated at Paris Saint-Germain this season and consistently beat opponents while on the ball.
His pass to set Gonzalo Higuaín free for Argentina’s goal was sublime and Gerardo Martino’s men looked much more dangerous when Di María was involved in their attacks.
However, with the all-illusive second goal failing to come, the hosts missed attacking talisman Messi, who cannot return quick enough for the Albiceleste.
David Luiz has another off night
Centre-half David Luiz remains one of the most intriguing players in world football, simply due to the likelihood of him doing something beautifully sublime or just plain stupid.
It was the PSG enforcer that was culpable for Argentina’s goal, getting caught out of the defensive line to allow Ezequiel Lavezzi to utilise the space he should have been in to score.
Other questionable decisions by Luiz were compounded by the former Chelsea man getting himself booked then sent off in the space of a number of second-half minutes, putting his side under real pressure.
With Luiz still looking like the weak link in the Seleção set-up, it beggars belief that someone of Thiago Silva’s quality was not even in Dunga’s squad for the game.
Higuaín’s hold-up play a sign of resurfacing confidence
Gonzalo Higuaín has not always been flavour of the month in an Argentina jersey, with a host of high-profile missed chances blighting his reputation in his homeland.
Despite this and the fact he did not play a part in Martino’s side in the opening two qualifiers, the Napoli striker has been in improving form for his club this season.
A clever assist and tireless work will have endeared him to the home support on this occasion, but it was his control and link-up play in the first hour of the game that was most impressive from Higuaín.
Neymar bullied, Costa needed and Brazil rudderless in attack
Neymar’s form for Barcelona in recent weeks has been nothing short of extraordinary, which will have heightened expectations on Brazil’s skipper all the more coming into his first taste of World Cup qualifying.
However, operating from the left and having the no-nonsense figure of Facundo Roncaglia to deal with, the gifted forward had little-to-no influence over proceedings.
Brazil’s reliance on Neymar is close to complete, with Willian the only other attacking player at Dunga’s current disposal showing any real signs of life.
To field 35-year-old Ricardo Oliveira as a lone striker in a game of this magnitude shows the Seleção’s attacking woes, but surely there are better options.
Just why Douglas Costa, who is on fire for Bayern Munich this season, was left on the bench remains a mystery; the former Shakhtar Donetsk man’s introduction sparked Brazil’s revival.
Going forward, absent offensive players, for one reason or another, must be brought back into the fold, with the team in yellow needing the likes of Luiz Adriano, Philippe Coutinho, Lucas Moura and Rafinha to breathe life into an ailing attack.
Neither nation can have confidence in their keeper
Brazil have never been blessed with top-notch goalkeepers, with the continued reliance on Júlio César over the last generation highlighting the fact.
Current custodian Allison had a few nervy moments in the visiting goal and did little to instil confidence into a back four under real pressure in the first half.
At the other end of the pitch, Sergio Romero has plenty of experience in the Argentine goal but could and should have done more to keep out Lucas Lima’s equaliser.
With the former Sampdoria man not likely to get much club football this term at Manchester United, Martino is left with a stopper that looks rusty and not confident.
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