WITH Argentina's World Cup qualifying campaign on a knife's edge, they may just look back at this week in Melbourne as a pivotal moment - if they eventually make it to the 2018 tournament.

A 1-0 win over Brazil thanks to a first-half goal from Gabriel Marcado will be a huge coincidence boost for a side getting to know new manager Jorge Sampaoli.

The lone goal may have been a tap-in, but it was not a game devoid of entertainment or competitiveness.

Indeed, there are few fiercer rivalries in world football than this Superclasico - even if it is trotted out in a glamour friendly at the Melbourne Cricket Ground that sceptics say has little at stake.

Tell that to the hoards of travelling journalists and broadcasters from South America, or the Argentina fans watching on anxiously in Sampaoli's first game in charge to assess what impact the new boss, who replaced the sacked Eduardo Bauza, has made on a side sitting precariously in fifth place in South American qualifying.

It might have been world No.1 v world No.2, but where Brazil are already qualified for Russia in 2018, Argentina are 11 points behind them and face a massive qualifier in Uruguay at the end of August, against a side one point ahead of them on the table.

 

Gabriel Mercado of Argentina celebrates after scoring.
Gabriel Mercado of Argentina celebrates after scoring. JOE CASTRO

Given Brazil have scored 24 goals in eight qualifying games, keeping the Selecao scoreless is a boon for the new boss - although they rode their luck in a second-half where South America's in-form side deserved an equaliser.

It says a lot about the talent on display that despite missing Neymar, Brazil boss Tite was able to name a Premier League trio of Willian, Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus up top, while the MCG crowd was able to enjoy the attacking riches Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala and Angel Di Maria in the attacking third alongside Lionel Messi. Such is their depth that Sergio Aguero wasn't even included in their squad.

Naturally, it was the Argentina icon, Messi, the crowd was most enthusiastic for - and it was a terrific crowd at that with 95,569 in the stands.

 

A total of 95,569 fans filled the MCG for the international friendly between Argentina and Brazil.
A total of 95,569 fans filled the MCG for the international friendly between Argentina and Brazil. JOE CASTRO

There was a genuine buzz in Melbourne, filled with yellow, and white and blue jerseys throughout the city. Outside the MCG beforehand it was a lovely vibe filled with young kids kicking footballs and expectant fans buzzing to see one of the two best footballers on the planet.

They got a great night out, as well, with plenty of competitiveness, summed up when, with 10 minutes to go, substitute Marcia Rafael Souza absolutely clobbered Messi in the back.

No one could believe Brazil didn't level in the 61st minute when Jesus botched a gilt-edged chance, clattering a shot into the woodwork, before Willian thumped his shot into the opposite post.

There are plenty who mock these glamour matches, but the packed MCG crowd can all go home knowing they've seen Messi in the flesh.

News Corp Australia


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