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By the next time Argentina hits the field – at Wembley, to meet the European champions, Italy – they will be close to three years since their last loss in a match. Since losing to Brazil in Copa America 2019, the only defeat for Lionel Scaloni’s team has come Against the health authorities of São Paulo. Other than that, 31 played, 20 won, 11 drawn.
It is, without a doubt, the kind of record that should excite the spirits of Argentina before the World Cup that resonates particularly well: 2022, after all, Lionel Messi’s last bow in an Argentina shirt, is likely to be his last chance to hold it. Country for the biggest football prize.
But it should come with a warning. That upcoming meeting with Italy will be the first time Argentina have faced a European opponent since their draw with Germany in October 2019. Their career has, in the past few years, been a clearly domestic affair, built and made in South America.
Brazil, as it happens, is very much in the same boat. Since losing to Belgium in the 2018 World Cup quarter-finals, Tite’s side have faced only one European team – the Czech Republic – and that was also three years ago. Brazil is currently ranked as the favorite to win the World Cup, a state that depends almost exclusively on their ability to beat the same South American teams over and over again.
This sudden isolation, of course, is partly linked to the coronavirus pandemic, but it is also linked to the rise of the Nations League in Europe and the exigencies of the endless round of South American qualifiers for the World Cup and Copa America. Since 2019, there has been very little chance of playing friendlies.
But as the World Cup approaches, the absence of diverse competition is leading to a sense of ignorance. We can make sure that Argentina (which included Mexico, Poland and Saudi Arabia on Friday) and Brazil (which will play Switzerland, Serbia and Cameroon in Qatar) are rivals in South America. We have absolutely no idea how they will hold up against the European teams that they both have to beat to emerge victorious in Qatar.
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