Messi & Dybala need time to gel, but Sampaoli shows Argentina can be challengers

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The Albiceleste rode their luck to beat Brazil on their coach's debut, but there were signs to suggest they can be a force at next year's World Cup


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A dream debut for Jorge Sampaoli. Argentina kicked off a new era on Friday under the former Sevilla boss and even though there was some fortune in their 1-0 win over Brazil, there were also indications that this team can compete at the very highest level.

Mercado makes difference as Argentina beat Brazil

Sampaoli said before the friendly in Melbourne that Lionel Messi and Paulo Dybala could lead the Albiceleste into a new era and both were included in an exciting XI against a Brazil side - without Neymar - which had been victorious in all of Tite's first nine games in charge.

The Selecao are very much back on track, leading the FIFA world ranking and on the verge of qualification for the World Cup in Russia next year. But this match was all about Argentina and how they would look with yet another new coach - their third in a year.

Gerardo Martino stepped down after losing the Copa America Centenario on penalties to Chile last summer, having been defeated by Sampaoli's team a year earlier in the 2015 Copa America final in Santiago.

Jorge Sampaoli Argentina 08062017

AFA bosses had their eye on Sampaoli even then, but he stayed with Chile and when he stepped down, he carefully considered his options and ended up signing with Sevilla last year.

Sampaoli: Messi & Dybala can take Argentina to a new level

With that deal already in place, Argentina could not find funds to pay his release clause as Martino resigned. But they finally got their man this summer to replace Edgardo Bauza, who had always seemed something of a stop-gap and was dismissed after defeat to Bolivia left the Albiceleste in fifth place in the South American World Cup qualifying standings with four games to play.

Sampaoli's first qualifier is a tough match away to Uruguay at the end of August, but he started with this friendly fixture against Brazil and as soon as the match kicked off, there were some signs of his influence.

Argentina started with a three-man defence featuring Gabriel Mercado, Jonatan Maidana and Nicolas Otamendi. It is that sector that is by far the weakest for the Albiceleste and raises serious doubts over whether this team can compete with the very best, yet Sampaoli managed to win the Copa America with Francisco Silva, Marcelo Diaz and Gary Medel at the back for Chile in 2015. So why not?

Lionel Messi Brasil Argentina Friendlies 09062017

Fernandinho Paulo Dybala Brasil Argentina Friendlies 09062017

Argentina's defence played the ball out from the back effectively and that led to one early chance for Angel Di Maria, who hit the post from a tight angle. The Paris Saint-Germain man, meanwhile, was doubling up as a midfielder and an attacker (reminiscent of his 2013-14 season at Real Madrid under Carlo Ancelotti) in a formation that seemed to switch between 3-4-3 and 3-3-4 (with Sampaoli switching to four at the back after the break).

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The Albiceleste passed and pressed effectively, just as Sampaoli's Sevilla had done throughout the 2016-17 season. At the back, there were several scares as Philippe Coutinho missed a glorious chance in the first half after finding himself all alone in the area, with Gabriel Jesus and Willian blasting straight at the woodwork in the second period when both should have scored.

Amid all of that, there were flashes of inspiration from Messi and Dybala, yet Di Maria remained the main outlet for Argentina and it was a Sevilla player, Mercado, who converted from close range to get Sampaoli's reign off to a successful start after Otamendi had headed against the post late in the first half.

So while there are doubts over whether Messi and Dyabala can thrive together in the same side, Sampaoli will work hard to ensure that the two playmakers can co-exist in this team. And if he can do it, Argentina can cruise to the World Cup in their final four fixtures and challenge for the trophy too in Russia next year.

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