Brazil and Argentina, with Neymar and Messi favorites at the World Cup in Qatar 2022

from Alessandro Bocci

Messi and Neymar, teammates first at Barcelona now at PSG, friends but very different. It’s been twenty years since a team from South America has won a World Cup

For the now thirty-five year old Messi the last chance, waited a lifetime to shake off, at the sunset of his career, the cumbersome comparison with god Maradona. But, at least according to him, the trip to Qatar is likely to be the parade of farewell from the national team also for the acrobatic Neymar. The World Cup that begins tomorrow could turn into the ideal handover with Mbapp, but the old lions are going to roar again. Leo and Ney are friends, even more, hermanosSouth American brothers, from the days of Barcelona and now in Paris, side by side, try to give the Champions League to PSG and the Qatari property of Al Thani.

In the desert, friendship inevitably becomes rivalry and not just because of the heat. In football it often happens, but this time everything is expanded by the scope of the event and by the urgency not to fail. Brazil, every time favourites, have not brought home the World Cup for twenty years. Argentina, even, since 1986, the beauty of thirty-six years ago. A relevant statistic that should make us think: since 2006, the magical night of the Azzurri, the World Cup in the hands of the Europeans. After Italy it was the turn of Spain, Germany and France, four years ago in Russia. In South America they have a motivated ambition to reverse the trend.

Never like this time the daring dream of Argentina can turn into reality, despite the sinister crunches of the last few hours with the heavy forfeits of the Interista Correa and the Florentine Nico Gonzalez, loyalists of coach Scaloni, old Lazio full-back subscribed to high five in his report card, but a coach with very happy intuitions. La Seleccion won the last Copa America and since then has been obsessed with bringing the World Cup back to Buenos Aires. Messi and his brothers are ready: never so united and never so convinced. They haven’t thought of anything else for months. The team is already in Doha after the last mini retreat in Abu Dhabi. Lautaro on the ball, Di Maria has never been better after the ailments in Turin and Leo promises a stratospheric World Cup, ready to win yet another twenty-year duel with Cristiano Ronaldo, another one who arrived at the last call. In words, Argentina unloads on Brazil, without forgetting France and England, the role of great favorite. But inside Qatar University, the retreat chosen by the Albiceleste, there is the awareness of having arrived at the crossroads with destiny: it is forbidden to make a mistake.

Only pressure could give them away. Messi ready to tear up Neymar. They are friends, but different. They have played over 200 games together and know each other inside out. They speak the same language on the field, a talent for curling shots, but take life from opposite poles: reserved Leo, who has chosen the low profile, selected family and friends. Much more pleasure-loving and light-hearted is the Brazilian, who has not spared himself some excesses and he got off to a bad start approaching the World Cup, showing up late for the meeting in Turin. Tite has forgiven him but certainly doesn’t question him even if he bases his Brazil on the solidity of the largely Juventus defense and on tactics rather than on free talent. Also on the awareness of the thirty-year-old generation without forgetting that in attack, alongside Neymar, there is the Vinicius arrow.

Seleao must pay attention right from the debut, Thursday 24th against Serbia by Vlahovic and Milinkovic-Savic. Soft the first of Argentina, Tuesday 22 against Saudi Arabia. But in tournaments like this you shouldn’t take anything for granted. The last challenge in a World Cup was in Italy ’90, more than thirty years ago in Turin, in the round of 16: Lazaroni’s Brazil, the favorite, lost 1-0 after hitting three posts. A goal by Caniggia ten minutes from the end was decisive. This time, if both respect the predictions, they could meet in the semifinals on December 13 at the Lusail Iconic 80,000-seat stadium. If either side finishes second, then the South American derby could be the World Final. Hold tight. The rumba is about to begin.

November 19, 2022 (change November 19, 2022 | 10:43 am)

Brazil and Argentina, with Neymar and Messi favorites at the World Cup in Qatar 2022