It has been twenty years since South America last won the World Cup. The recent series of qualifications on the continent shows that Brazil and Argentina are poised to become strong rivals in Qatar, and this impression was convincingly confirmed by their first warm-up meetings with rivals from other regions.

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The Argentines’ meeting in the Finalissima at Wembley against the European champions from Italy turned out to be a 3-0 rout and the Italians can consider themselves lucky that the difference between the teams was not greater. This match was a synthesis of the extraordinary progress that Argentina has made since the last World Cup, and especially since the 2019 Copa América, when they suffered their last defeat 32 games ago.

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They had to fight for the right to play, and the absence of leading midfielder Leandro Paredes robbed them of the fluidity of passing – Guido Rodriguez was an unbalanced replacement, more defensively inclined. But once the overclocking scheme was up and running, Argentina took over.

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Italy was never able to get their hands on Giovani Lo Celso and, together with Rodrigo De Paul, began to bring Lionel Messi into play in those areas of the field where he could damage the Italian defense.

This has become Argentina’s hallmark over the past three years, along with the ever-improving relationship between Messi and centre-forward Lautaro Martinez, as well as success in the last third added by Angel Di Maria.

All this turned out to be too much for Italy, which was swept away before the break. Argentina won the ball high. Lo Celso, as often happens, found Messi, who turned Giovanni Di Lorenzo around and opened the gate for Martinez. were faster from his line.

But it was Donnarumma who maintained a solid score in the second half, perhaps helped by Argentina’s obsession with scoring Messi. The final blow at the very end was Paulo Dybala’s goal, scored by Messi’s unintentional pass.

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Apart from such second half considerations, the great strength of this team lies in the fact that coach Lionel Scaloni surrounded Messi with probably the best collective structure of his international career.

True, the defensive system can still be a concern, despite the impressive improvements made by Emiliano Martinez in goal and Christian Romero in the center of defence. His team-mate Nicolas Otamendi is definitely not in the best shape anymore. Italy lacked the pace or talent to carry out most of the tests and it is unlikely that Sunday’s opponent Estonia will prove too much of a challenge.

However, patterns that a team can weave while in possession of the ball should be noted. In previous cycles, Argentina had a plan A: give the ball to Messi and hope. Plan B was also to give the ball to Messi and hope, and there was no Plan C. Now, underlined by their first win at Wembley, they have something much more consistent and collective.

And almost the same applies to Brazil and the team’s relationship with Neymar. It’s not just the PSG star anymore – and not just because Vinicius Junior has become a world-class talent. Brazil also has a team that gave coach Tita much to rave about with an impressive 5-1 win over South Korea.

Brazil have been working on attacking variations for the past few months and all of them have been presented in Seoul. The team is used to using two wingers, Rafinha on the right and Vinicius on the left. But since Vinicius was still recovering from the Champions League final and only used him for the last twenty minutes, Tite went back to the old plan. Rafinha retained his seat. But on the right, he used the versatile midfielder Lucas Paquetu.

It worked surprisingly well. One of the Brazilians’ first moments came from Paqueta, unnoticed as he drifted deep into the field, pairing well with Neymar, who could then use the space to go wide. And Paqueta created a wide corridor for surprise attacks from left-back Alex Sandro, which was a key moment in Brazil’s first three goals.

In the first match, Alex Sandro got to the signature and moved back for Fred, who was often seen in the area, to land a shot that was likely on target before Richarlison put the finishing touch. And in the other two, Alex Sandro was knocked down on penalties, as he reappeared as an element of surprise.

Brazil pressed high, making it very difficult for South Korea to get ahead and use their speed against the Brazilian defense. Despite the course of the game, they briefly equalized: Huijo Hwang, with surprising ease and agility, turned Thiago Silva around and struck from the far post.

There were sporadic moments of Korean threat as they tried to hit the space behind Daniel Alves or run into the veteran on the right. Brazil, however, managed to plug the holes and Fred often showed up at just the right time to put out the danger.

And to end Tite’s day, the last two goals were scored by players in which the coach showed faith in the face of loud criticism – Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus came off the bench to end the score 5-1.

They played exactly 100 games after a disastrous 7-1 defeat to Germany in the 2014 semi-finals. But with each convincing performance, they closed the distance between themselves and the historic humiliation and earned the right to dream of finishing the 20-year trial race in Qatar.