MELBOURNE • Argentina gained a confidence-boosting 1-0 win over Brazil in their Superclasico in Melbourne yesterday ahead of their make-or-break World Cup qualifiers later in the year.
A goal from Sevilla defender Gabriel Mercado right on half-time proved the eventual winner in the friendly match as Argentina matched the top-ranked Brazilians before 95,569 fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).
The sheer size of the crowd is certainly nothing to be sneezed at, but the more troubling figure was always more likely to come a night earlier, when only 29,785 fans turned up at the 53,500-capacity Adelaide Oval to watch the Socceroos in a World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia.
Those in attendance at the MCG paid anywhere from A$79 (S$82) to a whopping A$475 for a seat, clearly proving the popularity of the two South American teams.
However, Argentina - the two-time world champions and second-ranked team - are struggling outside the automatic qualifying positions in fifth spot in the South American World Cup qualifying group with four games left.
Brazil have already qualified for Russia next year.
The Argentinians have another friendly in Singapore next Tuesday ahead of their crucial away qualifier against Uruguay on Aug 31.
In coach Jorge Sampaoli's first game in charge, Argentina did well to weather a second-half fightback from Brazil, with Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus and Chelsea midfielder Willian hitting either posts in one flurry on goal.
"The preparation was very short, but I think there were moments of the game where (the players) could carry out my idea," said Sampaoli, who took charge of Argentina just last week.
His captain Lionel Messi, who will not be in Singapore due to his upcoming wedding on June 30, was largely contained by the Brazilian defence.
But the Barcelona star thrilled the crowd with his touches, flicks and darting runs in his much-anticipated appearance in Australia.
Mercado's goal came from a tap-in after City defender Nicolas Otamendi's header came off the upright into his path.
"What I value is the effort of my players - their enthusiasm and their attitude," added Sampaoli.
"It is very encouraging to beat Brazil and that is positive for us (in the qualifiers).
"Now we have to improve a lot and it can be achieved. It takes time."
Brazil, missing Barca forward Neymar who is on vacation in the United States, had several opportunities to score but could not breach Argentina's defence.
Jesus, however, failed to finish the match when he was stretchered off after suffering an elbow in the face in a challenge in the final minutes.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN