BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AFP) – Brazil coach Tite admitted on Monday he’s been having sleepless nights ahead of the Copa America semi-final against Argentina.
Tite took over from the sacked Dunga following Brazil’s poor performance at the 2016 Centenario Copa America and said that he is just as nervous now as he was during his early matches in charge of the national team.
“I couldn’t sleep properly, I’m not Superman, I’m the way I am and I can deal with that,” he said ahead of the match in Belo Horizonte’s Mineirao stadium, the scene of Brazil’s 7-1 semi-final humiliation against Germany at the 2014 World Cup.
“Yesterday I woke up at 3.15 am, I was thinking about what I’m going to do.
“As a coach I always have a notepad next to me to write something down. That’s the reality of being a coach, not just me, (Argentina coach Lionel) Scolari too, all of us.”
This match has been billed as a clash between the individual brilliance of Argentina’s star players such as Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero against the collective ability of Brazil.
But Tite said the Argentina team is more than just a collection of individuals and that it would be impossible to try to just stop those singular talents.
“Argentina make the most of those individual talents linking them into a coherent unit,” he said.
“You can’t eliminate Messi, you might be able to reduce what he can do but you can’t neutralise a player of that level, just as you can’t neutralise (Philippe) Coutinho, (Roberto) Firmino, Willian, David (Neres) – at some point, they will produce something.”
In goalkeeper Alisson, Brazil have one player who is used to knocking Messi out of important competitions.
He was in goal in 2017/18 when Roma came back from a 4-1 Champions League first leg deficit against Messi’s Barcelona to win 3-0 at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico and reach the semi-finals on away goals.
And in May, having since made a then-world record GBP56 million (USD71 million) transfer to Liverpool at the start of the season, he was part of the side that produced a remarkable 4-0 victory at Anfield in the Champions League semi-final second leg after losing the first leg 3-0 at the Camp Nou.
“In football there’s no logic, there are matches where one player makes a difference: I saw that when we played against Messi and he made the difference,” Alisson said about the Champions League first leg between Barcelona and Liverpool in which Messi scored a brace.
“But in the second match our team prevailed and we qualified.”
He added, “Every match has its story; the match with Roma had its story, the match with Liverpool had another story. Fortunately they were two stories that went my way.”
Scaloni was giving little away about his team selection, although he’s expected to stick with much the same line-up as beat Venezuela 2-0 in the quarter-finals.
That means Messi and Aguero would line up alongside Lautaro Martinez in attack.
“Aguero will play, I’m saying that because I’ve read there’s a doubt, so to be clear,” said Scaloni.
That’s as far as he would go, though.
“No-one’s confirmed for the team, not even Messi. Only Aguero,” he added.
Aguero has had a mixed tournament so far, having a quiet game in the opening 2-0 defeat to Colombia before he was dropped for the 1-1 draw with Paraguay.
But he made a goalscoring return to the starting line-up in the 2-0 defeat of Qatar and was involved in both Argentina’s goals against Venezuela.
Little was expected of Argentina before the tournament but they have been improving and this clash between the continent’s two heavyweights is eagerly anticipated.
The pressure, though, is on Brazil “because they’re the hosts and have something to prove in front of their fans,” said Scaloni.
Although he said they were at an advantage as “they’ve been together a long time with the same coach and players who’ve played together for a long time.”
Argentina, on the other hand, are in a period of transition since their dismal 2018 World Cup exit, with several new and inexperienced players in the squad, as well as a new coach.