Tuesday February 27, 2024

Otamendi heaps misery on wounded Brazil

Published : 22 Nov 2023, 11:59

  DF News Desk
Nicolas Otamendi of Argentina celebrates his winning goal against Brazil in their FIFA World Cup qualifier in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Nov. 21, 2023. Photo: Xinhua by Claudia Martini.

Nicolas Otamendi struck with a second-half header as Argentina inflicted Brazil's first ever home defeat in a FIFA World Cup qualifier with a 1-0 victory here on Tuesday, reported Xinhua.

The match at the Maracana stadium was postponed by more than half an hour because of violent clashes between rival fans moments before the scheduled kick-off.

The delay and Rio de Janeiro's oppressive heat seemed to take their toll as both teams struggled for fluency early.

Brazil went closest to scoring in a turgid first half when Gabriel Martinelli's fierce half-volley was cleared off the line by Cristian Romero.

Argentina began to dictate terms after halftime and was rewarded in the 63rd minute as Otamendi capitalized on lackluster Brazil defending.

Center-backs Gabriel and Marquinhos were caught flat-footed as Otamendi rose highest to meet Giovani Lo Celso's delivery from a corner with a powerful header into the top-left corner.

The reigning world champions looked content to defend thereafter, but they were given another boost in the 81st minute when Newcastle United midfielder Joelinton was shown a straight red card for shoving Rodrigo de Paul to the ground.

Brazil manager Fernando Diniz introduced 17-year-old Palmeiras forward Endrick in a bid to find an attacking spark, but it was to no avail as Brazil sorely missed injured stars Neymar and Vinicius Junior.

Eight-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi, possibly playing in Brazil for the last time, was subdued for most of the game and received a combination of cheers and boos when he was substituted off in the 78th minute.

The result marked Brazil's third straight defeat and its first loss in 65 home World Cup qualifiers as pressure mounts on Diniz, who was appointed in July.

The five-time world champion is now sixth in the 10-team South American group with seven points from six outings, eight points behind leader Argentina.

The top six teams at the end of the qualifying tournament will earn an automatic place at the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The seventh-ranked side will advance to an intercontinental play-off.