Why European friendlies are crucial for Brazil and other South American teams

International friendlies have undoubtedly fallen greatly in prestige, and the fans of European clubs football might understandably be irritated that this month’s FIFA dates are getting in the way of the closing stages of title races across the continent. Even so, there is a special reason to treasure — if not at least tolerate — the action that is taking place over the next few days.

Brazil’s last World Cup win came all of 22 years ago. Since then, every World Cup campaign has ended the moment they came up against a European team in the knockout stages. Europe has won all subsequent World Cups except the last — and would have won in Qatar too without a wonderful save from the Argentina goalkeeper in the last minute of stoppage time.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

Losing to the Europeans, then, has become something of an obsession, especially in Brazil. And a frequent source of complaint is the difficulty of fixing up matches against European opposition, seen as necessary practice for the real thing. With the demise of the Confederations Cup, there are no competitive meetings between Europe and South America outside the World Cup, and in recent times it has proved difficult to organise friendlies.

The COVID pandemic did not help. But the main factor is that with the creation of its Nations League, Europe now uses almost all FIFA dates to play competitive matches inside its own borders. In almost six years since Russia 2018, there have been a grand total of 17 non-World Cup games between countries from Europe and South America. But just over the course of the next few days there will be ten.

This is a consequence of the rapprochement between UEFA and CONMEBOL, with Europe listening to South America’s request to set aside some dates for friendlies between teams from the two continents. World champions Argentina are going their own way. Originally set to face African opposition in China, they will now play teams from Central America in the USA. Essentially, then, they are just ticking over. And Peru, bedding in new coach Jorge Fossati, are doing likewise.

But the other eight South American sides are either in Europe or testing themselves against European opposition — even if it is only (in the case of Uruguay) a game against the Basque Country before a meeting with Ivory Coast and (for Bolívia) a match against Andorra in the new, experimental FIFA Series.

The showpiece matches are those involving Brazil. Since Russia 2018, their only visit to Europe was a game against the Czechia in 2019. Now, coming off an unprecedented run of three consecutive defeats in World Cup qualification and parading a new coach in Dorival Junior, they put their prestige on the line away to England and Spain. A cloud of gloom has descended over the Brazilian national team, which good results and performances over the next few days would help to lift — but there are easier places for a new coach to start.

New Chile boss Ricardo Gareca might feel the same way. His first match is the potentially tricky game against Euro qualifiers Albania, before then taking on the might of France, the overall favourites for the tournament in Germany this summer. Gareca, who did such an impressive job with Peru, may well learn plenty of things about his new set of players, and almost certainly not all of them will be positive.

Colombia, meanwhile, are unbeaten in World Cup qualification and can take on Spain and Romania in a more tranquil frame of mind. Paraguay travel to take on Russia, and hope that with Julio Enciso back at last to team up with Miguel Almirón they will find some goals — the team has scored just once in six rounds of World Cup qualification.

Twenty-two years have passed since Ecuador made their World Cup debut. Against one of the traditional giants of the game the occasion proved too much. They were clearly overawed by the occasion as they barely got out of their own half in a tame 2-0 defeat to Italy. Fast forward more than two decades and, with four World Cups under their belt there is no need for any inferiority complex from the Ecuadorians when they take on Italy once more, this time in New Jersey, an occasion which should bring immigrant communities from both nations out in force. Incredibly, this is Ecuador’s first friendly against European opposition since a meeting with England in a warm up for the 2014 World Cup.

And the path that Ecuador have trodden, Venezuela seek to follow. That 2002 World Cup debut made Ecuador the ninth South American country to play in the tournament. One remains, and — not only because of the extension of the competition to 48 teams — Venezuela are right in the hunt to make it to 2026. They also take on the Italians in Fort Lauderdale. For a team whose last European opponents were Malta and Iceland, this is an occasion of considerable importance — so don’t badmouth the March FIFA dates to a Venezuela fan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *