SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil is already the first South American team to secure a direct spot in next year’s World Cup. Second-place Argentina is nearly there, too.
Anyone thinking Tuesday’s qualifying match between the teams will not be decisive hasn’t considered how much pride will be at stake in the region’s superclasico.
Copa America champion Argentina is determined to upstage Brazil and show Lionel Messi he has a decent shot next year of winning the only trophy missing in his career. Victory in front of home crowd could also mean, pending other results, securing qualification for Qatar 2022.
Brazil is aiming to complete the best South American qualifying campaign in history, although coach Tite is still expected to continue experimenting with his lineup with an eye on the World Cup.
Only 25,000 fans in San Juan, in Argentina’s northwest, will be at the stadium to watch the teams play a full game for the first time in this edition of World Cup qualifying. The first encounter was stopped after seven minutes of play in September by Brazilian authorities enforcing protocols in place for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brazil leads qualifiers with 34 points, six ahead of Argentina. Both teams have completed 12 games, one fewer than the other eight teams in qualifying.
Ecuador remains third with 20 points, while Chile, Colombia and Uruguay have 16 points. Peru is back in contention with 14 points, two more than Paraguay and Bolivia and seven more than Venezuela.
The top four teams in South America earn direct entry to the World Cup. The fifth-place team goes into an intercontinental playoff for a spot in Qatar.
Also on Tuesday, Bolivia will host Uruguay, Colombia takes on Paraguay, Venezuela faces Peru and Chile plays Ecuador.
ARGENTINA vs. BRAZIL
Argentina can secure a World Cup spot if it beats Brazil and if two of three other teams — Uruguay, Chile and Colombia — fail to win.
The toughest part of Argentina’s night will surely be beating the undefeated Seleção.
Messi is being spared for the match against Brazil because of a knee injury that stopped him from playing some matches for his club Paris Saint-Germain and also for most of Argentina’s 1-0 win at Uruguay last Friday.
The derby against Brazil is always a major contest, and thousands of fans in San Juan stood in 2-mile long lines to get tickets. Hotels in the region are full. Confidence is high among fans to see a team that has not lost any of its 26 latest matches.
Brazil will also have a key player missing, with midfielder Casemiro suspended after the 1-0 win against Colombia. He’ll likely be replaced by Fabinho. Coach Tite is set to continue making changes to his lineup, possibly with Matheus Cunha replacing Gabriel Jesus up front. Eder Militão will also take the place of Thiago Silva.
Seleção right-back Danilo said the team needs to continue developing despite already earning a direct entry to Qatar. Another target for the squad, he said, is to top the 43 points that Argentina earned to qualify for the 2002 World Cup.
“This is Brazil vs. Argentina, there is every ingredient of a global derby of two teams with great players, amazing skill and a lot of history,” Danilo said in a news conference. “Our objective is to go there and win three important points.”
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