Argentina and Brazil tested new options up front on Saturday for their World Cup qualifying match next week, an encounter that could give the losing side a bitter ending to 2023.
Lionel Messi’s Argentina lost to Uruguay on Thursday its first match since it hoisted the World Cup trophy in Qatar, while the host of the superclasico will play without the injured Vinicius Junior at the Maracana Stadium after two consecutive defeats in South American qualifying.
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni tested a formation in the first training, eyeing the match in Rio de Janeiro with veteran Ángel di Maria replacing Nico Gonzalez, trying to explore Brazil’s weaknesses on the flanks.
That was a problem for the World Cup champion in its 2-0 home defeat to Uruguay.
Brazil’s Fernando Diniz, facing pressure because of the team’s poor performances under his watch, tested Gabriel Jesus in Vinicius’ position at the team’s training ground.
Without several key players, he seems to trust a system with four strikers who can also fill the midfield: Jesus, Gabriel Martinelli, Rodrygo and Raphinha.
Rodrygo said in a news conference that he accepts having “more responsibilities” on the team. Among the four strikers Diniz is likely to play, he is the one who knows best how to function in multiple positions.
“I knew my time would come, little by little. With Neymar out, Vini out, people expect more from me, and I need to deliver,” he said. “Brazil vs Argentina at the Maracana is special. I am young, but I have some experience. This will be a top three in my most important matches.”
Brazil has never lost a home match in World Cup qualifying.
Argentina still leads the 10-team South American qualifying group with 12 points from five matches. Uruguay is second with 10 points. Colombia has nine and Venezuela eight. Brazil will host the World Cup champions at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro in fifth position, with seven points.
Ecuador, Paraguay and Chile have five points each. Bolivia has three and Peru one.
The 2026 World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada will include 48 teams, meaning direct entry for the top six teams from South America. The seventh-place team can earn a berth in an intercontinental playoff.
Brazil’s soccer confederation said on Saturday all 69,000 tickets it had have been sold for the clash —-some more might be with Argentina’s soccer body.
The encounter could mark Messi’s last match for Argentina playing at its bitter next-door neighbor. The 36-year-old lost the 2014 World Cup final at the same Maracana Stadium where in 2021 he lifted his first national team title, that year’s edition of Copa America playing against Brazil in the final.
Many Brazilian fans picking up their tickets at the stadium said they were keener to watch the Argentine star than the match itself.
“I was too young in 2014, never saw him live,” said 15-year-old Bernardo Andrade, who was wearing a Barcelona shirt with Messi’s name on the back. “Brazil and Argentina will be in the next World Cup anyway. It doesn’t hurt if he scores some goals here.”
Rio is currently under an extreme heat warning that is unlikely to drag into Tuesday’s match, weather forecasters said. The temperature outside the Maracana on Saturday was 38 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit).
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