Pratto: 'Brazil is afraid of Messi'

Striker Lucas Pratto heaped pressure on host Brazil with five-time Ballon d'Or Messi back in the Argentina squad having missed the past three qualifiers due to a knee injury.

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Argentina star Lionel Messi during a training session.

Argentina forward Lucas Pratto claims Brazil fears midfield maestro Lionel Messi as the two South American giants prepare to lock horns.

Thursday will see CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying leader Brazil host rival Argentina in Belo Horizonte.

The stakes are high for Argentina, which is five points adrift of Brazil in sixth after 10 matches, and Pratto heaped pressure on the host with five-time Ballon d'Or Messi back in the squad having missed the past three qualifiers due to a knee injury.

"They know that Leo is very tough. They are a little scared," Pratto - based in Brazil with Atletico Mineiro - told Argentine newspaper Ole. "Or maybe more than a little."

Messi's return is a boost for Argentina, which has struggled in the Barcelona star's absence. While the 29-year-old was injured, Argentina lost to Paraguay and drew with Peru and Venezuela.

Brazil, meanwhile, has won four consecutive qualifiers.