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World Cup: Messi return key to Argentina's chances

First meets second in World Cup CONMEBOL qualifying on Tuesday as Brazil travel to the Estadio San Juan Del Bicentenario to face fierce rivals Argentina.

(This article was originally published on 16.11.2021)

The Selecao sit top of the South American table, having won 11 of their 12 qualifiers so far and Tite's men have yet to lose - they sit on 34 points which means they have already booked their place at next year's tournament in Qatar.

La Albiceleste are eight points ahead of third-placed Ecuador, and they can book their place in the group stages if they win on home soil, and two of three other teams - Uruguay, Chile and Colombia - fail to win.

Scaloni happy to roll the dice

Much was made of Lionel Scaloni's decision to call up Paris Saint-Germain forward Lionel Messi for November's fixtures despite his injury problems, but the Argentina boss will feel his team have a job to do this week.

Knee injuries have derailed Messi's season so far, with Messi missing PSG's last two fixtures, however, he came off the bench against Uruguay and Scaloni has revealed he will start in San Juan.

He told reporters: "He was physically fit the other day and in the end we decided that the best thing was for him to play a few minutes, so that he could get a feel for it and he is confirmed to play tomorrow.

"It's going to be a very difficult game. They are the team that leads the qualifiers and they are already through to the finals."

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Scaloni appears ready to roll out the big guns as they prepare to overcome their arch-rivals with qualification yet to be secured.

Argentina and Brazil have played a game less than their rivals, so Scaloni's men go into the match knowing they can take full advantage before they play their next qualifier in January.

A positive result should all but seal their place in the World Cup, and Argentina are 11/10 to win on home soil, the draw is 11/5, while Brazil are 11/4 to win on their travels.

Neymar's absence could prove costly

Ahead of kick-off, Brazil coach Tite has been handed a blow with the news that Neymar is out of the match due to an injury.

The PSG star picked up a thigh injury in training on Monday, and with less than 24 hours to go until kick-off, Brazil have decided he should return to France.

Neymar played the full 90 minutes against Colombia and grabbed an assist as Lucas Paqueta scored the match's only goal.

Unlike Argentina, Tite has other selection woes to contend with and he will be unable to call upon the services of Real Madrid's Casemiro, who is suspended.

Fabinho and Edenilson are fighting it out to replace him, while Vinicius Junior is set to fill in for Neymar.

Motivation huge for hosts

With Messi back fit, Argentina will feel they have the upper hand this week and they do have more to play for.

Brazil will never roll over against their arch-rivals, but without Neymar, they may struggle to create chances in the final third.

Argentina are unbeaten in their previous 21 matches and, after beating Brazil to win the Copa America in July, they should have too much quality for them on home soil.

Matches between these two giants of the game are usually close affairs, with the last five encounters containing under 2.5 goals and an Argentina win and under 2.5 goals is priced at 11/4 this time around, while a 1-0 home victory is available at 9/2.

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