Messi remains a doubtful starter for Argentina, Neymar under fire in Brazil

AP , Monday 16 Oct 2023

Lionel Messi’s involvement in a 1-0 win over Paraguay last week doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be fit for Argentina’s next game in World Cup qualifying against Peru.

Messi
Argentina s forward Lionel Messi (C) controls the ball during the 2026 FIFA World Cup South American qualification football match between Argentina and Paraguay at the Mas Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires, on October 12, 2023. AFP

Messi played most of the second half against Paraguay last Thursday despite struggling with muscular pains in the weeks leading up to the game.

But there’s no certainty he’ll play against Peru on Tuesday despite practicing with the squad.

Meanwhile in Brazil, Neymar is under fire for his lackluster performance in a 1-1 draw against Venezuela last week that ended with some fans throwing popcorn at the Arena Pantanal in Cuiabá. He will have a tough challenge at Uruguay to show he is back in form.

The next World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada is expanding to a 48-team format, meaning direct entry to the top six teams in South America. The seventh-place team will contest an intercontinental playoff for a berth.

World Cup winner Argentina leads continental qualifying with 9 points, followed by Brazil (7), Colombia (5), Uruguay, Chile and Venezuela (4), Ecuador (3), Paraguay and Peru (1), and Bolivia (0).

The fourth match day in South American qualifying also features Ecuador against Colombia, Paraguay against Bolivia and Venezuela taking on Chile.

PERU vs. ARGENTINA

Argentina’s practice on Sunday didn’t show whether the 36-year-old Messi will play against Peru. He took part of the morning session at his national team’s training ground, but has recently felt muscular pains in his right leg that have sidelined him for several MLS matches for his club, Inter Miami.

If Messi plays at Peru, coach Lionel Scaloni might have to remove either Julián Alvarez or Lautaro Martinez from the lineup that beat Paraguay. Keeping the captain in the starting lineup will likely mean Argentina playing Nico Gonzalez again in Lima.

Messi substituted Julián Álvarez in the 52nd minute against Paraguay, when Argentina was already in the lead. He hit the post twice, but had a low key performance overall at the Monumental de Nuñez Stadium in Buenos Aires.

Peru has lost its latest two qualifying matches in South American qualifying. The squad arrived in silence shortly before dawn so no fans could be at the airport protesting after its 2-0 loss at Chile. Players and coach Juan Reynoso know they will face a much tougher challenge against the World Cup champion.

“May this defeat today suit us for what is coming,” Reynoso said in a news conference after the match in Santiago. “You don’t qualify by playing beautiful soccer, you do it by playing well. For us to do that, we need to be a chamaleonic team that adapts to various cirumstances.”

URUGUAY vs. BRAZIL

Brazil fans were frustrated with the draw against Venezuela, a team that has never qualified to a World Cup. The 31-year-old Neymar was the team’s most criticized player after that encounter because of several missed passes and floppy finishes.

The Al-Hilal striker was filmed leaving the pitch in anger as some fans threw popcorn at him. Brazil’s soccer tradition calls “pipoqueiro” (popcorn man) the players who fail to deliver in big matches. He is likely to face Uruguay at the Centenario Stadium in Montevideo on Tuesday.

Neymar is Brazil’s all-time top goal scorer with 79 goals in official matches.

Brazil’s new coach Fernando Diniz, who was also criticized after the draw with Venezuela, is likely to make three changes for the next round of qualifying.

Right-back Danilo is injured, and is set to be replaced by Yan Couto. Left-back Guilherme Arana is expected to be replaced with the 24-year-old Carlos Augusto, who will make his national team debut. And striker Richarlison, on a six-match goal drought for the national team, could lose his position to Gabriel Jesus.

Uruguay has not beaten Brazil in World Cup qualifying since 2001. Captain Federico Valverde is optimistic about the match after a 2-2 draw at Colombia. He said he and Real Madrid teammates Vinicius Júnior and Rodrygo of Brazil have spent weeks talking about the encounter.

“We could have gotten a better result, but at least we returned with one point, which always suits us,” Valverde said of the draw. Uruguay has been coached by Argentine Marcelo Bielsa since the start of South American qualifying.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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