Bravo: Playing in the Bombonera will be really special

Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo is relishing the prospect of facing Argentina in the mythical Bombonera in 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying. La Albiceleste haven’t hosted a World Cup preliminary at the striking venue since 1997, but the Argentinian Football Association (AFA) have made the decision to welcome La Roja to La Boca in March in what it described as “the players’ decision”.

Chile occupy fourth in the South American standings – the last automatic ticket to Russia 2018. Argentina are one point back in the intercontinental playoff position.

“We’re looking forward to it, it will be a major challenge,” said Bravo, his country’s captain and most-capped player. “It’s an attractive stadium for any footballer. It will be a special match for us.

“Even more so having rivals who are current team-mates and former team-mates ,” added Bravo, who plays alongside present Argentina internationals Nicolas Otamendi, Pablo Zabaleta and Sergio Aguero at Manchester City.

“They’re important matches, in which you’re playing in the race for the World Cup. A game of this magnitude is something no player wants to lose.”

A 20-year-old Bravo played at the Bombonera in Colo Colo’s 2-0 defeat to Boca Juniors in the Copa Libertadores 2004. That day he competed against the likes of Roberto Abbondanzieri, Nicolas Burdisso, Clemente Rodriguez, Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Carlos Tevez, while his now-Manchester City understudy Willy Caballero was on the Boca bench.

Only Brazil (20), Germany (18) and Italy (18) have appeared in more World Cups than Argentina (16). Mexico 1970 was the last one La Albiceleste failed to appear at, with a team featuring Roberto Perfumo, Silvio Marzolini, Miguel Angel Brindisi and Hector Yazalde being denied a place after a 2-2 against an Oswaldo Ramirez-propelled Peru at the Bombonera in their final qualifier.

Argentina’s last World Cup qualifier at the home of Boca Juniors resulted in a 1-1 draw with Colombia, with Carlos Valderrama’s cushioned finish holding Diego Simeone, Juan Veron, Ariel Ortega, Gabriel Batistuta and Co.

Chile have competed in nine World Cups – a total surpassed by only three South American sides, namely Brazil (20), Argentina (16) and Uruguay (12). La Roja’s best campaign came on home soil in 1962, when they beat Switzerland, Italy, Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, before falling 4-2 to a Garrincha-inspired Brazil in a thrilling semi-final.