Superclásico topping the bill in South America

Topping the bill on the third matchday of South American Zone qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ is the latest edition of the Argentina-Brazil superclásico – the heavyweight pair’s first meeting in this competition for six years. Meanwhile, early pacesetters Uruguay, Ecuador and Chile will all be looking to continue their 100 per cent starts. previews all the action ahead.

The big game *Argentina-Brazil*

Ahead of what is, for their fans, their country’s biggest game in this qualifying phase, La Albiceleste will be denied the services through injury of undisputed star man Lionel Messi, in addition to the quality and experience of Sergio Aguero, Pablo Zabaleta and Ezequiel Garay. Given Gerardo Martino’s men boast just one point from their opening two encounters, victory in the superclásico versus A Seleção in Buenos Aires’ Estadio Monumental would be the perfect way of getting their Russia 2018 bid on track, yet Argentina have to go back exactly ten years for their last qualifying victory over their fierce rivals.

The five-time world champions, for their part, must do without injured defenders Marcelo and Marquinhos, though they do welcome back attacking talisman Neymar after suspension. Coach Dunga, who has again called up veteran creator Kaka, would love to guide Brazil to a first ever qualifying win over Argentina in Buenos Aires (A Verde e Amarelo having only previously done so in Rosario) and recover some of the ground lost by their opening-matchday defeat to Chile.

Elsewhere Ecuador go into their clash with Uruguay with morale high following wins over Argentina and Bolivia. And despite being denied injured duo Antonio Valencia and Enner Valencia, La Tri will be determined to make the most of home advantage and extend their winning start to three games. La Celeste, meanwhile, have striker Edinson Cavani back after missing his country’s first two games, though Atletico Madrid defender Jose Maria Gimenez is unavailable. “We need to keep our balance, work hard at restricting our opponents, try to cause them problems and aim to pick up the points,” said coach Oscar El Maestro Tabarez.

Another intriguing match-up features Copa America champs Chile and Colombia. La Roja are enjoying a sustained period of good results and eye-catching football, and will be able to field key men Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Bravo, though opponents Los Cafeteros are in less fine fettle – failing to convince in picking up one win and one defeat and unable to call on big names Falcao and Juan Cuadrado. “Chile are part of the world’s elite, with great players and plenty of quality,” said Colombia boss Jose Pekerman, who will hope the returning James Rodriguez is back to his best after an injury absence.

In the cases of Bolivia and Venezuela, both beaten in their opening two games, points are urgently required to prevent falling further off the pace. La Verde are putting their hopes in the rejuvenating effect of new blood, by calling up several young players, and are keen to make La Paz’s Estadio Hernando Siles de La Paz the redoubtable fortress it once was. Visiting La Vinotinto, for their part, are sticking to their established methodology and will aim for a repeat of their memorable June 2009 triumph on Bolivian soil.

Lastly comes the meeting between Peru and Paraguay, two sides with contrasting records thus far. Los Incaicos, coached by Ricardo Gareca, are on zero points but maintain the style of play that served them well in their run to third at this year’s Copa America – a place on the podium they snatched at the expense of La Albirroja. With their fans behind them and able to field seasoned performers Paolo Guerrero, Claudio Pizzaro and Jefferson Farfan, Gareca’s charges are convinced they can collect an morale-boosting qualifying result. Visitors Los Guaraníes head to Lima with four points from two games, however, and belief is high in the leadership skills of supremo Ramon Diaz, though the man himself refused to get carried away. “Peru are very strong in midfield and attack,” warned El Pelado.

Player to watch *Angel Di Maria (Argentina)*

The Paris Saint-Germain wide-man has been in impressive form at club level and, in the absence of Messi and El Kun Aguero, stands out as Argentina’s key attacking weapon for the visit of Brazil. The pressure is thus on El Fideo to shoulder responsibility in an Albiceleste side in serious need of his drive, flair and eye for goal.

Did you know? Paraguay have never beaten Peru in a South American Zone qualifier in Lima. Beginning with the qualifying phase for USA 1994, the teams have met in the city six times in this competition, Los Incaicos winning four and the other two ending in draws.

What they said “It’s always a battle versus Argentina. They need to overcome the fact they don’t have Messi. We started off our campaign without Neymar and we’re happy to have him back, as it makes us much stronger,” Brazil coach Dunga.

Matchday 3 fixtures *12 and 13 November*

Bolivia-Venezuela Ecuador-Uruguay Chile-Colombia Argentina-Brazil Peru-Paraguay