Messi back for Ar­gentina, Chile loses Sanchez for qual­i­fier

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Af­ter miss­ing three matches with an in­jury, Lionel Messi is back in the lineup for Ar­gentina in its cru­cial World Cup qual­i­fier against Brazil. But there’s bad news for Copa Amer­ica cham­pion Chile: Ar­se­nal star Alexis Sanchez is out of to­day’s match at Colom­bia with a leg in­jury. In­juries and sus­pen­sions could play a key role as South Amer­ica’s top teams chase places at the 2018 World Cup in Rus­sia.

Ar­gentina is happy to have Messi back af­ter three lack­lus­ter matches - which ended with two draws and a loss. Brazil has mean­while won its first four games un­der new coach Tite and will be look­ing to turn the page on Thurs­day when it re­turns to the Mineirao sta­dium in Belo Hor­i­zonte where it was crushed 7-1 by Ger­many in the 2014 World Cup semi­fi­nals.

Brazil leads the qual­i­fy­ing group with 21 points from 10 games, one ahead of Uruguay, four ahead of Colom­bia and Ecuador, and five up on Ar­gentina and Chile.

Af­ter beat­ing Ecuador, Colom­bia, Bo­livia and Venezuela, Ar­gentina will give Tite his big­gest chal­lenge yet - con­tain­ing Barcelona star Messi in a game that re­news one of the big­gest ri­val­ries in world soc­cer.

“He (Messi) is ex­tremely in­tel­li­gent and has a great fin­ish­ing skill, so we have to do dou­ble mark­ing on him when­ever we can,” Brazil mid­fielder Re­nato Au­gusto said. “We have to close the gaps for all Ar­gentina play­ers, and we have to re­move Messi’s pass­ing an­gle when­ever he has the ball.” Ar­gentina, which lost the World Cup fi­nal two years ago to Ger­many, is com­ing off 2-2 draws against Venezuela and Peru, and a 1-0 loss to Paraguay.

Back in Septem­ber, Messi scored in a 1-0 vic­tory over Uruguay in the only match he’s played un­der Ar­gentina’s new coach Edgardo Bauza. And the tim­ing of his return couldn’t be bet­ter.

“We are happy that Messi is back. We know how much he can give and it would be great to win here,” mid­fielder Lu­cas Biglia said. “Brazil is the ideal ri­val to get us on track.”

Un­der for­mer coaches Dunga and Ar­gentina’s Ger­ardo Martino, Brazil and Ar­gentina drew 11 in Buenos Aires in their first 2018 qual­i­fier.

The top four teams qual­ify au­to­mat­i­cally for the World Cup. The fifth-place team ad­vances to an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal play­off.

Here is a look at other teams in ac­tion this week:

Sec­ond-place Uruguay will face two ex­tra prob­lems against Ecuador in Mon­te­v­ideo: de­fender Al­varo Pereira and striker Edin­son Ca­vani are both sus­pended. The team also has con­cerns off the pitch. On Mon­day, the play­ers wore shirts with­out spon­sors’ names be­cause of a con­tro­versy over im­age rights. In the news con­fer­ences given by play­ers, ban­ners with spon­sors were also banned.

“We are try­ing to re­claim our rights that we un­der­stand are ours - and le­git­i­mate,” Uruguay cap­tain Diego Godin said. “It is the tool we are us­ing to try to help our foot­ball and our foot­ball play­ers.” For­tu­nately for Uruguay, the vis­i­tors have their own prob­lems.

Coach Gus­tavo Quin­teros will be miss­ing 10 play­ers, with An­to­nio Va­len­cia, Jef­fer­son

Mon­tero, Pe­dro Quinonez, Ma­tias Oy­ola and An­gel Mena all out be­cause of in­juries. En­ner Va­len­cia, Luis Caicedo, Leonel RamÌrez and Ar­turo Mina are sus­pended, while Mar­cos Caicedo could not travel be­cause of le­gal is­sues.

An in­jury that has ruled out Chile’s star for­ward Alexis Sanchez should make life eas­ier for Colom­bia in its home game at Bar­ran­quilla.

Chile’s soc­cer fed­er­a­tion said Tues­day that Sanchez will not travel to the game af­ter pick­ing up a leg mus­cle in­jury in train­ing. The set­back comes af­ter Chile was awarded two ex­tra points fol­low­ing a FIFA rul­ing that said Bo­livia had used an in­el­i­gi­ble player in a 0-0 draw.

The 3-0 vic­tory awarded to the Copa Amer­ica cham­pi­ons meant they have 16 points, just one less than Colom­bia, but still only in fifth place.

“We have to worry about get­ting back to our level and not about other things,” Chile goal­keeper Clau­dio Bravo said. “We have to start with the idea that we are out of the World Cup.”

The big­gest con­cern for Colom­bia is about who will lead the at­tack. Coach Jose Pek­er­man has to pick be­tween Miguel An­gel Borja and Radamel Fal­cao. The first is one of the top scor­ers in South Amer­ica at the mo­ment, and the sec­ond is re­turn­ing to the team. Else­where, bot­tom of the group Venezuela hosts fel­low strug­gler Bo­livia and Paraguay plays Peru.— AP

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