Buoy­ant Brazil on brink of seal­ing ticket to World Cup

New Straits Times - - Sport -

ABUOYANT Brazil could book their place at the 2018 World Cup tos­day while Ar­gentina will at­tempt to give their qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign more breath­ing space with a game at al­ti­tude against Bo­livia.

Af­ter sink­ing into a pro­tracted de­pres­sion af­ter the trauma of their hu­mil­i­at­ing 2014 World Cup exit, Brazil have un­der­gone a trans­for­ma­tion since new man­ager Tite took over last year.

Tite, who was ap­pointed af­ter the de­ba­cle of the 2016 Copa Amer­ica Cen­te­nario, when Brazil failed to qual­ify from the group stage, has over­seen a record­break­ing run of seven straight wins.

The lat­est of those vic­to­ries came on Thurs­day, when Brazil shrugged off an early Edin­son Ca­vani goal to de­stroy Uruguay 4-1 in Mon­te­v­ideo.

That win marked a new record for Brazil in qual­i­fiers, sur­pass­ing the six straight vic­to­ries recorded by the fa­bled Pele-led team who went on to win the 1970 World Cup in Mex­ico.

Brazil’s mag­nif­i­cent run of form un­der Tite means they now lead the South Amer­i­can stand­ings with 30 points from 13 games, seven points clear of sec­ond placed Uruguay who have 23 points.

It is all a far cry from the state of the ta­ble last Septem­ber. When Tite took charge of his first qual­i­fy­ing game, Brazil were lan­guish­ing in sixth place over­all, with only nine points from six games.

But to­day, if Brazil beat Paraguay in Sao Paulo, and Chile and both Ecuador and Chile lose their games, the five-time World Cup-win­ners will have se­cured their berth in Rus­sia.

Tite mean­while has at­tempted to keep the soar­ing op­ti­mism that ac­com­pa­nied Brazil’s re­vival in check, in­sist­ing that he is not a mir­a­cle-worker.

“If peo­ple want a per­fect coach, they should look else­where, be­cause at some point I’m go­ing to make a mis­take,” Tite said fol­low­ing Thurs­day’s rout of his­tor­i­cal ri­vals Uruguay.

Ar­guably, Tite’s most sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ment since tak­ing charge is to make Brazil less re­liant on Barcelona su­per­star Ney­mar.

While Ney­mar has flour­ished un­der Tite — scor­ing five times in qual­i­fy­ing since the for­mer Corinthi­ans coach took over — the “Sele­cao” are now a more rounded at­tack­ing force.

Goals have ar­rived from all ar­eas, with China-based mid­fielder Paulinho — one of the most ma­ligned play­ers of Brazil’s ill­fated 2014 World Cup cam­paign — con­jur­ing an im­prob­a­ble hat­trick against Uruguay last week.

Yet if Brazil’s pas­sage to Rus­sia is now a for­mal­ity, the sit­u­a­tion is any­thing but straight­for­ward for the chas­ing pack.

Ar­gentina hauled them­selves back into the qual­i­fy­ing places on Thurs­day with a bat­tling 1-0 win over Chile.

The Ar­gen­tini­ans will at­tempt to build on that cru­cial vic­tory when the travel to the thin air of La Paz to face Bo­livia to­day.

The city’s Es­ta­dio Her­nando Siles is sit­u­ated some 3,600 me­tres above sea level, and was the scene of a fa­mous 6-1 Ar­gen­tinian de­feat in qual­i­fiers for the 2010 World Cup.

In qual­i­fy­ing for the 2014 World Cup, Lionel Messi was left vom­it­ing at half-time while An­gel Di Maria needed to be given oxy­gen on the pitch be­fore Ar­gentina ground out a 1-1 draw.

Fail­ure to beat Bo­livia could see Ar­gentina fall out of the au­to­matic qual­i­fy­ing po­si­tions once more, if Colom­bia beat Ecuador in Quito and reign­ing South Amer­i­can cham­pi­ons Chile down bot­tom team Venezuela in San­ti­ago.

Chile, back-to-back win­ners of the Copa Amer­ica in 2015 and 2016, are cur­rently out­side the qual­i­fy­ing places fol­low­ing last week’s de­feat in Buenos Aires.

Cap­tain Clau­dio Bravo vowed ‘La Roja’ would go all out to se­cure vic­tory against Venezuela.

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