Resur­gent Brazil take on Bo­livia in World Cup qual­i­fy­ing

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

Be­fore the ar­rival of new coach Ade­nor Bac­chi, Brazil­ians were gloomy about their na­tional team's prospects.

Jeers were com­mon when the Sele­cao was play­ing its 2018 World Cup qual­i­fiers, broad­casts of its matches be­came less and less pop­u­lar, and some fans even cheered when op­po­nents scored.

But in only two games and two con­vinc­ing wins, the man uni­ver­sally known as Tite has changed ev­ery­thing. Now, many Brazil­ians can't wait to see their side play Bo­livia to­mor­row at the Arena das Du­nas in the sunny north­east­ern city of Na­tal.

When Dunga was coach, Brazil wasn't even among the top four po­si­tions in South Amer­ica's qual­i­fy­ing stand­ings — each of which is worth an au­to­matic place at the World Cup in Rus­sia. Many fans were wor­ried that, for the first time, their team would fail to qual­ify for a World Cup tour­na­ment.

But af­ter beat­ing Ecuador away and Colom­bia at home, Ney­mar and his team­mates are now sec­ond in the stand­ings with 15 points, one be­hind leader Uruguay. Bo­livia is eighth, with seven points.

Brazil fan Ana Queiroz, a 31year-old teacher, wasn't ex­pect­ing to be so ex­cited about the Bo­livia game. "If this match were a few months ago, I couldn't have cared less. But af­ter those wins, I made a very big ef­fort to be in the sta­dium to see it," she said. All 31,000 tick­ets for the match were quickly sold.

Real Madrid's left-winger Marcelo and mid­fielder Casemiro, both in­jured, are the two no­table ab­sences in Tite's side. Guanghzhou Ever­grande mid­fielder Paulinho is sus­pended, but could re­turn for the match against Venezuela on Tues­day. Af­ter more than a year away, Paris Saint-Ger­main de­fender Thi­ago Silva could be tested once again, but that is far from cer­tain.

Tite said his se­lec­tion cri­te­ria will be "co­her­ence and re­spect," a language that he used as a win­ning coach at Sao Paulo giants Corinthians, and also a hint that he will not be chang­ing his 4-1-41 tac­tics.

The de­ci­sion to play in Na­tal will also help Brazil dur­ing this pe­riod of change. Crowds in Brazil's north­east are usu­ally more wel­com­ing than those in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in the south­east of the coun­try.

URUGUAY Also in this round, South Amer­i­can qual­i­fy­ing leader Uruguay plays last-place Venezuela in Montevideo. Some time ago, that would have been pre­dicted as an easy win for the home side. Now, af­ter Venezuela nearly beat Ar­gentina last month, the pre­dic­tions are be­ing re­vised. The match against Ar­gentina ended up as a 2-2 draw, but the Venezue­lans were two goals ahead late into the sec­ond half.

AR­GENTINA Third place Ar­gentina, which is level on 15 points with Brazil, trav­els to face ninth-place Peru, with seven points. Ar­gentina will again be with­out Lionel Messi as the Barcelona star re­cov­ers from a groin in­jury sus­tained in a Span­ish league match last month.

CHILE The tough­est match on Thurs­day is likely to be in Quito, where for­mer stand­ings leader Ecuador, cur­rently fifth, tries to climb back to the World Cup qual­i­fy­ing po­si­tions against Chile, the Copa Amer­ica cham­pion which is strug­gling in sev­enth place.

Ecuador has 13 points, two points more than Chile.

Chileans are so wor­ried about their team's cur­rent po­si­tion that their na­tional soc­cer fed­er­a­tion asked FIFA to be awarded three points af­ter a 0-0 home draw with Bo­livia in Septem­ber. The fed­er­a­tion claimed that Bo­livia fielded an in­el­i­gi­ble player, de­fender Nel­son Cabr­era.

Else­where, Colom­bia trav­els to Asun­cion to face Paraguay.

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