BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) It’s always special when Argentina and Brazil play, even if this time Argentina goes into the match without Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero.
No such problem for Brazil. Neymar is healthy and back from suspension for the World Cup qualifier on Thursday at Monumental Stadium in Buenos Aires.
”Every absence is important,” Argentina coach Gerardo Martino said, but acknowledged some such as Messi and Aguero are more critical than others. ”We’ll have to change our mindset to beat Brazil.”
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Neither team showed much in its first two qualifiers last month.
Brazil beat Venezuela 3-1 and lost to Copa America champion Chile 2-0. Argentina lost 2-0 to Ecuador and eked out a 0-0 draw against Paraguay.
Brazil coach Dunga also has injury problems, missing defenders Marquinhos of Paris Saint-Germain and Marcelo of Real Madrid. He’s replaced them with Arsenal defender Gabriel Paulista and winger Douglas Santos of Brazilian club Atletico Mineiro.
But he has Neymar, who returns after completing a four-match suspension picked up in the Copa America.
Neymar probably scored the best goal of the season on Sunday against Spanish club Villarreal, taking a ball off his chest, dropping it to his right foot, and spinning to lash a shot just inside the near post.
In other matches on Thursday, it’s: Ecuador vs. Uruguay, Chile vs. Colombia, Bolivia vs. Venezuela and Peru vs. Paraguay.
Uruguay, Ecuador and Chile have maximum points from two matches each to lead early qualifying.
Uruguay and Ecuador meet in Quito at 2,850 meters (9,350 feet), where the home team always has an advantage.
Uruguay will be without injured Atletico de Madrid defender Jose Maria Gimenez. Also missing will be Barcelona star Luis Suarez, who is out for two more matches following his penalty for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini in last year’s World Cup.
Ecuador will also be without its top player, injured Manchester United midfielder Antonio Valencia.
Chile has its perfect record on the line at home against Colombia.
In the next round of qualifiers on Tuesday, it’s: Colombia vs. Argentina, Venezuela vs. Ecuador, Paraguay vs. Bolivia, Uruguay vs. Chile, and Brazil vs. Peru.