Argentina, Uruguay in WC 2018 qualifier
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) :
Lionel Messi is back for Argentina. And Luis Suarez is expected to return for Uruguay. The two Barcelona teammates should be the focus tomorrow in South America's most high-profile World Cup qualifier. With four rounds of qualifying remaining, Brazil have already advanced to Russia and lead the group with 33 points. The five-time World Cup winners are followed by Colombia (24), Uruguay (23), Chile (23), Argentina (22) and Ecuador (20). Peru and Paraguay have 18 points, and little chance to advance. Bolivia and Venezuela have been eliminated.
In addition to Brazil, three more teams will claim the remaining automatic berths, and one more South American team could also reach Russia in a play-off.
Messi is back from a one-game ban for insulting a match official. It was originally four matches, but the Argentine football association appealed successfully.
That's good news for coach Jorge Sampaoli, who will be on the bench for his first official game in charge. Without Messi, Argentina lost to Bolivia 2-0 in their last qualifier in March.
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez also needs Suarez. He has a right-knee injury, which Tabarez said will be evaluated in the run-up to the match.
With or without Suarez, Tabarez knows "it will be a very, very difficult match".
Sampaoli replaced Edgardo Bauza in early June and has coached friendly wins over Brazil and Singapore. Sampaoli has left Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain out of the side, going instead with Paulo Dybala, who is seen as Messi's heir on the national team.
Tabarez is remaking the Uruguay side, which has been about the same since finishing fourth in the 2010 World Cup and the 2011 Copa America. New faces include Federico Valverde, Mauricio Lemos and Gaston Pereiro.
"It's not just another game coming up," Uruguay defender Diego Godin said. "It's a classic, and we know who we're playing."
Other scheduled matches: Venezuela vs Colombia; Brazil vs Ecuador; Chile vs Paraguay and Peru vs Bolivia.