Sao Paulo: Excited Bolivian fans gathered at the La Paz international airport to welcome Lionel Messi ahead of Argentina’s World Cup qualifying game against the home team on Tuesday.
The 36-year-old Messi travelled with the defending World Cup champions but is not a certain starter at the game because of fatigue.
Meanwhile, Brazil, coached for the first time by Fernando Diniz in a 5-1 win over Bolivia last Friday, is preparing to face Peru with the same squad.
Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Colombia won their opening games in continental qualifying last week. All 10 South American teams will play their second games on Tuesday.
The 2026 edition of the World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada is expanding to a 48-team format. The top six teams in South America will secure a direct spot. The seventh-place team will contest an intercontinental playoff for a berth.
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni told a news conference he will have against Bolivia a very similar line-up to the one that beat Ecuador on Thursday. Messi’s presence, however, could be decided hours before kick off. The match will take place at the Hernando Siles Stadium, which is more than 3,000-metre above sea level, a venue where visiting teams can struggle, particularly older players.
Scaloni also said veteran Angel di Maria and striker Julian Alvarez could make it to his starting XI, probably replacing Nico Gonzalez and Lautaro Martinez.
“If all is well, the idea is to repeat or see some changes, which could be these two (Di Maria and Alvarez) entering,” the coach said. “There is a chance they will play, but we can make the decision on the morning before the match.”
If Messi sits out, Scaloni will have to come up with a solution for to cover for a player who has no substitute.
Lot of excitement
Brazil coach Diniz has a one-year contract, which ends precisely at the same time Carlo Ancelotti’s deal with Real Madrid is set to expire. Ancelotti is widely tipped to take over Brazil’s national team but local media has shown a lot of excitement for the attacking ideas of the 49-year-old Diniz due to the intensity of the Selecao’s game against Bolivia.
Sunday’s training suggests Diniz will make no changes to play against Peru, who drew their opening match at Paraguay.
Richarlison, who was in tears after being substituted during the match against Bolivia, is likely to get another opportunity as a starter. Defender Gabriel Magalhaes has recovered from a light injury and was also working with the likely starters in practice.
Neymar, who until last Friday had not played since February, showed he has recovered with two goals that helped him break Pele’s record as Brazil’s all-time top goalscorer.
The toughest encounter on Tuesday is in Quito.
Ecuador’s new coach Felix Sanchez Bas was happy to defend at Argentina, but playing at home against Marcelo Bielsa’s Uruguay he will have to push forward so his team has a chance to erase their three-point deficit in the standings. The point deduction punishment was imposed by FIFA for Ecuador’s falsification of birth information of defender Byron Castillo, who is of Colombian origin.
Bielsa hinted at Sunday’s training he could make yet another big change in the team, after leaving veteran strikers Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez out of his squad. He tested 21-year-old Los Angeles FC striker Cristian Olivera as replacement for Darwin Núnez, who squandered several opportunities for Uruguay during the team’s 3-1 win against Chile.
Monday will give an indication as to whether Bielsa was serious about making that change or just wanted to play mind games with the Liverpool striker.
Also on Tuesday, Chile will host Colombia and Venezuela will take on Paraguay.