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A mural depicting Lionel Messi, by artist Martin Ron, adorns a building on the 9 de Julio avenue in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Saturday. Image Credit: AP

Rio de Janeiro: Lionel Messi has few barriers yet to break in football. One of them will be in reach Tuesday, when Argentina visits Brazil in a South American World Cup qualifying match.

The 36-year-old Messi has scored 31 goals for Argentina in World Cup qualifying encounters, but none of those came against Brazil, home or away. He has five goals against the archrival, all in friendly matches.

Brazil’s football confederation said all 69,000 tickets for the clash at the Maracana Stadium are sold. Both teams will play after defeats in the previous round; the locals lost 2-1 at Colombia and the World Cup champion was defeated at home 2-0 by Uruguay.

Many Brazilian fans are keen to watch Messi in a match that could be his last in Rio de Janeiro playing for Argentina. In the same arena, the star lost the 2014 World Cup final to Germany, and beat the host in the decider of the 2021 Copa America.

Argentina leads the 10-team South American qualifying group with 12 points from five matches. Uruguay is second with 10 points. Colombia has nine and Venezuela eight. Brazil will host the World Cup champions in fifth position, with seven points.

Ecuador, Paraguay and Chile have five points each. Bolivia has three and Peru one.

The 2026 World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada will include 48 teams, meaning direct entry for the top six teams from South America. The seventh-place team can earn a berth in an intercontinental playoff.

‘Messi is phenomenal’

Optimism is in short supply in Brazil, which lost its two latest matches and is struggling under new coach Fernando Diniz. A defeat to Argentina could be the team’s first ever in a home match of World Cup qualifying, and the hosts will have several absences for that encounter.

Carlos Augusto is likely to start as left-back for the first time, Jesus will take the role of injured Vinicius Júnior up front and teenage sensation Endrick is likely to play in the second half.

The 17-year-old Endrick, who will join Real Madrid next year, spoke in a press conference about his expectations of playing against Messi for the first time.

“For me, Pele is the king and no one will get near him. Messi is phenomenal, the best in the world again, and I want to enjoy playing against him, a man I only saw in the videogames,” the striker said. “I am more of a Cristiano Ronaldo fan, but it will be wonderful to see Messi up close.”

Argentina to arrive on Monday

Argentina will arrive in Brazil late on Monday and have its final training session for the clash in Buenos Aires. Coach Lionel Scaloni did not speak after Sunday’s training, and had most of the practice behind closed doors, but gave hints of where his doubts are.

Ángel di Maria, Nicolás González and Leandro Paredes are in contention for a place in the midfield and Lautaro Martínez, who did not score for the national team in his previous 14 matches, could replace Julián Álvarez up front.

Also on Tuesday, Paraguay will host Colombia; Uruguay will take on Bolivia; Ecuador welcomes Chile; and Peru plays host against Venezuela. The seventh and eighth rounds of South American qualifying will take place in September after the next edition of Copa America in the United States.