Wednesday, December 6, 2023

SPORTS | 15-11-2023 15:28

Uruguay, with Luiz Suárez back in the ranks, pose touch challenge for unbeaten Argentina

The reunion of best friends Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez in the centennial River Plate Derby between Argentina and Uruguay will give a new dimension to Thursday's South American World Cup qualifying clash.

Uruguay, with new coach Marcelo Bielsa, are on the rise again and with the return of all-time top scorer Luis Suárez to their squad they will provide a tough test for Argentina on Thursday night.

The Celeste, is a familiar test for Argentina, who are clear leaders in the South American World Cup 2026 qualifying round.

The centennial River Plate Derby will attract much of the attention in the first day of the double international fixture window of the next week.

In a tantalising clash, Argentine star Lionel Messi and Uruguayan forward Luis Suárez – best friends and former teammates at Barcelona – will be lining up on opposing sides.

Key 1: Argentina in world champions mode

The Albiceleste, in keeping with its status as world champions, began the next World Cup pushing pedal to the metal, recording four victories in four matches without any goals condeced. Sitting pretty at the top of the table with 12 points, the national team is five points ahead of rivals Uruguay, Brazil and Venezuela, who all have seven.

"Uruguay will play on an equal footing, and we’re thinking of trying to win and getting the points. We give it the same importance as the other four matches. We know the rivals we’re facing, the best we’ll come across in the qualifying round," said midfielder Leandro Paredes, a World Cup winner at Qatar 2022.

Meanwhile, skillful midfielder Giovani Lo Celso remarked that “we’re focusing on Uruguay to close this year the best way possible with our people, and leave a good image" with the fans.

"Uruguay is a tough, quality team, difficult on the physical front, we have to be patient. We have to respect them, because they’re doing things right, they have the hierarchy," he said.

Key 2: Friends, rivals, and colleagues again?

Just a few years ago, Messi and Suárez were electrifying forwards at Barcelona, forming part of a deluxe striking trio that included Brazlian star Neymar.

Though the two friends became even closer, eventually they parted ways with Suárez heading to Atlético Madrid and Messi moving to Paris St Germain. 

Rumours are growing ever stronger that they might meet again next year at Inter Miami, where the man from Rosario has started a revolutionary new path in United States-based Major League Soccer.

For the time being, Buenos Aires will witness a great duel between the historic two top scorers of the South American qualifying round – 31 goals gave been scored by Messi, who recently overtook Suárez's 29.

While the Argentine has already concluded this section of the season in the US league, Suárez got the call from “El loco” Bielsa to return to the national side thanks to his goals for Grêmio de Porto Alegre.

Key 3: Uruguay, in search for  impact

Regardless of some criticism at the start of his term, Bielsa seems to find the right mix quickly for a Uruguayan team featuring many new faces, including Darwin Núñez as leader of an new-look attack that was formerly dominated by Suárez and Edinson Cavani. The latter, now at Boca Juniors, was also called on by Bielsa but has pulled out with injury.

Last time out, Uruguay recorded a morale-boosting victory over Brazil, winning 2-0  in the legendary Estadio Centenario in Montevideo. The Celeste will be hoping to keep up that momentum at La Bombonera in Buenos Aires.

“The match with Argentina will be like every South American derby, with plenty of physical and mental work. The one who commits the fewest mistakes will end up with the victory. Given a choice whether to win within an hour or by a landslide, I’d rather win within the hour,” said defender José María 'Josema' Giménez.

The match kicks off at Thursday at 9pm local time and will refereed by Colombian Wilmar Roldán.


Fitness update

Argentina trained normally on Tuesday with the whole squad available and no injuries. The starting-line up, however, has yet to be confirmed.

Headed by its captain and recent eight-time Ballon D’Or, Lionel Messi (Inter Miami), the side is likely to feature comebacks from Ángel Di María (Benfica) and Paulo Dybala (Roma), who may come off the bench.

Over a period of just five days, Argentina will face arguably their two toughest opponents in the World Cup qualifying group: Uruguay at the Bombonera on Thursday and Brazil next Tuesday, at the Maracaná.

"We only think about trying to win and getting all six points, like we did in the last two matches,” Paredes told the press at the end of training on Tuesday.

After four triumphs in four matches against Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru, the world champions are looking in good form.

Coach Lionel Scaloni did not call forward Alejandro Garnacho (Manchester United) but for the first time added Spanish-Argentine right back Pablo Maffeo (Mallorca) and left winger Francisco Ortega (Olympiakos) to his squad.



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