SAO PAULO (AP) — With Argentina and Lionel Messi on the brink of missing the World Cup, they are not receiving any sympathy from archrival Brazil.
Five-time champion Brazil qualified six months ago for the finals in Russia, and have been fascinated watching their archrival struggle to join them. Not even an entreaty from Argentina’s main sports newspaper Ole saying “I need you” in Portuguese seemed to move the leader of South American World Cup qualifying.
“Qualification to the World Cup is not about one game, it is about a full campaign”, Brazil coach Tite said on Monday after being questioned about Argentina’s possible absence in Russia. “Yesterday, we thanked each other because we are already qualified. I can’t imagine what it is like for others; they must be having trouble sleeping. (In the end), others will reap what their work sowed.”
Striker Gabriel Jesus said: “Everybody knows the skills of Messi and the importance of Argentina. If they are where they are, it’s because of what they have done. Of course, you talk about Messi, one of the best players football has ever had. But we have to think only about ourselves.”
South America wraps up regional qualifying on Tuesday. Only Brazil is in. Three other teams will gain automatic berths, and one more qualifies for a playoff next month against New Zealand.
Most eyes are on Argentina’s match in Ecuador, played at 2,850 meters (9,350 feet) in the thin air of Quito.
In other matches, which all start at the same time, its Brazil-Chile, Peru-Colombia, Paraguay-Venezuela, and Uruguay-Bolivia.
Argentina needs a victory to get at least a playoff spot. Any other result puts it in jeopardy of missing the World Cup for the first time since 1970.
Leader Brazil has 38 points. Uruguay is next with 28 and is a cinch to qualify. That leaves five teams separated by two points: Chile (26), Colombia (26), Peru (25), Argentina (25), and Paraguay (24).
A World Cup without Argentina and Messi would hurt the TV networks, Russian ticket sales, and FIFA, which needs an exciting tournament to distract from any problems off the pitch.
“It’s natural that a World Cup without Brazil, Argentina, or Germany would lose a little of its charm,” Brazil defender Miranda said. “But our goal is to qualify to the World Cup and our opponents should deal with their own situations.”
Brazil is unbeaten in its 11 World Cup qualifiers under Tite. Nine were victories. If Chile can end Brazil’s unbeaten string, the reigning Copa America champion will advance to its third straight World Cup.
“We think we have the weapons to do it,” Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo said.
Bravo ruled out any collusion to hurt Argentina’s chances.
“We don’t think of an agreement not to attack,” Bravo said. “Brazil is a team that presses and plays well. They are at home, which favors them. But we improved in the last match. We’ll play our game and try to make history.”
After Monday’s training at Allianz Parque, Tite confirmed Brazil will test goalkeeper Ederson as a starter. He confirmed that defender Marquinhos, who will replace the injured Thiago Silva, will be the captain for the clash against the desperate Chileans in Sao Paulo.
Chile will be without key midfielder Arturo Vidal, who is suspended for an accumulation of yellow cards. Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi has called up Esteban Pavez, who plays for Brazil’s Atletico Paranaense.
“We qualified for the World Cup three matches ago and this has not changed the seriousness and the behavior of our team,” Gabriel Jesus said. “And it won’t change now.”
In social media many Brazilian fans have jokingly said Chile should get a hand to advance and put the Argentines at an even bigger risk of humiliation. “Entrega Brasil”, which means “Give it away Brazil” in Portuguese, has been one of the most mentioned lines by Brazilians on Twitter since last week.
AP Sports Writer Ricardo Zuniga contributed from New York.