Can Brazil and Argentina qualify for Russia 2018?

© Paulo Whitaker
2014 World Cup Finalists Argentina will be without star trio, Messi, Aguero and Tevez, for their crucial qualifier with old rivals Brazil on Thursday. Entry into the 2018 competition in Russia is still far from secure for both international heavyweights.

After the first two rounds of matches, both Argentina and Brazil find themselves outside the four World Cup CONMEBOL (South American Football Confederation) qualifying spots for the 2018 tournament.

READ MORE: Why Argentina and Brazil are both at risk of missing out on Russia 2018

While there is time to recover from their respective stuttering starts, the pair’s current plight only serves to increase the importance of the latest edition of one of soccer’s biggest and most prestigious clashes. Defeat for either side would be hugely damaging, which makes this a fascinating encounter.

Brazil, fifth in the CONMEBOL table, can call upon Europe’s in-form player - Captain Neymar is ready to unleash his brand of flair and invention on an injury-hit Argentina. The Barcelona attacker, who has scored 10 goals in his last seven matches, was hailed as the second best player in world soccer by respected Spanish pundit Guillem Balague this week, after thriving in the absence of Lionel Messi.

Lionel Messi after injuring his left knee during Spanish first division match against Las Palmas © Sergio Perez

"What's interesting is that he is now the second best player in the world, in my opinion. There's Messi in first and now Neymar is in second," said Balague.

The Seleção lost their opening group match 2-0 to Chile, beating Venezuela 3-1 five days later, with Chelsea winger Willian grabbing a brace. They have three points more than Argentina, who have only managed a draw and a defeat to Paraguay and Ecuador respectively.

Injury-struck Argentine talisman Messi will miss Thursday’s fixture in Buenos Aires. He will be joined on the side-lines by fellow attackers Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez. Coach Gerardo Martino’s injury list is mounting, with defensive pair Pablo Zabaleta and Ezequiel Garay also unavailable.

It will be down to the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria and Ezequiel Lavezzi to lead the attack against the Brazilians. Defeat for Argentina would leave them with a huge mountain to climb to reach Russia 2018.

The last five meetings between the pair have seen Brazil record three wins to Argentina’s two, with their last World Cup qualifier ending in a 3-1 win for the Seleção in Rosario.

Argentina 1-3 Brazil highlights

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