There’s no such thing as an ordinary match between Brazil and Argentina. That’s especially true when it is part of a World Cup qualifying campaign that so far has been anything but ordinary.
The game on Thursday is not only interesting because of history and tables; even the chosen stage will play a part in this South American classic.
Here are six reasons to take note of the match at the Mineirao.
1. The ghost of Belo Horizonte
Since the 2014 World Cup, the capital of the Minas Gerais state — more specifically the Mineirao Stadium — has become a bit of a nervy place for Brazil. Yes, that is the ground in which Brazilian football suffered its worst defeat in 100 years when Germany embarrassed the Selecao 7-1 in the semifinals.
Will the Mineirao haunt Brazil? Let’s also remember that the last time the Selecao played a qualifier there it was also against Argentina, in 2008. The goalless draw was much less noticeable than the scenes of Brazilians fans chanting Lionel Messi’s name. You read that right.
2. Neymar and the long arm of the law
Some sections of passionate Brazilian fans have complained about the timing of a Spanish judge’s recommendation that Neymar and his father go to trial on corruption charges with regard to his transfer from Santos to Barcelona in 2013.
While the striker has not taken the qualifiers by storm, neither has he been as abysmal as he was in the 2015 Copa America. Brazil could certainly do with him against their archrivals, and fans would be a bit happier if the long arm of the law wasn’t also trying to tug Neymar’s shirt.
3. Can Argentina bounce back?
After 10 rounds, the South American qualifiers are more exciting than many people predicted. Only six points separate leaders Brazil and seventh-placed Paraguay, who were Argentina’s tormentors in the last round. That result put the Albiceleste in a very uncomfortable sixth position and in need of a result in Belo Horizonte.
The visitors certainly have the players to get it, especially after Messi’s return from a muscle injury. That Brazil would be in some trouble if they lose this game could also prove a motivation for Argentina, who would have reason for concern if they fly back to Buenos Aires empty-handed, given that they host Colombia on Tuesday.
4. Speaking of Messi
Which Messi will turn up? The legendary Argentine has had a roller-coaster experience while facing the Selecao — losing the 2007 Copa America final and then, the following year, commanding the Albiceleste in a drubbing of the Brazilians in the semifinals at the Beijing Olympics. In seven games against Argentina’s great rivals, Messi has scored four goals but also lost four times.
5. Alves pays respect to Torres
Is the Juventus man jumping the shark or is he still crucial for Brazil? There couldn’t be a more interesting opportunity for Dani Alves to answer that. Not only will he face his former teammates Messi and Javier Mascherano, the right-back will also wear the No.4 shirt in tribute to the late Carlos Alberto Torres, who passed away a couple of weeks ago. Alves will be Brazil’s captain for the night. Fans will hope that “The Captain” lends a hand from above.
6. Another legendary meeting
According to FIFA, the match at the Mineirao will be the 102nd encounter between Brazil and Argentina and the Selecao leads by 39-37. However, both teams are tied with 159 goals apiece.