Monday, November 20, 2023

Premier League Stars Feature In South American World Cup Qualifying

World Cup qualifiers feature an array of Premier League stars performing for their South American countries this international break. Despite an easier qualification path for the expanded 48 team 2026 World Cup, the South American qualifiers are no less intense given historical rivalries.

Perhaps the fiercest of those rivalries resumes Tuesday as Brazil hosts Argentina. The Brazilians have struggled in the qualifying rounds to date, winning just two of their five matches to date.

The Selecao lost to Colombia 2-1 last Thursday, victimized when two late goals from Liverpool’s Luis Diaz overcame a fifth minute score by Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli. Brazil thus sits fifth in qualifying, five points behind leader Argentina.

Six teams from South America automatically qualify under the expanded format with a seventh entering an international playoff. The previous World Cup qualifying format automatically qualified only four clubs with a fifth entering the playoff. Brazil may benefit from the more lenient rules as the Selecao are currently only two points ahead of eighth place Chile and an unthinkable non-qualification.

Desperate measures may be called for by the Brazilians, much to the distress of Arsenal fans. Gabriel Jesus, still nursing an injured hamstring, may be forced into the starting line-up after Real Madrid’s Vinicius Jr. was hurt versus Colombia. Arsenal Manager Mikel Arteta is sure to be livid if that’s the case as the Premier League club voiced strong objection to Jesus even being named to the Brazil squad after missing much of the Premier League season first to a knee injury and, more recently, to the hamstring injury suffered in the Champions League match at Sevilla.

Brighton’s Jao Pedro, meanwhile, is another forward option for Brazil. Should Brazil Manager Fernando Diniz elect to go with a more conservative formation and bolster his midfield, Aston Villa’s Douglas Luiz could get the call to line up in a midfield that already includes countryman Bruno Guimares of Newcastle. Brazil faced 22 shots from Colombia, 10 of those coming off the foot of Liverpool’s Diaz who has responded to his family crisis by scoring three goals across his last three outings across all competitions. Diaz’s parents are now safe after their release by kidnappers in Colombia. Diaz’s Liverpool teammate Nunez has tallied three goals in the World Cup qualifying rounds to lead the South American group along with Lionel Messi and Uruguayan teammate Nicolas de la Cruz. Uruguay is two points behind Argentina after defeating Messi and friends last week, one point ahead of Diaz’s third place Colombia. Messi is surrounded on the Argentina team with numerous Premier League stars. Manchester City’s Julian Alvarez lines up at forward. The Argentina midfield includes Chelsea’s Enzo Fernandez and Liverpool’s Alexis Mac Allister. Between the sticks is Aston Villa’s Emi Martinez who won the Golden Glove for World Cup winning Argentina. Martinez, however, may not even be the best goalkeeper on Thursday with Liverpool’s Alison Becker guarding the goal for Brazil. With uncertainty for Brazil in attack, Becker could hold the key if Brazil is to avoid a first ever home defeat in World Cup qualifying at Rio de Janeiro’s storied MaracanĂ£ stadium.

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