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Focus on Brazil’s Vinicius Junior, Argentina’s Dybala

With World Cup spots secured, Brazil and Argentina appear set to test players in qualifying who are beloved by fans while trying to prove themselves with national teams.

Vinícius Júnior has not scored in his first nine appearances for Brazil, and Paulo Dybala has two goals in 31 games for Argentina. Vinícius Júnior is expected to replace Neymar for the Selecao against Ecuador and Dybala is likely to take the field in place of Lionel Messi against Chile.

Four South American nations qualify for this fall’s tournament in Qatar, and fifth place advances to a playoff against an Asian opponent, leaving two automatic berths still in contention. Only last-place Venezuela, with seven points, is out of contention.

Brazil leads with 35 points, followed by Argentina (29), Ecuador (23), Colombia, Peru (17), Chile, Uruguay (16) and Bolivia (15). The contenders each have four games remaining.

Brazil leads with 35 points, followed by Argentina (29), Ecuador (23), Colombia, Peru (17), Chile, Uruguay (16) and Bolivia (15). The contenders each have four games remaining.


Vinicius Junior’s top form at Real Madrid has drawn criticism at home for Brazil coach Tite, accused of not giving the 21-year-old enough time to show his dribbling skills and quick passes. Some allege the coach has difficulties innovating and testing rising players in new roles.

Tite maintains the winger requires patience. Based on Tuesday’s training session, Vinicius Junior appears likely for the starting lineup.

Midfielder Casemiro, who plays with Vinicius at Madrid, agrees with his national team boss on not rushing the youngster.

“He has been exceptional, I see him every day. I saw him grow at the club,” Casemiro said. “With the national team, there is a different style of playing, another period to adapt. The competition is different. The quicker he adapts, the better. But we can’t forget he is just 21 years old.”

Ecuador, coached by Argentinian coach Gustavo Alfaro, should clinch with four points from its remaining games.


Under coach Lionel Scaloni, Argentina won last year’s Copa America.

Following decent form at Juventus, the 28-year-old Dybala is expected to replace Messi in a match played at nearly 7,900 feet (2,400 meters) at Calama, in northern Chile’s Atacama Desert.

Dybala also started for Argentina in November’s 1-0 qualifying win at Uruguay, when Messi was recovering from a knee injury and entered in the second half.

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Despite Argentina’s early qualification to the World Cup, goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez said he and his teammates “are still hungry” and “not relaxed.”

“We want to continue uniting as a team and as a group. We have to give our best to be in the final list,” he said. “We will try to win every match or play them as if they were our last. People have to see the best version of us in this World Cup year, and we want to reach that goal.”

Messi will miss these games while regaining fitness following a positive COVID-19 test last month.

“We don’t have (Arturo) Vidal, and we have to win. If our opponent doesn’t have Messi, we have to beat them too,” Chile coach Martín Lasarte said Tuesday.

No. 7 Uruguay will need a win at ninth-place Paraguay on Thursday to climb back to a qualifying position and to start strong under coach Diego Alonso, who took over after Óscar Tabárez was fired.

Fourth-place Colombia will host No. 5 Peru, and Bolivia will play at Venezuela.

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