They call it the Clásico del Rio de la Plata. Argentina versus Uruguay is the oldest international fixture in South America and one of the oldest in the world. And on Thursday at 8.30pm local time (Friday morning at 1.30am CET), the 184th meeting between the sides commences at the Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, Mendoza.
With 13 points from the first six games, Uruguay currently lead the Conmebol zone of qualifying matches for the Russia 2018 World Cup. Meanwhile Argentina, now managed by Edgardo Bauza, have put a bumpy start behind them and now lie third with 11 points.
And it’s a game with plenty for Barça fans to look out for, with Leo Messi and Javier Mascherano featuring for the home side and Luis Suárez back for the visitors after injury forced him to watch his country’s disappointing first round exit at the Copa America Centenario from the side-lines.
Argentina were the losing finalists of that competition, and although Leo Messi suggested at the time that he would no longer be appearing for his national team, he has had a change of heart. The Barça striker has joined the Argentina squad, but his presence against Uruguay is hanging on a hamstring injury sustained against Athletic Bilbao last weekend.
Earlier on in the day (at 11.00pm CET) Brazil face a difficult visit to the Estadio Olímpico Atahualpa in Quito, where altitude also tends to be a factor. Ecuador only trail Conmebol leaders Uruguay on goal difference, while Brazil are sixth with nine points, which as things stand would not even be enough to book them a spot in the playoffs.
Neymar Jr, fresh from leading his country to gold at the Rio Olympics and who was given special dispensation from FC Barcelona to prolong his absence from club duty until after this international break, has been included in new manager Tite’s squad. With a tricky game with Colombia just a few days later, this is a big week for the canarinha, the only side to have appeared in every single edition of the World Cup to date.