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Messi is a doubtful starter for Argentina’s World Cup qualifying game in Bolivia

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Excited Bolivian fans gathered at the La Paz international airport to welcome Lionel Messi ahead of Argentina’s World Cup qualifying game against the home team on Tuesday.

The 36-year-old Messi traveled with the defending World Cup champions but is not a certain starter at the game because of fatigue.

Meanwhile Brazil, coached for the first time by Fernando Diniz in a 5-1 win over Bolivia last Friday, is preparing to face Peru with the same squad.

Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Colombia won their opening games in continental qualifying last week. All 10 South American teams will play their second games on Tuesday.

The 2026 edition of the World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada is expanding to a 48-team format. The top six teams in South America will secure a direct spot. The seventh-place team will contest an intercontinental playoff for a berth.

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BOLIVIA vs. ARGENTINA

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni told a news conference he will have against Bolivia a very similar lineup to the one that beat Ecuador on Thursday. Messi’s presence, however, could be decided hours before kick off. The match will take place at the Hernando Siles Stadium, which is more than 3,000 meters above sea level, a venue where visiting teams can struggle, particularly older players.

Scaloni also said veteran Ángel di María and striker Julián Álvarez could make it to his starting XI, probably replacing Nico González and Lautaro Martinez.

“If all is well, the idea is to repeat or see some changes, which could be these two (Di María and Álvarez) entering,” the coach said. “There is a chance they will play, but we can make the decision on the morning before the match.”

If Messi sits out, Scaloni will have to come up with a solution for to cover for a player who has no substitute.

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PERU vs. BRAZIL

Brazil coach Diniz has a one-year contract, which ends precisely at the same time Carlo Ancelotti’s deal with Real Madrid is set to expire. Ancelotti is widely tipped to take over Brazil’s national team but local media has shown a lot of excitement for the attacking ideas of the 49-year-old Diniz due to the intensity of the Selecao’s game against Bolivia.

Sunday’s training suggests Diniz will make no changes to play against Peru, which drew its opening match at Paraguay.

Richarlison, who was in tears after being substituted during the match against Bolivia, is likely to get another opportunity as a starter. Defender Gabriel Magalhães has recovered from a light injury and was also working with the likely starters in practice.

Neymar, who until last Friday had not played since February, showed he has recovered with two goals that helped him break Pelé’s record as Brazil’s all-time top goal scorer.

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ECUADOR vs. URUGUAY

The toughest encounter on Tuesday is in Quito.

Ecuador’s new coach Félix Sánchez Bas was happy to defend at Argentina, but playing at home against Marcelo Bielsa’s Uruguay he will have to push forward so his team has a chance to erase its three-point deficit in the standings. The point deduction punishment was imposed by FIFA for Ecuador’s falsification of birth information of defender Byron Castillo, who is of Colombian origin.

Bielsa hinted at Sunday’s training he could make yet another big change in the team, after leaving veteran strikers Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez out of his squad. He tested 21-year-old Los Angeles FC striker Cristian Olivera as replacement for Darwin Núñez, who squandered several opportunities for Uruguay during the team’s 3-1 win against Chile.

Monday will give an indication as to whether Bielsa was serious about making that change or just wanted to play mind games with the Liverpool striker.

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Also on Tuesday, Chile will host Colombia and Venezuela will take on Paraguay.

-AP

 

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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World Cup

Can of worms discovered in Super Eagles camp

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA

All is not well at the moment with the Nigeria’s Super Eagles who have gone seven World Cup qualifying matches since November 2021 without a win.

The dwindled fortunes contrast sharply for a team noted before now as the African sides with the longest unbeaten streak in the World Cup qualifiers. At time, they were unbeaten since losing through a late goal to Angola in Luanda on 20 June 2004 till 10 November 2017 when their 1-1 draw with Algeria was converted to a 3-0 forfeiture owing to NFF featuring an unqualified player. At  the time, Super Eagles had raked 35 unbeaten run. At another time from 2012 to 2013, the team had an unbeaten run of 18 matches from 3 June 2012  when they beat Namibia 1-0 in Calabar to 21 June 2013 when they were beaten 2-1 by Uruguay in a FIFA Confederations match in Brazil.

 Yet the same outfit has turned laborious after losing its flairs. A source close to Finidi George told Sports Village Square that the coach complained that the NFF just heaped all the blames of the team’s current precarious situation on him while exonerating the players.  

  He also reportedly remarked that the NFF did nothing to mobilise crowd support for the Super Eagles in the back-breaking encounter with Benin Republic in Abidjan despite the presence of large Nigerian community in the Ivorian commercial capital city.

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 A Benin Republic sports journalist confirmed this to Sports Village Square. The journalist remarked that it was true that there “were not many Nigerians at the Félix Houphouet Boigny stadium even though Nigeria has a strong community in the Ivory Coast.  I see that the defeat against the Republic of Benin really hurts.”

  Dr. Rafiu Ladipo, the President General of the Nigeria Football and other Sports Supporters’ Club (NFSP) had earlier made the same assertion on the neglect of crowd mobilisation for the Super Eagles and that those who made it to Uyo and had auto accident on their way back were not even given a mention by the NFF.

 He had since 1991 established the first of the international cells of the supporters club. They were not mobilised for the game against Benin Republic.

 On players attitude, a member of the NFF confirmed that the Super Eagles camp in Uyo was loose as players went to camp with their girl friends.

 That could also explain their dismal forms in the back-to-back destiny shaping encounters with South Africa and Benin Republic.

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World Cup

BREAKING! Finidi George formally resigns

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA.

Nigeria Super Eagles’ coach, Finidi George has resigned from his post as Super Eagles’ coach, two days after the Nigeria Football Federation announced it was going to employ a foreign technical adviser.

A source close to Finidi told Sports Village Square that Finidi sent his resignation letter to Ibrahim Gusau “3o minutes ago.”

 Finidi was said to be livid that the NFF leadership met with the sports minister two days ago, but failed to mention that players reported late to the camp and that they didi nothing to mobilise Nigerians in Cote d’Ivoire to come out to support the Super Eagles in last Monday’s match with Benin Republic.

“He complained that the NFF heaped all the blames on him”, said the source.

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  Calls to NFF officials to verify the information were not answered.  

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World Cup

UPDATE: NFF may spare Finidi George

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Under fire Super Eagles’ coach, Finidi George may excape sack afterall. A source close to the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) told Sports Village Square that Finidi may not be sacked.

 He would however work under the foreign technical adviser that the football governing body is planning to hire in the next few weeks.

  The source who was privy to the Wednesday’s ‘hybrid mode’ meeting of the NFF informed that Finidi George will be designated as ‘Chief Coach’ while the expatriate will be the technical adviser.

It is however unclear how the NFF will foot the wage bill of the technical adviser, who may also come with his personal crew as Finidi George  also already have his own foreign assistants.

There is also no word on the loud absence of Daniel Amokachi who was designated as Finidi George’s assistant, but failed to show up at the Super Eagles’ camp leading to the ill-fated World Cup match day 3 and 4 encounters with South Africa and Benin Republic.  

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