Brazil hope to slay 2014 demons

Neymar, training with the national team on Tuesday, will face his club-mate Lionel Messi in today's crunch qualifier in Belo Horizonte. The Brazil star did not let a century of South American rivalry get in the way of his friendship with Barca pal
Neymar (above), training with the national team on Tuesday, will face his club-mate Lionel Messi in today's crunch qualifier in Belo Horizonte. The Brazil star did not let a century of South American rivalry get in the way of his friendship with Barca pals Messi and Javier Mascherano. He gave the Argentina duo a lift in his private jet from Sao Paulo to the host city.PHOTO: REUTERS
Neymar, training with the national team on Tuesday, will face his club-mate Lionel Messi (above) in today's crunch qualifier in Belo Horizonte. The Brazil star did not let a century of South American rivalry get in the way of his friendship with Barca pal
Neymar, training with the national team on Tuesday, will face his club-mate Lionel Messi (above) in today's crunch qualifier in Belo Horizonte. The Brazil star did not let a century of South American rivalry get in the way of his friendship with Barca pals Messi and Javier Mascherano. He gave the Argentina duo a lift in his private jet from Sao Paulo to the host city.PHOTO: REUTERS

Beating Argentina will ease pain of 7-1 semi shocker by Germany and put heat on rivals

BELO HORIZONTE (BRAZIL) • They may be about to lock horns in the latest instalment of Brazil and Argentina's ferocious football rivalry. But Neymar was not about to let 102 years of South American sporting enmity get in the way of his friendship with Barcelona mates Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano.

So, after flying together from Barcelona to Sao Paulo when the three men were working out how to get to Belo Horizonte for today's 2018 World Cup qualifier, Brazil forward Neymar did not hesitate to offer a lift to Messi and Mascherano on his private jet, a US$9 million (S$12.5 million) Cessna Citation 680.

Photos of the trio smiling on the jet appeared on social media on Tuesday shortly before their arrival in Belo Horizonte for South America's "superclasico".

Later that day the Argentina squad trained for the first time in the south-eastern city, where they were based during their 2014 World Cup campaign.

The two-time world champions head into the fixture desperately needing a positive result, after taking just two points from a possible nine in their previous three games when they were without the injured Messi.

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  • Brazil, leaders of the Conmebol qualifying zone for the 2018 World Cup have won their last four qualifying games.

The run of results has left Argentina in sixth place in the 10-team standings with 16 points, outside the qualifying spots.

The return of Messi to their ranks should calm their nerves. They have just one win in four games since coach Edgardo Bauza took the reins in August.

"This is a great opportunity for us to prove that we can challenge the leaders," Argentina's Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero said.

On the other hand, Brazil are resurgent but return to the scene of the most humiliating defeat in their football history.

Two years ago at Belo Horizonte's Estadio Mineirao, Brazil were ripped apart 7-1 by Germany in the World Cup semi-finals, a traumatic mauling that sent the football-mad country into despair.

But fast forward to 2016, and Brazil look to be a team firmly on the road to recovery as they prepare for the 107th meeting with Argentina at the 61,800-seat venue.

Under new coach Tite, Brazil registered a stylish 3-0 win in Ecuador - the first in Brazil's history in that country -in September, followed by a 2-1 win over Colombia and a 5-0 drubbing of Bolivia.

A further triumph over Venezuela last month - Brazil's fourth straight qualifying victory - catapulted Tite's side to the top of the South American round-robin standings, with 21 points from 10 games.

"I don't have the adjectives. I'm living the dream of any Brazilian coach," he said after naming his squad for the clash with Argentina. "I try not to think too much about the history. I'm just focused on the strategy."

Seven members of the Brazil squad were in the stadium that fateful July day in 2014, two (Marcelo and Fernandinho) starting the match and another two (Paulinho and Willian) finishing it.

"We can't put more pressure on those that were there," said midfielder Renato Augusto.

"A win would be good to take the weight off a bit. We have to look to the future and not to the past."

Nevertheless, the past can also serve as an incentive for a team who have struggled in recent years.

Brazil have never lost a home World Cup qualifier and they have won three and drawn one of their four previous games against Argentina at the Mineirao.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2016, with the headline 'Brazil hope to slay 2014 demons'. Print Edition | Subscribe