BUENOS AIRES • Brazil manager Dunga has hailed Neymar as the best player in the world right now as the Selecao attempt to inflict more World Cup qualifying woes on fierce rivals Argentina.
"If we look at the ranking by numbers and statistics, Neymar is superior right now," Dunga said when asked to compare the 23-year-old with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who have dominated the World Player of the Year award since 2008.
"Messi is injured, Cristiano is expected to repeat what he did last year. Neymar has improved consistently since he arrived at Barcelona (in 2013).
"He has done all that was expected of him with Messi out.
"He's in great form."
In Messi's absence, Neymar has been the standout player in La Liga.
A RISING STAR
Neymar has improved consistently since he arrived at Barcelona (in 2013). He has done all that was expected of him with Messi out. He's in great form.
DUNGA, Brazil manager
The Barcelona forward has scored the most goals (eight) and created the most chances (23) with his club team-mate sidelined.
And he has netted 11 league goals for the Catalan giants this term, and also scored twice in the Champions League. Real Madrid forward Ronaldo also has 13 goals from those two competitions but pales in comparison in assists (two to Neymar's six).
Messi, out since late September with a knee ligament injury, has three league goals this campaign.
Without him, Argentina have just one point from their opening two World Cup qualifiers.
They go into this morning's (Singapore time) fixture without Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Pablo Zabaleta too as they seek to improve on their seventh position in the 10-team table.
Brazil are fifth on three points, with the top four qualifying automatically for Russia 2018 and the fifth-placed side facing a play-off.
Dunga warned his side that Argentinian replacements could bring unforeseen problems.
"They will have players out injured but it is still Argentina," he said. "You lose a talented player but you get one that is maybe more focused, with more power and speed, and they can create problems.
"It's Argentina, their players all play at the highest level in Europe."
Argentina coach Gerardo Martino insisted his side still have enough talent to compete with the Brazilians, brushing off suggestions that his team would start as the underdogs.
"It's always a relief for your opponents when you're missing players. Does that make Brazil the favourite? I don't think so," he said.
"It's a classic, and both teams have important players.
"We're equally matched."
He even predicted how Dunga would set up the away side - by sitting back and breaking out in counter-attacks,
"I think it will be a match in which attacking should permit us to have less defensive worries," he told a news conference on Wednesday.
"It will determine if we are going to suffer more or less from quick breaks by Brazil, who will surely wait for us in their own half."
Newspaper reports say that with Argentine FA presidential elections next month, Martino will be closely scrutinised in this match and their next qualifier away to Colombia.
"They would be discussing my continuity anyway, it's got nothing to do with the political year," the 52-year-old said, downplaying suggestions that his job was on the line.
However, Martino could be made to suffer by Neymar, to whom he gave his debut at Barcelona when he was their coach in the 2013-14 campaign.
"I trained a very good Neymar but what he's doing now puts him on a level with the two footballers we consider above the rest," he said, referring to Messi and Ronaldo.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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