Brazil plot to stop Messi in his return from ban

Argentina forwards Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi sharing a laugh during a training session in Mallorca ahead of their friendly match against Brazil in Saudi Arabia today. Messi is back from a three-month ban for labelling the South American football
Argentina forwards Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi sharing a laugh during a training session in Mallorca ahead of their friendly match against Brazil in Saudi Arabia today. Messi is back from a three-month ban for labelling the South American football confederation Conmebol as "corrupt".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

RIYADH • Lionel Messi will mark his return from a three-month international ban as Argentina take on bitter rivals Brazil in a friendly in Saudi Arabia today, a rematch of their fractious Copa America semi-final in July.

Conmebol, the South American football confederation, imposed the suspension after the team captain hit out at the tournament's officiating and claimed that "the whole thing is set up" for hosts Brazil, who overcame Argentina 2-0 before beating Peru 3-1 in the final.

Their last meeting was controversial as Argentina were denied two penalties, leading Messi to label the governing body as "corrupt".

While the Barcelona skipper has since apologised for his comments, his first game back following those incendiary remarks will add further spice to one of football's fiercest international rivalries.

"It's never a friendly match when we play against Brazil," said Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni.

"Like when we play against Uruguay, it's a 'Clasico'. They are difficult games, but we're up for it."

The match will take place in Riyadh at the King Saud University Stadium, a little over a year after Brazil beat Argentina 1-0 in a friendly in Jeddah.

Despite the Selecao enjoying the upper hand in recent years, they have not won in four games and Messi's availability spells danger for the Copa America champions.

Hailing him as "the best in the world", Chelsea and Brazil forward Willian said: "We have to pay a lot of attention to him.

"We must restrict his space. But we can't man-mark him, what we have to do is work together to close down the space he gets. Above all, we can't let him have time to think.

"He's a great player, but we've faced Argentina in the past and this time isn't going to be any different."

While Argentina have their talisman back, Tite's side will be missing their own in Neymar as they bid to end their disappointing run of three draws and a loss, although all have come in friendlies.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward is nursing a hamstring injury, which he suffered against Nigeria at the National Stadium in Singapore last month.

However, Brazil captain Thiago Silva believes their collective ability will shine through, saying: "They have their star, we won't have ours.

"But Brazil is Brazil, and we showed it during our Copa America win. Brazil against Argentina is always a great game, with great football and lots of chances."

DPA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2019, with the headline 'Brazil plot to stop Messi in his return from ban'. Print Edition | Subscribe