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Messi Mania Grips Bolivia: Doubtful Argentina Legend for World Cup Qualifying Game

Excited Bolivian fans gather at airport to welcome Lionel Messi ahead of Argentina's World Cup qualifying game.

Excitement filled the air as Bolivian fans eagerly gathered at La Paz international airport to welcome Lionel Messi, the captain of the Argentina national football team. Messi, who traveled with the defending World Cup champions, is uncertain to start in the upcoming World Cup qualifying game against Bolivia due to fatigue. On the other hand, Brazil, led by coach Fernando Diniz, is preparing to face Peru with the same squad that secured a 5-1 victory over Bolivia last Friday.

Last week, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Colombia emerged victorious in their opening games of continental qualifying. Now, all 10 South American teams are gearing up for their second matches on Tuesday. The stakes are high as the top six teams in South America will secure a direct spot in the expanded 48-team format of the 2026 World Cup, to be held in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. The seventh-place team will have to compete in an intercontinental playoff for a chance to secure a berth.

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni revealed that he plans to field a similar lineup to the one that defeated Ecuador in their previous match. However, the decision regarding Messi's participation will be made just hours before kick-off. The match will take place at the Hernando Siles Stadium, which sits more than 3,000 meters above sea level. This high-altitude venue can pose challenges for visiting teams, especially for older players.

Scaloni also mentioned the possibility of veteran Ángel di María and striker Julián Álvarez entering the starting XI, potentially replacing Nico González and Lautaro Martinez. The final decision will be made on the morning of the match. If Messi is unable to play, Scaloni will need to find a solution as there is no substitute for the influential captain.

Meanwhile, Brazil coach Diniz, who has a one-year contract, is receiving praise for his attacking strategies after the impressive performance against Bolivia. However, speculation is rife that Carlo Ancelotti, whose contract with Real Madrid expires at the same time as Diniz's, may take over as Brazil's national team coach. In their upcoming match against Peru, Diniz is expected to make no changes to the starting lineup. Richarlison, who had an emotional moment after being substituted in the previous match, is likely to get another chance as a starter. Defender Gabriel Magalhães has recovered from a minor injury and is also training with the likely starters.

Neymar, who made a comeback after a long absence, showcased his recovery with two goals that helped him surpass Pelé as Brazil's all-time leading goal scorer. The toughest encounter on Tuesday will be in Quito, where Ecuador's new coach Félix Sánchez Bas will have to adopt a more attacking approach against Uruguay in order to close the three-point gap in the standings. Ecuador received a point deduction from FIFA for falsifying birth information of defender Byron Castillo, who has Colombian origins.

Marcelo Bielsa, Uruguay's coach, hinted at the possibility of making significant changes to the team after leaving out veteran strikers Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez from the squad. During training, Bielsa tested 21-year-old Los Angeles FC striker Cristian Olivera as a potential replacement for Darwin Núñez, who missed several opportunities in the team's 3-1 victory over Chile. The true intentions behind Bielsa's decision will be revealed on Monday.

In addition to these matches, Chile will host Colombia, and Venezuela will face Paraguay on Tuesday. The South American World Cup qualifiers continue to captivate football fans around the world as teams battle it out for a chance to compete on the global stage.

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