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Brazil and Argentina return to WCup qualifying after chaos

September 8, 2021 GMT
Argentina's Lionel Messi, center, Brazil's Neymar, left, and Argentina's coach Lionel Scaloni talk as the soccer game is interrupted by health authorities during a qualifying soccer match for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 at Neo Quimica Arena stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Sept.5, 2021. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
Argentina's Lionel Messi, center, Brazil's Neymar, left, and Argentina's coach Lionel Scaloni talk as the soccer game is interrupted by health authorities during a qualifying soccer match for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 at Neo Quimica Arena stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Sept.5, 2021. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
Argentina's Lionel Messi, center, Brazil's Neymar, left, and Argentina's coach Lionel Scaloni talk as the soccer game is interrupted by health authorities during a qualifying soccer match for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 at Neo Quimica Arena stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Sept.5, 2021. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

SAO PAULO (AP) — Leader Brazil and second-place Argentina will return to action in World Cup qualifiers on Thursday as fallout from the chaos of their suspended game on Sunday continues.

Just minutes into their match on Sunday, a Brazilian health official entered the pitch to remove four Argentina players he considered should be in quarantine due to COVID-19 protocols. FIFA has opened an investigation, and soccer bodies of both countries have questions to answer.

Third-place Ecuador visits Uruguay, while Colombia faces Chile in encounters that could be key for the teams’ chances to go to Qatar next year.

Brazil has 21 points and Argentina has 15 in seven matches. Ecuador (13), Colombia (12) and Uruguay (10) follow, but they’ve all played eight matches.

And sixth-place Paraguay will take on bottom-of-the-table Venezuela. The four best-positioned teams will secure a spot in the next World Cup. The fifth place will play in an international playoff.

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BRAZIL vs PERU

Wednesday’s training in Recife hinted that Brazil will start with the same lineup that played less than 7 minutes against Argentina on Sunday. Weverton, Danilo, Éder Militão, Lucas Veríssimo and Alex Sandro; Casemiro, Gerson, Everton Ribeiro and Lucas Paquetá; Neymar and Gabriel Barbosa.

Defender Marquinhos was expected to play at the Arena Pernambuco after a one-match suspension against Argentina. But the Brazilian soccer confederation concluded it would be safer to release him from duty.

Right-back Danilo was the first Seleção player to speak about Sunday’s chaos. That was still on the minds of players for the match against Peru.

“We had no feeling that the match wouldn’t take place,” Danilo said. “We were always sure it would. But my opinion about that being a no show or not is irrelevant. CBF’s legal department has all the leads, evidence to make the best decision. We have to turn the page, think about Peru.”

ARGENTINA vs BOLIVIA

Argentina managed to bring four Premier League players — those involved in the mess in Brazil — for these three qualifiers, unlike other teams of the region.

But they were gone as of Monday including three starters from the Brazil match: goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez, defender Cristian Romero and midfielder Giovanni Lo Celso.

Coach Lionel Scaloni said Wednesday they were all released two days earlier because they were worried about their clubs. He said coaches and national soccer bodies will meet to find a solution before the October qualifiers.

“These situations should not happen again. Those kids have shown their will to play, but we should not put them in these difficult situations. They have to come with their minds clear, with no concerns of that kind,” said Scaloni, who did not name their replacements against Bolivia.

Argentina also lost Martinez’ substitute in goal. Franco Armani is out due to a knee injury.

Argentina will have extra support of 17,000 fans in the stands of the Monumental Stadium. It has been 20 months that local stadia have been emptied by the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be Argentina’s first home match since winning the latest Copa America — its first major title in 28 years — in July.

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AP journalist Debora Rey contributed to this report from Buenos Aires.

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