Royal rumble

Royal rumble
Argentina's midfielder Javier Mascherano controls the ball during a training session in Ezeiza, Buenos Aires, on November 10, 2015.

For 90 minutes, life in Argentina will come to a standstill.

The Monumental Stadium in Buenos Aires will be packed tomorrow morning (Singapore time) and, from Cordoba to Belo Horizonte, all eyes will be glued to the television sets, hearts thumping over the action on the football pitch.

Argentina will host Brazil in the latest edition of the battle of the South American giants, football's equivalent of a galactic collision.

The bad blood between the two bitter rivals guarantees maximum commitment on the pitch, and raw passion off it.

Depending on the result, one nation will be filled with hysterical joy, the other anguish.


In what is shaping up to be the toughest World Cup qualifying campaign in South American history, the stakes have been raised even higher because both teams have run into trouble early.

Argentina must make home advantage count, after losing 2-0 to Ecuador and only managing a 0-0 draw with Paraguay in their first two qualifiers.

Brazil kicked off their campaign with a 2-0 defeat by Chile, before recovering to beat Venezuela 3-1.

With Chile and Colombia the rising stars of the continent, and Paraguay and Uruguay also contenders, the margin for error for Argentina and Brazil is small.

Only four automatic qualifying spots are available for the continent, with the fifth-placed team entering a play-off with a nation from Oceania.

Still chasing his first win in this campaign, under-pressure Argentina coach Gerardo Martino has his work cut out against their arch-rivals.

His team will enter battle without injured superstar Lionel Messi and star striker Sergio Aguero.

Well-travelled hitman Carlos Tevez, and possibly Javier Pastore, are both almost certain to miss out, as well.

Said Martino: "We'll have to change our mindset to beat Brazil."

With the likes of Angel di Maria, Nicolas Otamendi and Gonzalo Higuain set to lead the team, last year's World Cup finalists won't be raising the white flag, though.

Martino will count on the traditional Argentine tenacity.

The country will draw on the memory of the 1990 World Cup second-round clash, where a Diego Maradona-led Argentina carved out a 1-0 win over the Selecao against the run of play.

Brazil will also not entertain the thought of defeat.


The memory of Argentinians delighting in Brazil's 7-1 World Cup semi-final rout by Germany last year, on home soil, still sears.

Brazil coach Dunga has to make do without injured defenders Marcelo and Marquinhos, but the return of talisman Neymar after a four-game suspension is the biggest boost he can wish for.

Neymar's breathtaking displays for Barcelona - 10 goals in his last seven appearances - have highlighted exactly what Brazil have been missing in their qualifying campaign so far.

The fine form of Willian and Douglas Costa gives Brazil even more reason to be hopeful, even if they will play in a cauldron of hate raining down from the stands.

This is a golden chance to inflict serious damage on enemy territory.

It is both business, and personal.

Said Dunga: "When we come up against Argentina, it is always a war."

He should know.

On that Sunday afternoon in 1990 at the Stadio Delle Alpi in Italy, he was one of the Brazilian players who was embarrassed by the Argentinians.

His counterpart Martino can ill afford another defeat.

One more could send him straight through the exit door.

Brazil will certainly love to have a part to play in that.

This article was first published on November 12, 2015.
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