Brazil hope to ‘contain’ Lionel Messi in World Cup qualifier

The fierce rivalry between Brazil and Argentina will hit fever pitch when Lionel Messi‘s world champions face the struggling hosts in a mouth-watering South American World Cup qualifying clash in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday.

However, Brazil’s caretaker manager Fernando Diniz has no false hopes of stopping Argentine talisman Messi.

“Sure, you can’t not worry about a player of that magnitude. But we have to play our game as we try to contain all the creative capacity he has,” Diniz told a press conference on Monday.

“Dealing with Messi is obviously different and you have to worry. It’s impossible not to worry about a player of his stature and the decision-making power he has.”

Five-time World Cup winners Brazil will rely on their fans in a sold-out Maracana stadium to give them an extra boost to recover after losing back-to-back games in the qualifying competition for the first time in their history.

As they struggle with injuries to key players like Neymar and Vinícius Júnior, Diniz must resort to a young team against Argentina, but one that he guarantees will stay true to Brazil’s identity even against a great like Messi.

Diniz said he expected a great, but heated, atmosphere at the Maracana, with the fans looking forward to Brazil avenging the Copa America final defeat by Argentina two years ago.

Winless in the last three games, Brazil have dropped to fifth in the South American standings on seven points from five games after losing 2-1 to Colombia on Thursday.

They are under heavy pressure as they prepare for long-time rivals Argentina, who top the standings on 12 points.

“I hope we play well and the fans can play along with the team creating a great environment,” Diniz said. “We are prepared to play a team that, if they are not the best [team in the world], they are one of the best. And they have been for a while, not just because they won the World Cup.

“They have players in the biggest leagues, used to the limelight. And there’s Messi … It’s a team that’s been playing well for a long time, a winning cycle and one that has maintained its base.

“We acknowledge that and we’re going to prepare to do our best against a great opponent.”

Despite not featuring in the match due to injury, Vinícius stepped up his own personal fight against racism on Monday by launching a campaign under the slogan “Racism, don’t pretend you don’t see it” on billboards across the country for Black Awareness Day.

The Real Madrid player, who has been racially abused regularly in LaLiga games, received the Socrates Award last month for starting a foundation that is building schools in Brazil in impoverished areas and investing in education.

Alongside the campaign he has also launched through his foundation the “Anti-Racism Education Handbook,” which aims to help schools make the educational environment more inclusive and avoid stereotypes that foster prejudice.

The 23-year-old winger, who will head a special FIFA anti-racism committee, has advocated harsher punishments for discriminatory behaviour in football, prompting the Rio de Janeiro government to name a law after him that will see sporting events stopped or suspended for racist conduct.