The 2022 World Cup is now just 12 months away, with qualifying entering its closing stages following a series of crunch November clashes.

Difficulties still await Italy and Portugal – the past two European champions – in the play-offs, but most of the other big names are well on their way if they have not already confirmed their place in Qatar.

So, how are the expected contenders shaping up? Stats Perform investigates.

Argentina

Having finally ended his long wait for a senior international honour at this year's Copa America, Qatar looks like Lionel Messi's last realistic chance to guide Argentina to World Cup glory. They last triumphed in 1986, in the days of Diego Maradona.

But the brilliant Barcelona form that has been the bedrock of Messi's outstanding career is no more. Since clinching the Copa, the forward has left Camp Nou for Paris Saint-Germain and played just 595 minutes across eight games at club level, scoring three goals and assisting none. Heading into this weekend, he had yet to net in Ligue 1.

At odds with the rest of his career, Messi has briefly become one of those players who performs better for country than for club, scoring four goals in seven games for Argentina in the same period, even allowing for the minutes spent regaining fitness in November. But the national team must be concerned Messi's unconvincing displays and shaky recent fitness record hint at a decline that could continue for another year before he gets an opportunity to lead a global title charge.

Although Argentina undoubtedly have other highly talented players – Messi was one of four to make the Team of the Tournament as they become South American champions – it is tough to imagine a successful Albiceleste side without the great number 10 at the heart of it.

 

Belgium

Roberto Martinez's Belgium remain the world's top-ranked team, but it feels like their window for a first major title might now have passed.

Martinez took charge after Euro 2016, where a stacked squad lost to Wales in the last eight, yet he has found a glass ceiling, finishing third at the 2018 World Cup and fourth at the 2020-21 Nations League either side of another quarter-final exit at Euro 2020. Since a disappointing performance at the Nations League Finals, Martinez has been linked to a host of club roles – albeit he is expected to stay put until Qatar.

Although Belgium's 'Golden Generation' have maintained their position at the top of the game despite an ageing defence, there are worrying signs their key attacking players could also be on the wane.

Through a combination of injuries and poor form, Eden Hazard has not looked the same player since he left Chelsea for Real Madrid. Kevin De Bruyne, also beset by fitness issues and below-par outings of late, will hope not to follow the same path. Both he and Romelu Lukaku must still be at their peak to give the Red Devils a chance.

Brazil

Brazil were outclassed by Belgium in the quarter-finals in Russia but have lost just three matches since then. One of those was in this year's Copa final against Argentina, although the Selecao also won the competition in 2019.

Unlike previous Brazil teams, Tite's side are built on the strength of their defensive record. They have kept 28 clean sheets since the 2018 World Cup, conceding just 16 times in 42 games, with 11 shutouts in 2021 alone.

However, that solidity comes at a price. Brazil are scoring at a relatively unspectacular rate of 2.0 goals per game, including netting only two in their three Copa knockout games in July and just one across two November qualifiers.

Neymar will have a key role in producing those timely moments of magic and should not be short of motivation heading to Qatar, having suggested this will be his last World Cup. The forward has excelled on the world stage before without taking Brazil all the way.

England

As so often, England have qualified with relative ease, benefiting from a kind draw, but will not face a true test until the tournament comes around.

That means a wait to see if Gareth Southgate can make the necessary tweaks to turn the Three Lions from nearly men into champions, with the midfield a key area of focus having ceded 65.4 per cent of the possession to Italy in the Euro 2020 final, 53.2 per cent to the Netherlands in the 2018-19 Nations League semi-finals and 55.5 per cent to Croatia in the 2018 World Cup semis. The continued development of Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham should encourage optimism.

But England also find themselves in a position, like Argentina, where the performances of their talismanic captain are suddenly a concern – at least at club level.

Harry Kane has so far this season used the international breaks as sweet relief, quickly closing on Wayne Rooney's record goals tally by scoring in 15 consecutive qualifiers up to September and notching seven in November alone, but there is a break now before March's fixtures and the forward simply must rediscover some sort of form for Tottenham and add to his single Premier League goal in order to return to the England fold in good nick.

 

France

Welcoming Karim Benzema back into a frightening front line, France appear to have an even more impressive line-up than at the previous World Cup, where they emerged as champions.

Benzema has already directly combined for five goals with Kylian Mbappe and one with Antoine Griezmann, who has in turn linked up once with Mbappe. The trio netted nine of France's 10 goals this month, while Mbappe had assists for each of Benzema's strikes at the Nations League Finals as both players scored in both matches and Les Bleus twice came from behind to take the title.

Yet those prior deficits and the six goals conceded at the Euros hinted at the weaknesses in this France side, as Didier Deschamps is still working on his new 3-4-1-2 formation.

The composition of the midfield in that team is crucial, and N'Golo Kante was missing against Belgium and Spain before Paul Pogba suffered an injury prior to the November fixtures. France have no shortage of quality but may not head to Qatar as the most settled unit.

Germany

It was clear Joachim Low's Germany tenure was reaching its natural conclusion before he announced his departure plans in March. That the team followed up a group-stage exit at the World Cup by stumbling through their pool at the Euros before exiting to England only further illustrated that this was the right decision.

But Germany know all about recovering quickly from such setbacks; they seemed to reach rock bottom at Euro 2000 and were in the World Cup final two years later.

Now Hansi Flick, having set Bayern Munich back on course, is excelling again with the national team, becoming the first Germany coach to win his first six matches in charge – a sequence that now stands at seven and counting. The team's last longer winning run ended at 12 games in 1980.

Germany were the most aggressive pressing side in Europe during qualifying, this despite naming their oldest XI in more than 21 years in a recent qualifier against Liechtenstein. Striking this same balance between energy and experience will be key in Qatar.

Spain

Spain have come a long way since the last World Cup, where they appeared to be in crisis from start to finish, eventually exiting to hosts Russia on penalties.

Luis Enrique's subsequent work across two spells has made them contenders again, reaching the last four at the Euros – only to again fall foul of a shoot-out – and briefly leading France in the Nations League final. The emergence of Ansu Fati, Pedri and Gavi over the course of these campaigns provides a major cause for long-term optimism, too.

However, injury issues have kept that trio from ever featuring together for their country; in fact, Fati, Pedri and Gavi are yet to play a single minute together for Barcelona.

They were three of 39 players to appear for Spain in qualifying, showing the depth of talent at Luis Enrique's disposal. Within that group, however, there is not a prolific goalscorer – a major concern with 12 months to go.

And so, the countdown begins…

The 2022 World Cup is just over a year away, with Qatar set to begin the tournament against a still-to-be-decided opponent on November 21, 2022.

Even writing it feels strange. A World Cup… starting in November. But that is the reality, with Qatar's controversial – to put it kindly – hosting of the competition effectively rendering a tournament in June/July impossible due to the conditions.

With only a year to go, 13 of the competing nations (including Qatar) have confirmed their qualification, including record five-time winners Brazil and defending champions France.

Of course, most countries will have a fairly settled group of players, but a year is a long time in football, and a few newcomers will make the breakthrough.

As such, Stats Perform has identified 11 uncapped players who could break into their respective national teams by this time in 2022, and those players' progress will be tracked over the next 12 months in follow-up features.

Without any further ado, here are the chosen players...

Luis Maximiano (Portugal) – 22, goalkeeper, Granada

Yes, yes, Maximiano's inclusion here already implies a massive assumption that Portugal will even make it to Qatar, given their 2-1 home defeat by Serbia left them needing to go through the play-offs.

Nevertheless, it's reasonable to expect them to make it, and if they do, Maximiano may fancy himself as being in with a shot, particularly after a strong start to 2021-22.

He replaced compatriot Rui Silva – who left for Real Betis – between the posts at Granada after falling out of favour at Sporting CP, and he's showing his quality.

 

According to Opta's xGOT (expected goals on target) conceded data, Maximiano has already prevented 3.7 goals in LaLiga this season, the second-most in the division.

Of course, such metrics are weighted in favour of goalkeepers in teams are that kept defensively busy, and Granada are 17th in LaLiga, but we can create a fairer comparison by standardising for the number of shots each keeper faced by looking at their 'goals prevented rate'.

Maximiano's goals prevented rate of 1.37 means he was expected to concede 1.37 goals for every goal actually conceded, and again this is the second best in the league this season.

His shot-stopping abilities have reportedly caught the attention of Barcelona, and given Portugal's lack of a standout goalkeeper (and that's including first-choice Rui Patricio), Maximiano certainly isn't out of the running for Qatar 2022.

Jonathan Clauss (France) – 29, right-back, Lens

Football loves a late bloomer; maybe it's because they convince some of us we can still make it as a professional player. Lens star Clauss is a fascinating embodiment of the phenomenon.

Now 29, Clauss did not make his top-flight debut until the start of 2020-21, but it's fair to say he's been a revelation in a Lens side who have truly captured the imagination since they were promoted back to Ligue 1 in 2019-20 – 13 games into the current campaign, they're second to PSG.

A year out from Qatar 2022, Clauss is being mentioned in France media conferences, with Didier Deschamps last week asked why he wasn't called up. Of course, the coach's decision to go with options he knows when qualification wasn't assured is fair enough, but the Lens man is seemingly now in contention.

He has already had a hand in eight Ligue 1 goals this season, with six assists the joint-most in the division. His positivity on the flank as a wing-back is proving a massive asset to Lens, for whom he also set up six goals last term.

Of course, his greater comfort as a wing-back rather than an orthodox full-back may in the long run count against him, but Clauss is demonstrably effective going forward – usual France right-back options Benjamin Pavard and Leo Dubois aren't, and that may be his 'in'.

 

Bremer (Brazil) – 24, centre-back, Torino

Playing in a generally poor team can go one of two ways for a centre-back: you're either considered a big part of the problem, or you thrive because you're given more opportunities to show your strengths.

For Bremer in a Torino team that have finished 16th and 17th in the past two seasons, it's definitely been the latter.

The 24-year-old has reportedly attracted the interest of numerous Premier League clubs, with Liverpool seemingly the team that are most keen.

While he's not a particularly great progressor of the ball, his 4.9 passes into the final third per 90 minutes since the start of last season being almost half the figures of the highest-ranking Serie A defenders, Bremer is a reliable centre-back first and foremost.

His four clearances per game is up there with the best (only one player averages more than 4.7), while Bremer's positional sense is highlighted by 2.6 interceptions every 90 minutes, a figure bettered by only five defenders (min. 1,000 minutes played since 2020-21 started).

Similarly, the centre-back wins 3.2 aerial duels per 90 minutes, which again is the sixth-highest among that group of defenders.

Brazil don't have outstanding depth at centre-back, all the more reason why Bremer is in with a shot – a move to Liverpool or another 'giant' would only help his cause.

Sven Botman (Netherlands) – 21, centre-back, Lille

Ball-playing centre-backs grow on trees in the Netherlands, or so you'd think. Botman is another off the very reliable production line, having come through the esteemed ranks at Ajax.

Lille signed him for roughly €9million in July 2020 after he enjoyed a promising loan spell with Heerenveen, and he went on to play in all but one Ligue 1 match as Les Dogues won the title.

Life's been a little tougher for Lille this term following the loss of coach Christophe Galtier to Nice, but Botman remains a key player and retains a fine reputation from 2020-21.

Since the start of last season, his 1,295 forward passes is the second most in the division and he ranks 11th for the most ball carries (635).

He's a progressive centre-back who offers plenty of forward-thinking but is also reliable when it comes to getting stuck in.

Over the same period, he's come out on top in 67.8 per cent of his duels, which is the second-best success rate among players to have engaged in at least 150.

Granted, the Netherlands' centre-back options are deep, but Botman's been in the squad before and there's little doubt he would be a good fit for them stylistically.

Angelino (Spain) – 24, left-back, RB Leipzig

It may surprise a few people to learn Angelino has never played for Spain. In fact, he's never even received a call-up to the senior side.

Let's not forget, Spain are blessed with a lot of quality in left-back and wing-back roles. Currently, Jordi Alba, Marcos Alonso, Jose Gaya and Sergio Reguilon are the favoured options, but Angelino is arguably in better form than any of them.

All five players are probably at their best as wing-backs rather than full-backs, and Luis Enrique's current system does allow for such players, which is another reason for Angelino's suitability. Then it comes down to effectiveness on the pitch.

Since the start of last season, in league competition Angelino tops a host of attacking metrics among the aforementioned players. He creates 2.2 chances per 90 minutes on average, with Alonso and Alba next on 1.6.

While Angelino's 0.16 assists every 90 minutes is lower than Alba's 0.22, the Leipzig man is seemingly being let down by poor finishing as his expected assists each game is 0.31 – again, this is the highest.

On a per-90-minute basis, Angelino creates the most chances from open play (1.6), plays the most crosses (5.5) and passes into the box (9.9) most frequently among this group.

Of course, this is partly explained by him playing slightly further forward than his counterparts, but Spain spend most of the time on the ball anyway – having someone as effective as Angelino in attack must be a consideration for Luis Enrique.

 

Riqui Puig (Spain) – 22, midfielder, Barcelona

It feels like Puig has been around for a long time, because even before he was around the first-team squad, Barca fans were singing his praises.

He had been considered as potentially their next legendary midfielder, such was his blend of technical excellence and fine passing skills, two staples of Barca's La Masia academy.

But it's not quite worked out that way.

In the past three seasons, he's only played more than 300 minutes over the course of a LaLiga campaign once, under Quique Setien in 2019-20. While he did feature in 14 league games for Ronald Koeman last term, that amounted to 283 minutes at an average of 20.2 mins in each appearance, and that did not improve this term prior to the Dutchman's sacking.

So, why is he even on this list?

Well, as much as anything because his progress will be intriguing to watch once again now that Xavi is at the helm. If there's anyone who can appreciate Puig's qualities, it'll surely be him.

Christopher Nkunku (France) – 24, midfielder, RB Leipzig

While Nkunku has generally been considered a versatile central midfielder for much of his career, he's excelled in a slightly different role since Jesse Marsch's introduction as Leipzig coach.

He's operated more from the flanks and is getting into the opposition's penalty area with greater frequency, his touches in the box up from 5.2 per 90 minutes to 7.7 this season.

As such, he's getting more shots away in the area (2.2 every 90 minutes, up from 1.7) and that's unsurprisingly led to an increased xG average of 0.45 each game.

He's already got 11 goals across all competitions, four more than he managed in 2020-21, suggesting the change in role is paying dividends, though he remains an able option in the middle such is his quality on the ball and ability to break forward.

In each of the past two seasons, Nkunku didn't manage to start more than 21 league games, but he's already on 11 this term. He's maturing and seemingly found his niche – now all he needs is that elusive first call-up.

 

Alan Velasco (Argentina) – 19, winger, Independiente

Lionel Scaloni has restored a significant amount of respect for Argentina's national team, guiding them to Copa America success earlier this year – that was their first international title at senior level in 28 years.

During his three years in charge, Scaloni has used 75 different players in matches, which shows both the wealth of options he has but also how willing he is to give individuals a chance.

In attack is arguably where Argentina's depth is greatest, but Independiente talent Velasco is surely one of the likeliest to earn a first cap over the next 12 months.

A positive and direct left-winger who likes to cut inside onto his right foot, Velasco has been enjoying something of a breakthrough season in Argentina's Primera Division, particularly during the second stage.

 

He has five goal involvements (one goal, four assists) since mid-July, with no one in the division managing to set up more than five in the entire year, and he has unsurprisingly become a bit of a target for opponents, as highlighted by his 2.9 fouls suffered every 90 minutes being the third-most among players with at least five appearances.

But that doesn't deter him. His 41 chances created is the third highest in the division, and the most among under-21 players, while his 91 dribbles completed and 4.8 per 90 minutes are both league highs.

Velasco also works hard off the ball, making 47 recoveries in the opposition's half, which is fifth among all players. The teenager is a big talent who also boasts strong work ethic – Scaloni will surely have him earmarked as one to watch.

Cade Cowell (United States) – 18, forward, San Jose Earthquakes

There aren't many countries in the world producing more exciting young talent than the United States at the moment, with their squads for the next few World Cups shaping up to be very promising.

While 2022 will probably come too soon for Cowell – arguably the wildcard of this list – he certainly shouldn't be written off, given he has already spent time training with the senior squad before.

A dynamic, quick and strong attacker who play out wide as well, Cowell is the third-youngest player in MLS history to reach 50 appearances, having reached that landmark at 18 years and 16 days old. Only Freddy Adu (16y, 2m, 25d) and Alphonso Davies (17y, 7m) got there quicker.

 

This season, despite only starting for 14 of his 33 MLS appearances, Cowell has amassed 11 goal involvements (five goals, six assists), which only Jesus Ferreira (17 – 8g, 9a) and Ricardo Pepi (16 – 13g, 3a) can better among under-21 players.

There's no mistaking Cowell is very much a rough diamond. He doesn't create a huge amount of chances (1.3 per 90 mins), his duels (32.2 per cent) and dribble (47.6 per cent) success rates aren't great, but he's young and raw. Improvements here should come naturally, and a big 2022 might just propel him into a national side that's not afraid to give youngsters a chance.

 

Amine Gouiri (France) – 21, forward, Nice

If there's one team in international football that would be the toughest to break into as a forward, it's probably France, but Gouiri looks special.

It now looks utterly astonishing that Nice managed to get him for as little as an initial €7million from Lyon in 2020, and the versatile forward – who is comfortable on the left or through the middle – is enjoying the kind of consistency not always associated with young players.

The 2020-21 season was his first as a regular starter in top-flight football and he went on to score a highly respectable 12 goals. While that failed to match his 14.6 expected goals (xG), perhaps showing a degree of inexperience, he did also lay on seven assists.

 

Once again, Gouiri's goals haul of six is a little behind his xG (8.1), suggesting a hint of wastefulness, but only three players are providing greater service than him, with his 3.3 expected assists (xA) ranking high.

Technically, Gouiri is exceptional and explosive, and this undoubtedly helps him create openings and space in the final third, with his combined average of 0.97 expected goals and assists every 90 minutes this season the second-highest in Ligue 1.

Gouiri is too good to never play for France – it's only a matter of time until he gets the call-up, and if he carries on his current trajectory for the next 12 months, Qatar will beckon.

 

Matias Arezo (Uruguay) – 18, forward, River Plate (URU)

Uruguay has produced some truly great strikers down the years. After more of a barren spell in that regard since Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez came through, there is once again a cause for optimism with Darwin Nunez, Agustin Alvarez and, arguably chief among them, Arezo.

The teenager turns 19 this November, so he's still got lots to learn and much room for growth, but the early signs are hugely promising – his stocky appearance, powerful style of play and feistiness (13 yellow cards over 2020 and 2021) have earned him the nickname 'Buffalo', and he's already a reliable source of goals despite his youth.

Arezo scored 13 times in 35 Uruguayan Primera appearances last term – he's matched that haul from 26 outings this year. For comparison's sake, Suarez got 10 in 27 in his first full season in the division with Nacional, while Cavani recorded nine in 25 appearances for Danubio before moving to Europe.

Qatar 2022 will almost certainly be the last World Cup for Suarez and Cavani if Uruguay make it, so they are likely to be involved – but otherwise, La Celeste's forward options are up in the air.

Arezo has been coping well in the physical competitiveness of South America's domestic football and must be in with a great shout of forcing his way into contention for the mission to Qatar.

Brazil head coach Tite blasted the video assistant referee (VAR) and labelled it "inconceivable" that Nicolas Otamendi was not sent off for an elbow in Tuesday's 0-0 2022 World Cup qualifier draw with Argentina.

Raphinha was floored and left bloodied after the 34th-minute incident where Otamendi flailed his arm into the Brazilian midfielder's face.

Otamendi lifted Raphinha to his feet with no sanction from referee Andres Cunha, nor any VAR intervention in the aftermath leaving Tite flabbergasted.

"It's impossible not to see the elbow. Was it decisive in the result? I do not know," Tite said during the post-game news conference.

"Was it a great match for both teams? It was. Great game between them. Tradition, technical quality. Now, there's a component that has to be equal, for those who have the discernment to see.

"But a high-level VAR referee cannot work like this. It is inconceivable, and that is not the term I want to use, but I use it because I am educated."

The result in San Juan leaves already-qualified Brazil six points clear of second-placed Argentina in the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying standings.

Argentina officially earned their spot in Qatar one hour after full-time when Chile were beaten 2-0 at home by Ecuador.

Brazil return to action away to Ecuador in late January when CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying resumes.

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni celebrated a "magnificent year" after the Copa America champions qualified for the 2022 World Cup.

Despite a goalless draw at home to already-qualified rivals Brazil, Argentina booked their spot at Qatar 2022 after Colombia, Uruguay and Chile all failed to win in CONMEBOL on Tuesday.

It caps a successful 2021 for two-time world champions Argentina, who ended their 28-year wait for silverware by dethroning Brazil in July's Copa America final.

"This was a magnificent year," Scaloni – who matched Alejandro Sabella for the country's second longest undefeated run in CONMEBOL qualifying amid a 13-game streak, said. "Winning the Copa, qualifying for the World Cup unbeaten. It was a dream."

"We got four points against two very difficult rivals. We all like to win of course but these games help a team to mature. Without a doubt, the balance is positive.

"Having qualified so far in advance, in a really difficult qualifying section, is something we should be proud of."

Lionel Messi returned to the line-up but was unable to inspire Argentina, who played out a stalemate with Brazil in San Juan to extend their unbeaten streak to 27 matches across all competitions.

That underwhelming performance left Argentina waiting to discover their World Cup fate, though La Albiceleste only had to wait less than an hour following 10-man Chile's 2-0 loss at home to Ecuador.

Argentina – searching for their first world crown since 1986 – are second in the CONMEBOL standings with five matches remaining, six points behind leaders Brazil and six clear of third-placed Ecuador.

Eliminated in the last-16 stage at Russia 2018, Argentina and Brazil have both played a game less following September's qualifier in Sao Paulo, which was sensationally abandoned after Scaloni's men left the field as Brazilian health officials tried to detain visiting players due to coronavirus regulations.

After his subdued performance, superstar captain Messi – who missed Paris Saint-Germain's two matches prior to the international break – allayed his fitness concerns.

"I'm fine otherwise I wouldn't have played," Messi said before learning Argentina had qualified after the South American powerhouse made it six games without conceding – their longest streak in qualifying.

"I've been standing for a long time and it's not easy to play a game with as much pace as this one.

"Luckily I'm fine and I know that little by little I'm going to pick up the pace. I hope I can finish the year well."

Argentina qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, despite playing out a goalless draw with CONMEBOL rivals Brazil.

Lionel Messi returned to the line-up but he was unable to inspire Argentina, who played out a stalemate against Qatar-bound Brazil in San Juan on Tuesday.

That underwhelming performance left Copa America champions Argentina waiting to discover their World Cup fate.

Argentina only had to wait less than an hour as 10-man Chile lost 2-0 at home to Ecuador, sealing La Albiceleste's qualification after Colombia and Uruguay also failed to win.

Lionel Scaloni's Argentina – riding a 27-game unbeaten streak – are second in the CONMEBOL standings with five matches remaining, six points behind leaders Brazil and six clear of third-placed Ecuador.

Argentina and Brazil have both played a game less following September's qualifier in Sao Paulo, which was sensationally abandoned after Scaloni's men left the field as Brazilian health officials tried to detain visiting players due to coronavirus regulations.

Having ended their 28-year wait for silverware via July's Copa America, Messi's Argentina will now look to conquer the World Cup.

Two-time champions Argentina – eliminated in the round of 16 at Russia 2018 – have not won the World Cup since Diego Maradona inspired the country to 1986 glory, though they reached the final in 2014.

Argentina and Brazil played out an underwhelming 0-0 draw as the Copa America champions missed the chance to secure World Cup qualification.

Meeting for the first time since September's fixture was sensationally abandoned in Sao Paulo after Argentina left the field as Brazilian health officials tried to detain visiting players, La Albiceleste had the opportunity to earn a trip to Qatar 2022 following Colombia's draw against Paraguay.

However, despite Lionel Messi's return to the starting XI on Tuesday, Argentina were unable to breach CONMEBOL leaders Brazil, who were already assured of a spot at next year's tournament.

Argentina could still qualify on Tuesday if Chile lose to Ecuador later on Tuesday.

Chances were few and far between after a cagey start between Argentina and Brazil in San Juan, where neither goalkeeper was really tested in the opening half as Neymar sat out for the Selecao due to a thigh injury.

However, there was a big moment involving Argentina defender Nicolas Otamendi and Brazil's Raphinha as the game came to life approaching half-time.

Raphinha went down in a heap and was left bleeding after coping a blow from Otamendi, but the former Manchester City centre-back escaped punishment.

Alisson almost gifted Argentina a chance to break the deadlock after failing to catch a cross but Brazil managed to clear their lines, while the Liverpool keeper took a boot to the face minutes before the interval.

Fred went close to making the breakthrough for Brazil on the hour – the ball fell to the Manchester United midfielder on the edge of the box and his volley hit the crossbar.

There was another opening for Brazil with 19 minutes remaining, but Vinicius Junior's effort was straight at Emiliano Martinez.

Neymar will miss his meeting with Lionel Messi after being ruled out of the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifier against Argentina due to an adductor injury, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) announced.

Brazil – already assured of a Qatar 2022 berth – will meet Argentina in San Juan on Tuesday, with a win for Messi's men all but guaranteeing World Cup qualification.

After coming off the bench against Uruguay last time out, Messi will definitely play a part for Copa America champions Argentina, according to head coach Lionel Scaloni.

However, Brazil superstar and Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Neymar – who teed up Lucas Paqueta for the winning goal against Colombia – will not be involved because of a thigh injury.

"After training at the Palmeiras Football Academy this Monday morning, athlete Neymar Jr. complained of pain in the adductor region of his left thigh," the CBF said.

"Neymar Jr. reported insecurity with the situation and because there was not enough time to carry out complementary exams, the technical committee chose to preserve the player, who will not travel with the Brazilian team's delegation to San Juan, location of Tuesday's game against Argentina."

Brazil and Argentina will meet for the first time since September's World Cup qualifier was sensationally abandoned in Sao Paulo.

The top-of-the-table fixture was halted following an apparent breach of coronavirus regulations, Argentina naming three Premier League players in their starting line-up – Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez and Tottenham pair Cristian Romero and Giovani Lo Celso – amid travel restrictions.

Despite the rulings, Martinez, Romero and Lo Celso were all starters for Argentina, with Brazilian health officials quickly acting by entering the pitch shortly after the match had started.

A subsequent melee ensued, and the visitors eventually left the field and did not return, Brazil playing out a training fixture among one another.

Looking ahead to Tuesday's showdown, Brazil head coach Tite told reporters: "It is hard to get the dimension of it. I don’t know how it was from the Argentinian side of it. Everything that happened. I am sorry about the fact that the match didn't happen.

"But now we have all the facts and understand why it didn't happen. I have all this very clear: before football, health is more important, laws exist and the correction of the facts. All these happened. I don't know how they face this situation because it is very particular.

"I can say that Brazil v Argentina is a huge match. Historically, it is huge. A lot of quality on both sides. The two best campaigns, a lot of technical quality individually from both teams."

Lionel Scaloni has confirmed Lionel Messi will definitely play a part in Argentina's World Cup qualifier against Brazil.

The rival nations meet for the first time since this year's Copa America final, which Argentina won 1-0, when they face off in San Juan on Tuesday.

Both teams have identical records since that final, each winning five of their six qualifiers. A clash between the pair in Sao Paulo in September was suspended due to coronavirus restrictions relating to Argentina's England-based players.

Already-qualified Brazil sit top of the CONMEBOL standings on 34 points, six clear of Scaloni's team, who defeated Uruguay on Friday.

Given the 12-point gap between Argentina and fifth-placed Colombia, who occupy the play-off spot, a win would all but guarantee their place in Qatar next year. Dropped points for two of Chile, versus Ecuador, Colombia, against Paraguay, and Uruguay, in Bolivia, would make the picture clearer still.

Messi, whose selection in Argentina's squad "did not make sense" – according to Paris Saint-Germain sporting director Leonardo – due to the 34-year-old's recent injury issues, came on as a 76th-minute substitute in the win over Uruguay.

Scaloni explained he had used Messi sparingly in order to keep him in top condition for Tuesday's clash with Brazil, and the coach confirmed in his pre-match news conference the former Barcelona superstar would certainly play, albeit he did not reveal if he would start.

"It is confirmed that Messi will play tomorrow," Scaloni told reporters on Monday.

On the challenge his team face, Scaloni said: "This Brazilian team is one of the most direct in recent times.

"They have already qualified for the World Cup, and we know how difficult this game is going to be.

"You have to always play the same, it is not worth it for me that a player of mine plays in one way against Venezuela and another against Brazil. Football is always the same regardless of the rival.

"I don't think the rest of the rivals in the qualifiers are less than Brazil. They are all very difficult games.

"There are always things to correct. Our goal is that the players do not relax, that they know that there are things to improve."

While Messi will play, Argentina may be without Paulo Dybala, who was taken off at half-time against Uruguay.

"Paulo came with a blow and at half-time of the game we decided to take him out, it was not worth risking it. Now we are waiting to see what [injury] he has," Scaloni added.

The only similarity between Portugal and Brazil is that they will both have a 2022 World Cup spot secured by Sunday, according to Fernando Santos. 

Brazil booked their place in Qatar on Thursday with a 1-0 victory over Colombia, their 11th win in 12 qualifiers through which they have remained undefeated. 

Despite having accrued six points more than closest rivals Argentina, Tite's side receive regular criticism for a pragmatic approach and lack of flair. 

Portugal have come under fire for similar reasons during their World Cup qualifying campaign, with a 0-0 draw against the Republic of Ireland on Thursday doing little to assuage the frustration. 

A draw against Serbia at the Estadio da Luz on Sunday will be enough for Portugal to secure a place at the World Cup, which Santos believes would then be the only thing his team have in common with Brazil. 

Asked if he felt there were any similarities between Brazil and Portugal, Santos replied: "What I get from that question is that Brazil have qualified and that's what I believe will happen tomorrow with Portugal and we'll be present at the World Cup finals. Other than that, there is no comparison." 

Portugal were held to a 2-2 draw against Serbia in Belgrade back in March and will simply need to avoid defeat to seal top spot in Group A. 

The two teams have met five times since March 2015, with Portugal going unbeaten and claiming three wins.

"The idea cannot be to play for a draw. The two teams will try to win the game. That's what I think," said Santos. 

"I don't think it will be a game of patience. No team will play crazy, not even Serbia who need to win will play like that. 

"But Serbia always play to win. They won't be completely unbalanced. If they get unbalanced, they are taking more risks. 

"The two teams have great ability, but I believe Portugal will win the game." 

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni says he used Lionel Messi off the bench for 15 minutes in Friday's 1-0 win in Uruguay with an eye to Tuesday's World Cup qualifier against Brazil.

Messi had missed the past two games at club level for Paris Saint-Germain with knee and hamstring issues but was used as a 76th-minute substitute against Uruguay.

Scaloni had said in the lead-up to the game that Messi was "good" and "wants to play" but explained afterwards he used him for limited minutes with a view to getting him ready to face Brazil, who are top of the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying standings.

"His entry in the second half serves to get the rhythm ahead of the game with Brazil," Scaloni said during the news conference, when asked about Messi's cameo.

"We decided not to play him in the starting line-up because he's coming off some inactivity and the game was going to be like the one that happened."

The win was Argentina's first in Uruguay in 12 years, extending their unbeaten run to 26 games and was a "giant step" towards World Cup qualification according to Scaloni.

Scaloni said Argentina had won "without playing well" against Uruguay, who he claimed forced the game to be played on their terms.

"There are times when you can't play well because your opponent plays and proposes a type of game, and you have to adapt," he said.

"We adapted to the match that took place. That is a good sign as a team."

Argentina are second in qualifying on 28 points from 12 games, behind Brazil on 34 points from the same number of games. La Albiceleste hold a 12-point buffer on fifth-placed Colombia in the play-offs spot in fifth.

Brazil head coach Tite said the Selecao are pursuing excellence after booking their ticket to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Lucas Paqueta's second-half strike secured a 1-0 win over Colombia on Thursday and Brazil's Qatar 2022 qualification with five games to spare.

Paqueta broke the deadlock 18 minutes from time in Sao Paulo, where he linked up with Neymar to guide Brazil to their 12th match without defeat in the CONMEBOL section of qualifying.

Brazil have now won their last 11 home games in World Cup qualifying – the longest winning streak of any team in CONMEBOL history.

Despite Brazil's World Cup berth already certain, Tite and the five-time world champions are refusing to rest on their laurels ahead of Tuesday's showdown against bitter rivals Argentina.

"Solidity, having creation, having a goal and winning," Tite told reporters. "That is excellence. Creation and scoring, defensive solidity and triumphs. That is what moves us.

"We have to get as close to that. Tomorrow [Friday] we are going to fraternise a little to celebrate the moment."

Tite added: "My greatest joy is sharing the joy. It is priceless when I look at the technical commission, at the people who work in the selection day by day. It is the way, the dignity with which we do our work."

Since taking charge in 2016, former Corinthians boss Tite has overseen 50 wins from 67 matches, with 12 draws and five defeats to go with 2019 Copa America glory.

"The only thing that moves me is doing a whole cycle, something that was not done at the last opportunity," Tite said, in reference to being appointed during Brazil's 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign before losing in the quarter-finals in Russia. "That's what moved me. 

"I didn't volunteer for the selection, my manager didn't go honking in anyone's ear, I worked to get there. I took it halfway through a process, we went all the way, you know the story, I was invited back later for a whole process. Just like I did at Gremio, Corinthians, Caxias.

"Then I thought, I thought, man, maybe my professional trajectory will allow me to do an entire period. That's what moves me."

Paqueta has proved to be an influential member of Tite's Brazil since leaving Serie A giants Milan for Ligue 1's Lyon, where he has rediscovered his best form since the 2020 transfer.

Half of Paqueta's goals for Brazil (three of six) have been assisted by star team-mate Neymar.

"The qualification is the result of work that we have been building back there," Paqueta said. "Our goal was to qualify Brazil for the World Cup, and thank God we managed to do that today."

"I have to adapt to my roles, and that gives me a little more confidence to be fighting for my space," said Paqueta.

"No matter where I play, I hope to do my best. I have to think one step at a time to conquer my space and fulfil my dream of playing the World Cup."

Brazil qualified for the 2022 World Cup after Lucas Paqueta's second-half strike secured a 1-0 victory over Colombia.

Tite's Brazil knew a win on Thursday would book their spot at Qatar 2022 and the Selecao claimed the result they needed in hard-fought fashion on home soil.

Paqueta and Neymar combined for the decisive goal in the 72nd minute as CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying leaders Brazil stayed unbeaten through 12 rounds.

Brazil entered the contest having never lost a game against Colombia in all their previous 13 meetings in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying (W6 D7). However, the Selecao had only won one of their last six games in this fixture.

It was a cagey start in Sao Paulo, where Brazil star Neymar was fortunate to escape punishment after getting into the face of referee Roberto Tobar.

The first half came to life during the closing stages as both teams had chances to open the scoring – Brazil finally got in behind Colombia and Danilo's cross deflected onto the post nine minutes before half-time.

Colombia star Luis Diaz then almost curled a stunning long-range effort into the back of the net three minutes later but it flashed just wide of the post, while Brazil's Marquinhos saw his header narrowly miss the far corner of the net on the stroke of half-time.

Like the opening 45 minutes, there was not much separating the two teams until Paqueta popped up to put Brazil ahead.

After Colombia failed to clear the ball properly, Brazil capitalised with 18 minutes remaining – Neymar playing a one-touch pass through to Paqueta, who managed to find a way past David Ospina in instinctive fashion.

 

What does it mean? Brazil maintain World Cup streak

Brazil have never missed the World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1930 and the five-time champions extended that run thanks to Thursday's win. The South American powerhouse have gone five games without defeat since losing the Copa America final to bitter rivals Argentina in July.

Paqueta continues to star

After a difficult end to his Milan career, Paqueta has returned to form with Lyon in Ligue 1 and it has translated onto the international stage. The 24-year-old has scored four goals for Brazil this year. Half the goals scored by Paqueta for Brazil (three of six) have been assisted by Neymar.

Toothless Colombia

Colombia cannot buy a goal at the moment. La Tricolor have gone four matches without a goal following three consecutive 0-0 draws in qualifying. Colombia last found the back of the net in September's 3-1 win over Chile.

What's next?

Brazil will be back in action against Argentina on Tuesday, while fifth-placed Colombia host Paraguay on the same day.

Brazil head coach Tite said the Selecao were interested in Xavi joining their coaching staff before the Barcelona great returned to Camp Nou as head coach.

Xavi has been tasked with restoring the fortunes of embattled LaLiga giants Barca following his appointment as Ronald Koeman's successor on Saturday.

The 41-year-old spent 17 trophy-laden seasons at Barcelona before moving to Al-Sadd in 2015, eventually taking charge four years later.

After returning to Catalonia, Xavi revealed he turned down the opportunity to join Tite's Brazil ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

As Brazil – six points clear atop the standings – prepare for Thursday's CONMEBOL World Cup qualifier against Colombia, Tite addressed the country's interest.

"I don't have too much information on Xavi to do a deeper analysis," Tite told reporters. "I know him from inside the pitch. And some information from the press that is superficial. I don't know him with the depth I have with my colleagues that I spend every day with. We have to be careful to talk about it.

"What I can say to you is that they talked to me about it. Rogerio Caboclo talked to me about that possibility. And he said that he would talk to Xavi. And I said yes because he could bring, as an assistant manager, the baggage of what he experienced inside the football field.

"Plus the experience he had outside it. As a captain, the conduct he had as a leader, and I could see it even from far away. He could bring his leadership, correction, knowledge, ideas.

"From that moment, what happened I don't know. Rogerio [Caboclo] told you about everything. But, yes, this was talked about. And right afterwards, they talked about Muricy [Ramalho]. And, yes, they talked about it. Yes, he was requested. And this is the second stage because Muricy is the one now."

Brazil are unbeaten through 11 World Cup qualifiers on the road to Qatar 2022, though the focus has been on Gabriel Jesus leading into the Colombia clash.

Jesus has not scored for the Selecao since the 2019 Copa America final against Peru, but Tite backed the Manchester City forward.

"Gabriel is an attacker," Tite said. "He is either nine or seven. Either he is on the side, as a wing, aggressive. Or he is the one infiltrating. From the depth pass. He has both characteristics. He has this history in the national team.

"Go back in time. When I took over in the game against the Equator, he was that player, he did a sequel. Then, he played on the side with [Roberto] Firmino and [Philippe] Coutinho inside. We didn't have Neymar. He has this versatility. He is a player who has the physical and technical virtues to perform one or another function. Sometimes, scoring a goal is from the opportunities you have.

"It reminds me of Edmar, a player I used to play with. I always thought that there are phases that the ball hits, hits, and I score. And there are some moments when I am in the right place, I follow the move, but the ball doesn't come.  He will appear. In the last match, it appeared. And it had, in the great defences from the Uruguayan goalkeeper [Fernando] Muslera, two or three accurate finishes.

"That is what I want from an attacker. That is what the specific work has been given and what Gabriel Jesus can give."

Philippe Coutinho hopes Xavi can achieve success with the existing group of players at Barcelona. 

Xavi was presented as Barca's new head coach on Monday, returning to the club that formed him as a player and with whom we won 25 trophies during an illustrious 17 years.

The former midfielder is the permanent successor to Ronald Koeman, who was sacked following the 1-0 defeat at Rayo Vallecano on October 27. 

Sergi Barjuan stepped in for the interim and took charge of a win and two draws, the last of which saw Barca throw away a three-goal lead to draw 3-3 with Celta Vigo. They now sit ninth in LaLiga after 12 games, 11 points adrift of leaders Real Sociedad. 

However, Coutinho believes Xavi could well be the man to turn things around at Barca following the exits of Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann. 

"Xavi was a great player, an idol, and now he's back home at Barcelona," he told a news conference while on international duty with Brazil. "I hope he can be very successful with the group we have. 

"I was able to talk to him once when I had to visit some doctors in Qatar. I know what a great guy he is. He will definitely do a great job at Barcelona." 

Coutinho, who returned from nine months out with a knee injury in September, was accused by Catalan newspaper Sport of being lazy when warming-up on the sidelines against Celta. 

He denied that was the case and insisted he is keener than ever to put in work as he prepares to make his first Brazil appearance in over a year. 

"I was kind of surprised when I got home and saw the story. I've never lacked professionalism in my life. I've always respected everyone I work with. But it's okay. I respect the opinion of you journalists," he said. 

"On my selection [by Brazil], I'm very happy and really want to be here. I'm focused on working, to achieve things through working, in the 10 days I have here." 

He added: "I feel very good. It's obvious that being injured for nine months is not easy, returning from three surgeries in a row on the same knee. 

"But since I came back I haven't had any pain or discomfort. I feel good." 

Carlo Ancelotti refused to criticise Brazil boss Tite for snubbing Vinicius Junior after the Real Madrid star's match-winning performance at Elche.

Vinicius took his tally to seven goals in 11 LaLiga games in 2021-22, more than he managed in his previous two seasons combined, as Los Blancos claimed a 2-1 win at the Martinez Valero.

The winger scored in each half, either side of Raul Guti's dismissal, to send Madrid back to the top of the table despite a nervy finish to the game following Pere Milla's late goal.

Amid his impressive form, Vinicius has been omitted from Tite's national squad for the World Cup qualifiers in November, with Barcelona's Philippe Coutinho surprisingly recalled for what could be his first Brazil game in over a year.

However, Ancelotti was not prepared to call out Tite for the decision as he praised Vinicius' commitment this season.

"I haven't done anything but play him and give him the confidence that he obviously deserves because he's playing very well and scoring goals," Ancelotti said.

"As I've said many times, I'm not a magician. I try to do my best and give the maximum confidence to all the players. The Brazil issue is a friend's decision. A great friend. I've nothing to answer.

"He has confidence now. Everything is going well for him. He's also getting used to playing a bit more inside because he has the speed to do it. It's one thing to play one-against-one on the wing and another to do it in the middle of the box. I believe that, little by little, he's learning and doing very well."

 

Vinicius' opener was set up by Mariano Diaz, who was given a surprise start in place of the rested Karim Benzema.

Luka Jovic, who is yet to start a game under Ancelotti, was again overlooked but the Madrid boss said the striker was not yet fully fit after a knee injury.

"Jovic had a problem with his knee in the last game he played," Ancelotti explained. "He still hasn't trained and he's not comfortable. That's why he didn't play. He had a sprain and he still hasn't recovered.

"I like the way Mariano played: he did well, he was committed, he gave a fantastic assist... he played a good game."

Madrid were in complete control of the contest until Milla capitalised on a mistake by Casemiro to give Elche's 10 men the chance to snatch a point.

Ancelotti felt Madrid should have managed the latter part of the game better, but he said there was little more the players could have given after playing late on Wednesday against Osasuna.

"We have to think that, after two and a half days, you can't play a game with intensity and energy," Ancelotti said. "So, you have to get into a middle block and try to look for opportunities when they come. This isn't a Real Madrid problem, it's a problem for all teams. You can't play at your highest level with two and a half days off.

"We didn't handle the end of the game well. If you're 2-0 up with an extra man, you can't think it's over because the referee still hasn't blown his whistle. We made it complicated for ourselves, but luckily we have three more points."

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