Lionel Messi doubtful for Argentina World Cup qualifier as Vinicius Jr returns for Brazil

Messi, 36, teamed up with the World Cup winners after returning from injury as a second-half substitute for Inter Miami on Saturday

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Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni said he will talk with Lionel Messi over whether to risk him in Thursday's South American World Cup qualifier against Paraguay as he continues his recovery from injury.

Messi, 36, teamed up with the World Cup winners after returning from injury as a second-half substitute for Inter Miami in Major League Soccer on Saturday.

The former Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain forward has been struggling with an injury picked up while on international duty last month.

"We still have one more training session and one more is important for him ... I have to talk it over with him and make sure we are convinced he can start. He looked good. Based on that, we will see the rest of the team," said Scaloni.

The Argentina coach said he also had to take into account that his team would face Peru in Lima five days later.

"What leaves us calm is that, if he is not fit to play, whoever goes out will do just as well, that's the most important thing," Scaloni said.

Messi is Argentina's record scorer with 104 goals and inspired the "Albiceleste" to a third World Cup triumph at Qatar 2022.

Should Messi miss out against Paraguay, Scaloni is likely to turn to Manchester City's Julian Alvarez to partner Inter Milan's Lautaro Martinez up front.

Alvarez, 23, has enjoyed an excellent start to the season, establishing himself alongside Erling Haaland in City's starting line up, contributing six goals and four assists across competitions.

Martinez boasts even better stats, with 10 goals in eight Serie A matches so far this season.

"They've already played together as starters," Scaloni said of Alvarez and Martinez. "I'm open to many things. It will depend on the match. It wouldn't be a problem. They're different, but they can play."

Scaloni is without another of his World Cup winners, Angel Di María, who is recovering from injury. Nico Gonzalez is likely to be the veteran's replacement once more.

Argentina have won both their qualifiers so far and are level on six points at the top of the table with Brazil.

Paraguay have one point from their opening games and sit in sixth place, the final spot for automatic qualification for the 2026 World Cup to be jointly held in Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Brazil host Venezuela in Cuiaba on Thursday – the 'Vinotinto' have three points after a 1-0 win over Paraguay and a narrow 1-0 loss to Colombia.

Brazil midfielder Casemiro said they won't underestimate an opponent looking for their first appearance in the global finals.

"It's going to be a difficult game. Venezuela have their merits, many players playing in Europe, quality players. The important thing here is respect," the Manchester United midfielder told a news conference.

"Football is one of the few sports in which the favourite does not always win ... and in South America there's no easy game," he added.

Brazil interim coach Fernando Diniz was handed a boost before the match with news that forward Vinicius Jr has fully recovered from injury and will start against Venezuela.

Vinicius, 23, is slowly working his way back to fitness after suffering a leg injury against Celta Vigo in late August but netted for Real Madrid in their recent wins over Napoli in the Champions League and Osasuna in La Liga.

“Vinicius is important for his club, he is important for the national team. And he is only a boy," Brazil striker Gabriel Jesus told a press conference. “He came back from injury scoring goals and helping Real win matches. He is just great.”

After the clash with Venezuela, Brazil visit Marcelo Bielsa's Uruguay on Tuesday in Montevideo. Venezuela will host Chile.

Thursday's other games see Colombia host Uruguay, Bolivia take on Ecuador and Peru visit Chile.

Updated: October 12, 2023, 6:22 AM