By Andrew Downie
SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Neymar, James Rodriguez and Edinson Cavani return to the international fold this week as Brazil try to extend Argentina’s winless run in World Cup qualifying while Ecuador meet Uruguay in a table-topping clash.
Neymar and Cavani were banned for violent conduct at this year’s Copa America and Brazil have stuttered without their talismanic striker.
They were knocked out of the Copa in the quarter-finals by Paraguay and looked toothless when losing their opening World Cup qualifier 2-0 in Chile.
Brazil bounced back to beat Venezuela 3-1 but will be relieved to have Neymar back for Thursday night’s ‘classico’ in Buenos Aires.
The Brazilians won the corresponding fixture with ease last time and Dunga, who coached them to that 3-1 win in Rosario, is under pressure to produce a settled side that plays attractive football.
He will be aided not just by Neymar’s return but by the home side’s problems.
Argentina have picked up one point from their first two qualifiers and will be without Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez.
Uruguay have Paris St Germain striker Cavani back against Ecuador on Thursday after a two-game ban and are looking to maintain a good run.
The Uruguayans beat Bolivia away and Colombia at home in the first two qualifiers, their best start for years.
They are again without Luis Suarez who is still serving a ban for biting Giorgio Chiellini in the 2014 World Cup. Abel Hernandez or Diego Rolan will therefore partner Cavani up front.
Ecuador are the surprise team of the competition, having beaten Argentina 2-0 in Buenos Aires and Bolivia at home by the same scoreline.
However, they are missing four top players in attacking midfielders Michael Arroyo and Renato Ibarra and English Premier League pair Enner Valencia and Antonio Valencia.
“We’ve been a bit unlucky with injuries to players who can all play in the same position,” said coach Gustavo Quinteros as he named Jaime Ayovi and Jonathan Gonzales as replacements.
“I think the men we have can replace them with no problems.”
Among the other players returning is Real Madrid’s Rodriguez who will go to Santiago with Colombia on Thursday to face a Chile side that is one of only three teams to have won both matches.
The Copa America champions will be at full strength but Rodriguez’s presence is balanced out by the loss of their top scorer Radamel Falcao. Felipe Pardo has been called up for the first time.
Bottom teams Bolivia and Venezuela meet in La Paz on Thursday while Peru, the third nation yet to win a point, take on Paraguay in Lima on Friday.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)