By Luis Ampuero
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Neymar has the skills to hurt Argentina when he leads Dunga’s counter-attacking Brazil side on his return from suspension in a high calibre 2018 World Cup qualifier on Thursday.
Argentina, with one point and no goals in two matches, go into the clash at the River Plate stadium (2359 GMT) still without injured captain Lionel Messi.
Coach Gerardo Martino’s injury-hit side must show a marked improvement to stop Neymar translating his form for Barcelona in his club mate Messi’s absence on to the Monumental pitch.
With Sergio Aguero injured after half an hour, Argentina were stunned 2-0 at home by Ecuador then failed to break down Paraguay in Asuncion in a poor 0-0 draw.
Gonzalo Higuain, back after being dropped for last month’s qualifiers and firing on all cylinders for Napoli, is expected to lead the attack in a side also deprived of the injured Carlos Tevez and defenders Pablo Zabaleta and Ezequiel Garay.
Angel Di Maria and Ezequiel Lavezzi look set to attack on the wings in front of a three-man holding midfield that includes young Atletico Madrid-bound Matias Kranevitter.
Martino has suffered criticism for his all-out attacking game after last month’s results but enjoys the credit of reaching the Copa America final in July.
Dunga has many doubters back home for his cautious tactics, eschewing Brazil’s traditional attacking strengths.
But with Neymar back from a Copa America suspension, he expects an improvement after a 2-0 loss in Chile followed by a 3-1 home win over Venezuela.
“There is no recipe for marking (Neymar), if (there was)everyone would use it,” said River Plate’s Jonathan Maidana, recalled by Argentina for the first time since 2011 to replace Garay in the squad.
Brazil believe the key will be Neymar carrying his club form into the match.
“(Neymar) is filled with confidence right now. We have to help him do what he’s doing there (at Barcelona). It’s great to have him back,” Brazil’s Elias said.
“(Argentina) will be paying us closer attention now that Neymar is with us and that means spaces can open up for other players,” said fellow midfielder Lucas Lima.Dunga’s doubts are at right back, where it is between Danilo and Dani Alves, and up front where Neymar needs a partner.
In the race for two spots in attack are Hulk, in-form Bayern Munich sensation Douglas Costa and Ricardo Oliveira, the 35-year-old Santos player who is banging in the goals at club level but who has never before played alongside Neymar.
(Writing by Rex Gowar; Editing by Ken Ferris)