Second-placed Uruguay are four points adrift of their upcoming opponents at the summit of the standings, while the same margin separates them from Argentina in fifth spot – the top four advance automatically to Russia, while the next highest side will contest an inter-confederation play-off with a nation from Oceania, most likely New Zealand. Despite their lofty placing, then, there is still plenty of work to do before the Uruguayans can start making arrangements for next June. Oscar Tabarez’s charges begin the game as underdogs, but it is worth noting that they have a 100 per cent record on home soil in the qualification campaign so far.
Brazil’s fortunes dramatically improved following the appointment of Tite, who was named as Dunga’s successor when the latter was sacked following last year’s Copa America Centenario in the United States. Before the installation of the former Corinthians boss, the Selecao had amassed just nine points from a possible 18, and a place in Russia looked far from certain. Since then, though, five-time world champions Brazil have beaten Ecuador (3-0), Colombia (2-1), Bolivia (5-0), Venezuela (2-0), Argentina (3-0) and Peru (2-0) to move eight points clear of Argentina.
Uruguay’s 24-man squad for their double-header – after facing Brazil, they meet Peru in Lima next Tuesday – includes Barcelona’s Luis Suarez, Paris Saint-Germain’s Edinson Cavani and Atletico Madrid’s Diego Godin, as well as Maxi Pereira, Jose Gimenez and Fernando Muslera. Tabarez will probably set his side up in a 4-4-2 formation, with Cavani and Suarez up front, Edigio Arevalo Rias and Matias Vecino in the centre of midfield, and Godin and Sebastian Coates in the heart of the backline. Despite the fact that the match is taking place in front of their own supporters, the Uruguayans will look to sit deep, absorb pressure and hit their opponents on the counter-attack.
Brazil, meanwhile, have selected Barcelona’s Neymar, Bayern Munich’s Douglas Costa, Chelsea’s Willian and Real Madrid duo Marcelo and Casemiro, but Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus – who has started at centre-forward in recent outings – is missing with a foot injury. Tite has consistently employed a 4-3-3 setup, with Roberto Firmino the man most likely to lead the line in Gabriel’s absence; at the other end of the field, the line-up of the back four from right to left will probably be: Dani Alves, Marquinhos, Joao Miranda and Marcelo.
Brazil have not even been behind with Tite at the helm, such has been their dominance in all of the matches they have contested. Home advantage will play a part here, however, particularly as Uruguay have been so impressive at the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo, the ground which hosted the first ever World Cup final in 1930. On balance, then, it could be worth backing a draw with both teams to score on Thursday, while Cavani would be an astute choice to find the back of the net anytime.