Chile welcomes Brazil to the Estadio Nacional in Santiago Thursday, as South American teams begin the qualification process for the 2018 World Cup.
The last time these teams met in an official match was at the 2014 World Cup. That match ended in a 1-1 draw, and Brazil prevailed 1-0 in a friendly earlier this year.
Having won 15 of 18 official meetings between the two, Brazil has historically had the upper hand when these two nations have clashed. But Chile has the confidence of having just won its first major trophy, when it lifted the Copa America on home soil this summer. The Chileans are also undefeated in their last five matches.
Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli has a star-studded squad, led by Arsenal’s in-form attacker Alexis Sanchez. Alexis will be the key man for La Roja in attack, while Bayern midfielder Arturo Vidal will pull the strings in the center of the park.
On recent form, Chile should be a match for any team in the world. But Sampaoli’s men will be all-too-aware of the fact that Chile hasn’t beaten Brazil since 2000.
Five-time World Cup winners Brazil suffered a second ignominious tournament exit in as many summers, when they were knocked out of the Copa America this summer. Brazil’s most obvious frailty continues to be an over-reliance on Neymar.
Last summer in Brazil, the Barcelona attacker withdrew from the tournament after suffering a spinal injury against Colombia. This summer at the Copa America Neymar was shown a red card, again against Colombia, and will be suspended for Thursday’s clash.
While Brazil has won its last two matches – beating Costa Rica 1-0 and the United States 4-1 in friendlies – Selecao coach Dunga will again have to make do without his biggest star. Dunga will also be without injured Liverpool duo Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino.
In Neymar’s absence, the onus will fall to Chelsea’s Oscar to be the attacking talisman in midfield. In-form Bayern Munich winger Douglas Costa is another player to watch. Meanwhile, 2002 World Cup winner Kaka has been recalled to the squad to fill in for Coutinho.
With the home side high on confidence and Brazil again without the player it built its squad around, Chile could be seen as having a slight edge heading in.
The question is, will La Roja be able to capitalize on that edge and turn it into three points and an important first step towards Russia 2018?
Watch Chile vs. Brazil live this Thursday at 7:20pm ET on BeINSports.