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Argentina - Paraguay Preview: Messi's men hope to keep up winning form against neighbours


Zabaleta, Garay, Fernandez, Rojo
Gago, Brana, Di Maria
Messi, Higuain, Lavezzi

Veron, Alcaraz, Da Silva, Ortiz
Riveros, Oviedo, Caceres, Estigarribia
Fabbro, Santa Cruz

The only doubt for Alejandro Sabella going in to Friday's World Cup qualifier was the system he would play, with the 11 men set to be the same whether the coach opted for a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3. The ex-Estudiantes man will put faith in the attacking trident that has been used to such devastating effect in his reign, with Ezequiel Lavezzi entering for the suspended Sergio Aguero alongside Messi and Higuain. Javier Mascherano's suspension also opens the door for Estudiantes' Rodrigo Brana to start.

In his first competitive match for Paraguay since taking over from sacked predecessor Francisco Arce, Gerardo Pelusso has gone for a team that will defend in numbers at the back, his 4-4-2 system designed to frustrate the Albiceleste's dangermen. The big news for the Guarani is a first competitive start for Argentina-born forward Jonny Fabbro, who became eligible for the nation in 2012 after completing the necessary five years of residency in Paraguay.

  • Argentina have been in lethal form throughout 2012. In four games the Albiceleste have triumphed in each, scoring an impressive 14 goals while conceding five.
  • This year has also been a vintage one for Lionel Messi. The captain netted hat-tricks against both Switzerland and Brazil, for a total of eight goals in 2012's four run-outs.
  • The last competitive meeting against Friday's rivals ended in defeat for Argentina. Paraguay downed Diego Maradona's team 1-0 in September 2009, Nelson Valdez scoring the only goal.
  • Indeed, the Guarani have not been beaten in World Cup qualifying away to their neighbours since 1973, in a game which ended 2-1 in Boca's Bombonera home.
  • New Paraguay star Jonathan Fabbro may have been born in Buenos Aires, but he also forms half of Paraguay's most famous celebrity couple. The 30-year-old is dating 2010 World Cup star Larissa Riquelme (pictured). 
  • Coach Gerardo Pelusso comes into the national set-up after winning a lot of fans in the local league. The Uruguayan took Olimpia to the 2011 Apertura title, and has also lifted silverware in his native country and Peru.
  • The visitors have been among the most disappointing sides in the Conmebol campaign so far. With just one win in five, over Ecuador, the Copa America finalists lie second-to-bottom in the standings.
  • Including the Copa America, where the Albirroja made the final without winning a match, and the 2010 World Cup, the nation has recorded just two wins in their last 16 competitive games; a 2-0 victory over Slovakia in South Africa their only other triumph.