Brazil will be hot favorites to continue its strong start under new coach Tite when taking on notoriously bad travelers Bolivia in World Cup qualifying action on Thursday in Natal. Tite, who replaced Dunga after a poor showing at this summer’s Copa America Centenario, guided Brazil to victories against Ecuador and Colombia last month to greatly aid the country’s hopes of making it to Russia 2018.
Brazil now lies second in a South American qualifying section that is even more tightly contested than usual. Just five points separate leaders Uruguay and seventh-placed Chile, with only the top four gaining an automatic place at the next World Cup and the fifth going into a playoff.
The Selecao will certainly be expected to enhance their standing on Thursday, ahead of a trip to take on Venezuela five days later. Bolivia’s record at home in the high altitude of La Paz may be respectable—Brazil lost there on their last visit in 2009—but away from home La Verde have not managed a win in a World Cup qualifier in 23 years.
Still, the preparations for the game have not been without their challenges for Tite. Brazil will be without Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro, as well as his teammate Marcelo, due to injury. Also absent will be Paulinho. The former Tottenham midfielder made a return to the squad under his former boss at Corinthians last month but will now be suspended after picking up yellow cards against both Ecuador and Colombia.
Still, the match with Bolivia could see the return of another player who has been brought in from the cold by Tite. Having first been stripped of the captaincy, Paris Saint-Germain center-back Thiago Silva lost his place altogether following the 2015 Copa America. Injured when Tite named his first squad for the September matches, the 32-year-old is back this time around.
"After I was appointed by the Brazilian Football Confederation, one of the first things I did was call Thiago,” Tite said in a press conference ahead of Thursday’s game in the northeastern city of Natal. “I didn't want to talk about the past; what interests me is the future. And he spoke with happiness about the Selecao.”
Meanwhile, Neymar and Oscar are also back for Brazil. With Barcelona, Neymar managed to score off a penalty against Celta Vigo, and also scored twice against Sporting Gijon on Sept. 24. Oscar, meanwhile, remains a consistent force for Chelsea, though he has only played the full 90 minutes in two of seven Premier League matches.
Like Brazil, Bolivia turned to a new coach following a disappointing performance at the Copa America Centenario. And Angel Guillermo Hoyos has also had a positive early impact. Hoyos, who was most recently in charge of United States second-tier side Jacksonville Armada, guided Bolivia to a home win over Peru and an impressive away draw in Chile last month.
Since being shut out on the road against Argentina on Mar. 29, Bolivia has scored seven goals in their past three World Cup qualifying matches.
Prediction: While Brazil has some notable absentees and Bolivia may be buoyed by a new coach, this should still be a comfortable win for the host. Expect the attacking threat posed by Neymar and Gabriel Jesus to be too much for Bolivia to handle.
Predicted Score: Brazil 2-0 Bolivia
Kickoff Time: 8:45 p.m. EDT
TV Channel: beIN Sports
Live Stream: beIN Sports Connect