Many Argentinians believe that the pursuit of their country's latest World Cup title started for real more than two years ago at Maracana Stadium.
That's where Angel di Maria and Lionel Messi helped end the team's 28-year trophyless streak with a 1-0 win against Brazil in the Copa America final.
On Tuesday (Wednesday AEDT), some will return to the historic arena in a much more optimistic mood than for that game in 2021 against arch rivals Brazil.
About two hundred Argentina fans gathered Monday evening outside the team's hotel in Rio de Janeiro ahead of their South American World Cup qualifying match against Brazil.
The visiting supporters, some of taking vacations in the city, brought drums, Messi and Diego Maradona flags, and horns. Many of them sang out that "the favelas are still crying" since Brazil lost the Copa America to Argentina in a nearly empty stadium due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Led by then-president Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil became the last-minute hosts of the tournament after Colombia and Argentina gave it up as the virus spread.
"There's a special spice, and we don't need to remember these old moments," Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni, who won his first professional title on the job in that final, said before the team's trip to Rio.
"So much has happened since. We always have to think about the present.
"It doesn't need much for a player to be ready for this. It is a clasico, it is Brazil playing at their home. Brazil has never lost a World Cup qualifying match in its territory."
Three key Argentina players in the World Cup title winning campaign did not have a role in that Copa America final decided by a Di Maria goal; midfielders Alexis Mac Allister and Enzo Fernandez, and striker Julian Alvarez watched it all on TV.
Both teams will play after defeats in the previous round of qualifying; the locals lost 2-1 at Colombia, and the World Cup champions were defeated at home 2-0 by Uruguay.
Argentina (12 points) lead the 10-team qualifying group through five matches. Uruguay (10) are second. Colombia have nine points, Venezuela eight and Brazil seven.
Ecuador, Paraguay and Chile have five points each, Bolivia three and Peru one.
The 2026 World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada will include 48 teams, meaning direct entry for the top six teams from South America. The seventh-placed team can earn a berth in an intercontinental playoff.
Australian Associated Press
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