BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez and James Rodriguez will all be missing when 2018 World Cup qualifying gets underway in South America on Thursday.
Messi is out with a left knee injury picked up on Sept. 26 and is not expected to return for Barcelona until late November.
“With Leo you have a player who solves the easy things, and he solves the most difficult ones too,” Argentina coach Gerardo Martino said as he prepared his squad to face Ecuador in Buenos Aires.
Argentina heads into qualifying after two near-misses in tournament soccer, having lost the Copa America final against Chile in July, and last year losing to Germany in the World Cup final in Brazil.
Messi’s Barcelona teammate Neymar is suspended for Brazil’s match against Chile and next week’s qualifier against Venezuela after picking up a red card and a four-match ban against Colombia in the Copa America.
The next two matches will wrap up the ban and make him available in November when Brazil faces Argentina.
Uruguay, which takes on Bolivia on Thursday, will have to manage without Suarez for the first four South American qualifiers as he is still suspended for biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Teammate Edinson Cavani is also suspended after a red card picked up in the Copa America against Chile.
Colombia’s Rodriguez, the top scorer at the 2014 World Cup, is out through injury for the match home against Peru.
The other match pitches Venezuela against Paraguay.
In the second round of matches on Tuesday it’s: Ecuador vs. Bolivia; Uruguay vs. Colombia; Paraguay vs. Argentina; Brazil vs. Venezuela; Peru vs. Chile.