Alves backs Messi and Argentina to reach World Cup
Brazil full-back Dani Alves has backed arch-rivals Argentina to cope with the absence of Lionel Messi and reach the World Cup next year.
Messi was handed a four-match ban by FIFA last month for verbally abusing an assistant referee in Argentina's victory over Chile and subsequently missed the 2-0 defeat in Bolivia which leaves Edgardo Bauza's team fifth in CONMEBOL qualifying and facing the prospect of needing to win an inter-confederation play-off if they are to make it to Russia.
Brazil are in much better shape, having already qualified thanks to 10 wins from 14 games, but Juventus defender Alves - a former team-mate of Messi's at Barcelona - is confident both of South America's big two will advance.
He told FIFA.com: "Argentina will recover and they'll make it to the World Cup. They're one of the traditional powerhouses of the game, and history counts for a lot. And they've got great players too, of course.
"It's hard to picture a World Cup without the best, and Argentina have got Messi, [Javier] Mascherano and many more. They'll be there."
While Brazil are secure of a finals spot now, their qualifying campaign started with just two wins from their opening six games, something Alves puts down to the quality of the opposition.
He added: "It's because the South American qualifiers are tough, the hardest in the world if you ask me, the ones where you have to adapt the most.
"You have to go to Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and the like. They're tough games to play, and the atmosphere can be hostile. You have a lot of problems to overcome.
"It wasn't easy before and it's not easy now, but the important thing is to be prepared and not come up with excuses. The qualifiers are a test of how mature you are."
Brazil's turnaround can be largely attributed to new coach Tite, who took over with the Selecao in sixth position and has led them to nine straight wins, eight in qualifying.
Alves said: "We're the same players, and though the philosophy has changed, we worked just as hard before. The thing is, sometimes when results aren't going your way, a change in mindset can be the catalyst you need. And that's what happened with us.
"I think the difference is that we've got a clearer idea of what to do now, and that's allowed us to go from the bottom to the top.
"But we need to be patient. We know that only time will tell if this improvement is going to last and if we can strive for even more.
"We achieved our objective of reaching the World Cup, but we need to keep it going and not settle for what we've got. We need to maintain our balance and have a settled squad – that way we'll be able to keep on getting good results."