Aguero and Rojo return for Argentina against Chile

BUENOS AIRES: Sergio Aguero has been reinstated to the Argentina attack and Marcos Rojo will stand in for the suspended Ramiro Funes Mori in their critical 2018 World Cup qualifier against Chile at El Monumental on Thursday.

Manchester City's Aguero gets his chance as Juventus forward Paulo Dybala is nursing a leg injury. Aguero will join Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain in a four-pronged attack in the team coach Edgardo Bauza named on Wednesday.

Rojo, Argentina’s left back at the 2014 World Cup, has been playing regularly as a central defender for Manchester United this year and will start at the heart of the Argentine defence for the match against the Copa America holders.

“Kun (Aguero) is in the best form... With Messi, Di Maria and Higuain they can tip the balance,” coach Edgardo Bauza told a news conference.

"Aguero will play behind the (number) nine (Higuain) but he's a forward," Bauza added.

“It’s not a new position for Rojo... At his club he's played 80 percent of matches as a central defender.”

Aguero was on the bench for Argentina's last two qualifiers, a 3-0 defeat away to Brazil and a 3-0 home win over Colombia in November, while Rojo had been dropped altogether.

Argentina are fifth in the South American group, a position that would put them in an intercontinental playoff for a place at the finals in Russia. If they beat fourth-placed Chile, they will leapfrog them into the top-four automatic qualification berths.

Brazil are top with 27 points, Uruguay second with 23, followed by Ecuador and Chile on 20 and Argentina with 19.

“We’re going to play against a direct rival, well aware of the difficulties we could have (but) I’ve always been an optimist and I have a lot of confidence in Argentina’s players. I think we’ll qualify,” Bauza said.

Sevilla’s Gabriel Mercado replaces the injured Pablo Zabaleta at right back.

A concern for Bauza is that 13 players, half his squad, are one yellow card away from suspension, including all of Thursday's starting lineup, except captain Messi. Argentina, World Cup finalists in 2014, must also beat Bolivia next Tuesday in La Paz where visiting teams often struggle to cope with the thin air at nearly 4,000 metres above sea level.

Chile, who beat Argentina on penalties in the last two Copa America finals, will be without the suspended Arturo Vidal and injured midfielder Marcelo Diaz, while defender Gary Medel is in doubt with a leg muscle injury.