SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino will replace Gabriel Jesus in the Brazil team to play Uruguay in Thursday’s crunch World Cup qualifier, coach Tite said on Wednesday.
Firmino will replace the injured Manchester City striker to win his 13th cap in Montevideo, where the Brazilians will be looking for an eighth straight win under Tite to all but book a spot in next year’s finals in Russia.
“Firmino has come in well, including scoring goals, and he has justified his selection,” the coach told reporters.
Brazil go into the match top of the South American qualifying table with 27 points from 12 games and are confident that if they can avoid defeat in Uruguay, and in Paraguay five days later, they will secure their place in Russia.
A tally of 28 points was enough for the fourth-placed team to qualify the 2010 and 2006 tournaments, the last time all 10 South American nations played the qualifiers.
“Classification being so close makes us anxious,” Tite admitted ahead of the top-of-the-table clash.
The match is in many ways a tale of two leaders, with the former Corinthians coach having transformed Brazil’s fortunes in a seven-game winning streak since taking over last summer.
He will face off against Oscar Tabarez, one of the most experienced managers in world soccer.
Tabarez, 70, has been in charge of Uruguay for 11 years and took them to the semi-final of the World Cup in 2010 and then lifted the Copa America on home soil a year later.
But he has never guided a Uruguay side to victory over Brazil, the only South American side he has never beaten.
Both sides will be missing key players.
In addition to Gabriel Jesus, who has scored five goals in his first six internationals, Brazil will be without Bayern Munich winger Douglas Costa.
The home side, meanwhile, have even bigger problems, with Barcelona striker Luis Suarez, Atletico Madrid defender Jose Maria Gimenez and first choice goalkeeper Fernando Muslera all out through suspension.
Reporting by Andrew Downie, editing by Nick Mulvenney