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Uruguay, Argentina prepare to meet in crucial CONMEBOL World Cup qualifier

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Uruguay and Argentina will take part in an important CONMEBOL World Cup qualifier on Thursday when they meet at the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo.

The top four teams will qualify automatically for the 2018 World Cup, with the fifth advancing to an intercontinental playoff against the champion of the Oceania region.

Uruguay enter Thursday in third place in the CONMEBOL table with Argentina are currently sitting fifth. Colombia, Chile and Ecuador are also fighting to qualify, leaving those five teams separated by four points.

Uruguay and Argentina are both likely to qualify for the World Cup, according to FiveThirtyEight's Soccer Power Index (SPI).

The only South American team to qualify thus far is Brazil, who did so with a victory over Paraguay in March and lead the table with 33 points.

No countries have played more games against each other than Uruguay and Argentina, who will be meeting for the 193rd time. Argentina, who have won 89 of those games, also have the edge in World Cup qualifiers, winning six of the sides' 11 meetings in the competition.

Uruguay, who have 59 victories against their neighbours, have defeated Argentina only twice in a World Cup qualifier. They lost the last meeting between the two teams, falling 1-0 at the Estadio Malvinas Argentinas in Mendoza on Sept. 1, 2016.

The winner in that game was scored by Lionel Messi, who, as Argentina's all-time leading scorer, enters Thursday with 58 goals.

Uruguay have a 41 percent chance of winning, according to the SPI.

Messi has scored 18 times in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers, leaving him one behind former Argentina striker Hernan Crespo and Uruguay's Luis Suarez -- who is not expected to play on Thursday because of a knee injury -- for the most goals scored in the history of the competition.

Messi was not originally expected to play against Uruguay after receiving a four-game ban in March for verbally abusing an official in a win against Chile, but that ban was overturned on appeal in May after he sat out Argentina's qualifier -- a 2-0 defeat to Bolivia.

Lionel Messi has helped Argentina take 15 of 18 points in 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

Argentina have won just two of their last seven World Cup qualifiers and have scored only 15 goals in the competition, the third-fewest among the 10 teams. That played a role in the decision made this spring to replace Edgardo Bauza with former Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli.

Uruguay enter having won six of their seven qualifiers at home, with their only loss a 4-1 defeat against Brazil on March 23.

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