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Lionel Messi set to face young pretender Endrick as Argentina take on arch-rivals Brazil

Messi at the Maracana. Two of football’s most iconic names united, perhaps for the last time. No wonder tickets for Brazil versus Argentina, Tuesday's World Cup qualifier at Rio de Janeiro’s grandest stadium, sold out briskly.

Many of the 70,000 buyers have a motivation beyond supporting a struggling Brazil, winless in three games. Many want to glimpse, live, the greatest player they may ever see. For Cariocas, citizens of Rio, this is probably their last chance.

Messi, now playing his club football in the United States, may not be back this way as an active footballer again, with the most distant of the likely end points of his international career the 2026 World Cup, during which he will turn 39.

There’s a Copa America next summer where he intends to lead the defence of the title, and perhaps there clock up another meeting with Brazil, who Argentina beat in the Maracana final in the last edition.

But at the Maracana, where Messi felt the agony of finishing second in a World Cup final in 2014, there is a sense this visit marks a significant step in a long, gradual farewell tour of sport’s great theatres.

He is making that journey as a proud, driven world champion, in form – he’s the joint top scorer in South American 2026 qualifying so far – and with good cause to look back on a remarkable 12 months.

A year ago, his Argentina were embarking on a World Cup that began with defeat to Saudi Arabia. They ended the month with Messi lifting the prize that completed the dazzling mosaic of his decorated career.

Argentina’s defence of their World Cup hit a rare bump in the road last week, with a home defeat to Uruguay. It is no great setback. They remain top of the 10-team South American table, and, with six teams guaranteed a