Moment of truth for Messi's Argentina

Moment of truth for Messi's Argentina

The once unfathomable prospect of a World Cup without Lionel Messi and Argentina could become reality on Tuesday as South America’s thrilling 2018 qualification battle reaches its climax.

Two years after Argentina kicked off their troubled campaign with a 2-0 defeat at home to Ecuador, Jorge Sampaoli’s side travel to Quito to face La Tri once more with their hopes hanging precariously.

The two-time World Cup-winners head into the final round of games in sixth place overall, outside the top four positions which grant automatic qualification and trailing fifth-placed Peru, who occupy the playoff spot, on goal difference.

Yet with only two points separating third-placed Chile (26 points) with seventh-placed Paraguay (24), any number of permutations are possible.

A victory would guarantee they finish no worse than fifth place, putting them into a two-legged play-off against New Zealand they would be expected to win.

The Argentinians have an abysmal record in away games against Ecuador, with their last victory in Quito coming in 2001.

Since then in World Cup qualifying games, they have been beaten twice, in 2005 and 2009, before scraping a 1-1 draw in 2013.

Moreover, Argentina face their moment of truth after a series of uninspiring performances that has left the rest of the footballing world scratching its head at how a squad bristling with so much attacking talent has found scoring so difficult.

Despite being able to call upon Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala, Mauro Icardi and Angel Di Maria throughout the campaign, Argentina have only scored 16 times in 17 games.

The Albiceleste have now scored only once in their past four qualifying games.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, Chile could seal their qualification with victory over Brazil in Sao Paulo.

Uruguay meanwhile need only take a point in their home qualifier against already-eliminated Bolivia to be certain of progressing.

Peru will aim to qualify for their first World Cup finals since 1982 when they take on Colombia. Colombia were moments from qualifying for the World Cup last Thursday before two last-gasp goals from Paraguay turned a 1-0 win into a 2-1 defeat.

DH Newsletter Privacy Policy Get top news in your inbox daily
GET IT
Comments (+)