Wednesday 18 October 2017

Argentina at final frontier in bid to qualify for Russia

Argentina's footballers train in Ezeiza, Buenos Aires ahead of their crucial 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia South American qualifier football match against Peru. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Argentina's footballers train in Ezeiza, Buenos Aires ahead of their crucial 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia South American qualifier football match against Peru. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Independent.ie Sportsdesk

Argentina have reached three major finals in three years but the team who came so close to winning the 2014 World Cup face crunch games against Peru and Ecuador that will determine if they miss out on the global showpiece event for the first time since 1970.

Argentina desperately need to beat Peru at home tomorrow night and go to Ecuador for their final match five days later. They lie fifth in the 10-team South American group, just below Peru on goal difference.

"Now it's gotten complicated," coach Jorge Sampaoli said after they drew their last match at home to Venezuela. "It's tight."

The top four teams qualify automatically for next year's tournament in Russia and the fifth-placed side play New Zealand in a playoff for the last spot.

Former Chile and Sevilla coach Sampaoli took over four months but has struggled to get the best out of arguably the world's greatest collection of attacking talent.

Argentina have so many options that players such as Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Javier Pastore are not automatic choices.

Higuain, who played in nine of Argentina's first 13 qualifiers, was dropped from the last two squads and Aguero, who will miss the next two games through injury, has started five of the last six on the bench.

Lionel Messi and Paulo Dybala are among those who have been less than influential when wearing the blue and white stripes.

Argentina lost at home to Ecuador and Paraguay and failed to beat Venezuela both home and away. Sampaoli's chopping and changing has prevented the side from finding a settled style of play.

Sampaoli this week recalled Fernando Gago after a two-year absence and called up two players with no international experience.

In a bid to increase pressure on their opponents, they've moved the game to Boca Juniors' Bombonera stadium from their traditional home at River Plate's Monumental.

Irish Independent

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