All eyes on Argentina, Chile

05-09-2017
DH

A faltering campaign has left Argentina fifth in the standings with three games remaining, just outside the top four spots which guarantee automatic entry to next year’s finals in Russia. It would still take a dramatic sequence of results for the unthinkable — a World Cup without Argentina and Messi — to become reality.

Even if Jorge Sampaoli’s side fail to lock up automatic qualification, and finish fifth, they would still be favourites to qualify via a two-leg playoff against a team from Oceania, almost certain to be New Zealand.

Yet the gloom that has enveloped the Argentinian squad throughout the qualifiers means that little is being taken for granted ahead of the game at the Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires.

An uninspiring 0-0 draw with Uruguay in Montevideo on Thursday left Argentina level on 23 points with fourth-placed Chile, who lead on goal difference.

Sampaoli is expected to persist with the bulk of the team who started against Uruguay, with Messi leading a potent front three that features Paulo Dybala and Mauro Icardi.

Javier Mascherano could return for the suspended Gabriel Mercado, while Ever Banega may replace Guido Pizarro. Argentina were frustrated by a Uruguayan side which defended in depth and packed the midfield.

With Venezuela likely to use similar tactics, Sampaoli has urged his team to be more aggressive. “We have to be more aggressive in the last third and get more people in the area,” he said following the Uruguay stalemate.

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