Argentina are in danger of not qualifying for their first World Cup since 1970 after their 0-0 draw with Peru in the early hours of Friday morning at La Bombonera.
Jorge Sampaoli’s side have struggled throughout the campaign, with his side struggling to hit the back of the net, scoring the second least amount of goals – 16 to be exact – just two more than the team who are second from bottom, Bolivia. not the mention they have had 73 shots since the last time they have scored in qualifying which is a crazy stat thinking that Argentina have some of the world’s top players coming from their country.
You would have to go back to November last year to find another Argentine player bar Barca superstar Lionel Messi to have scored for La Albiceleste, with Lucas Pratto and Angel Di Maria scoring alongside Messi in a 3-0 victory over Colombia.
Since then Argentina have only won a single competitive game, beating Chile back in March of this year, and only managed to muster up three draws in the last four games, with Edgardo Bauza being sacked in April before Sampaoli took charge the nation’s third manager of this campaign so far.
The former Sevilla manager has come in for a lot of criticism since he has took charge of Argentina, some of it arguably unfair as he has only been in the job five months, but a lot of questions have to be asked in why Inter’s Mario Icardi and Juventus’s Paolo Dybala were sitting on the bench against Peru when the Argentine’s desperately needed a goal to keep their World Cup fate in their own hands.
As for the attacking prowess that was on the pitch against Peru, it was the same scenario repeating itself, with a lack of ruthlessness when it comes to hitting the back of the net.
Lionel Messi has been relied upon more than ever this campaign, with the captain having an expectancy to carry the whole team on his back. Meanwhile the other Argentine attacking talents, most of whom play their trade for Europe’s biggest clubs, have consistently put in below par performances, leaving the Barcelona man cutting a frustrated figure this campaign.
Messi has missed eight games of the campaign so far; in that time Argentina have picked up a measly seven points, illustrating how reliant the nation is on the 30 year-old to produce all the goods.
How exactly you gel the obvious attacking talents into a cohesive and effective unit is a question that has mystified Argentina managers in the past, and it would seem in this campaign it has alluded the three men who have taken the mantle.
However not all the bad news is reserved for attack – at the back Argentina have been less than impressive. Truth be told, their defensive options are very weak and have been for some time.
Nicolas Otamendi is the main option at the heart of the defence and hasn’t exactly set the world alight at Manchester City nor with the national side.
Javier Mascherano has filled the void at centre-back since Marcos Rojo’s long term injury, affecting the fluency of the side. In his natural position, Mascherano is a key cog in the heart of midfield, supplying an aggression and bite that it lacks while he is not playing in that central role.
Yet despite all the problems that Argentina are facing right now, they’re still in with a shout of getting to Russia for next summer’s World Cup.
A game in Ecuador – a place they have not won since August 2001 – will be a tough test. In no small terms this is thanks to the 2,850m the city of Quito sits above sea level – its thinner air means even the fittest professionals are affected by nausea and fatigue.
Despite being out of the running to qualify for Russia the hosts will no doubt want to maintain their record against Argentina and this will add even more pressure on the minds of Messi and co come the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Sampaoli is confident he can get his country to the World Cup. But with his high pressing all-out attack style coming up against a resilient Ecuador and, perhaps more significantly, the energy sapping altitude of the the venue, perhaps Argentina will be stumbling across the line rather than marching to Russia in triumph.