Four months is a long time in football terms, and much has occurred since Argentina’s last qualifier – that 3-0 victory over Colombia back in November. However, the extended summer break, player strikes and media boycotts mean that while the result should have relieved the worries that had mounted following that humiliating defeat to Brazil, as well as the draws agains Peru and Venezuela, there are still concerns.
For one, the team’s decision not to speak to the press – announced after the Colombia match when a journalist made wrongful accusations about player Ezequiel Lavezzi – has created an air of divide and meant that some parts of the media are skeptical of Argentina’s chances going into the game.
Such concerns are not without basis, however, as Argentines need not be reminded of the painful significance this fixture has taken on in recent years. Two losses in consecutive Copa America finals at the hands of the Chileans live fresh in the memory for the selección.
The boycott also meant that coach Edgardo Bauza spoke alone yesterday, as players refused even to speak to reporters upon arriving in Buenos Aires earlier in the week. Bauza himself has a worrying record at tonight’s venue, River Plate’s El Monumental, having coached teams there on nine different occasions – drawing four and losing five.
In a press conference given at the team’s training facility in Ezeiza, the head coach revealed that an injury sustained by star player Pablo Dybala is not as serious as first thought, however he will not be risked for tonight’s match.
Dybala’s omission means that Sergio Agüero comes into the starting XI in a 4-2-3-1 formation, playing behind Gonzalo Higüain alongside Ángel Di María and Lionel Messi – the first time all four players have featured together since the 2014 World Cup.
Speaking of Messi, Bauza said that the number 10 is in “good shape”, however also highlighted the fact that Agüero is “going through a great moment”, having scored 13 goals in the Premier League this season, despite concerns over his future at Manchester City.
The side will also feature Javier Mascherano alongside Lucas Biglia at the base of midfield, while Emmanuel Mas, Marcos Rojo, Nicolás Otamendi and Gabriel Mercado make up the defence. Sergio Romero starts in goal.
El Monumental will also see the return of one of it’s old fan favourites – Alexis Sanchez, who played on loan for River a decade ago and was declared fit to play tonight, despite an injury scare at the weekend. Chile will be without midfielder Arturo Vidal, however, who is out injured.
Argentina can go into the game with confidence; however, when it comes to playing Chile, it’s been proven that luck often isn’t on their side. This could be the time for that to change.
Kick-off: 20:30, available to watch on Fox Sports Argentina