For the first time in almost 50 years, Argentina might be out the World Cup. Crucially however, La Seleccion is still in control of its’ destiny. Unless you live inside a Tupperware buried in North Korea – if that’s the case, you wouldn’t be able to read this article, so you have no excuse – you have already memorized all combinations of results that would grant the Argentine team a spot in Russia 2018, so let’s focus on the specifics of this crucial game and analyze Argentina’s chances of getting a win that will at least guarantee it the playoff.
Argentina’s Coach Jorge Sampaoli has publicly stated that he remains confident that Argentina can reach the World Cup. This is not the first time we have been in this situation. For those of us who remember the 2002 World Cup Qualifying campaign, Argentina found itself in a similar situation but managed to pull through.
It’s true that Argentina has to climb a literal and metaphorical mountain tonight in Quito, a city which is some 2,500 meters above sea level. The last time the national side won in the Ecuadorian Capital was back in 2001.
On the bright side, Ecuador is not doing so well either. Despite a bright start to the qualifying campaign – remember they beat Argentina 2-0 at home, happy days – they descended into chaos and found themselves eliminated from the World Cup on Thursday, following a defeat against Chile. Ecuador has lost its last five games in a row, including a home defeat to Peru. In addition to this, coach Gustavo Quinteros was sacked after 4 defeats on the trot, leaving caretaker Jorge Célico in charge.
Celico will be playing an experimental squad that will hope to take the game to Argentina. Lead-striker, Ener Valencia, is an injury doubt and Manchester United wing-back, Antonio Valencia, is suspended. So expect an inexperienced team that lacks cohesion and chemistry.
If Ecuador do decide to take the game to Argentina tonight, then it is most likely will win, despite the toll that the altitude will take on the Argentine players. Uruguay, Venezuela and Peru were able to shut down an Argentine attack lacking in confidence – 16 goals in 17 games are more than enough evidence – by taking refuge in the last 25 meters of the pitch. So, if the Argentine attack manages to find some open spaces tonight, chances are they will finally score at least one goal.
Sampaoli is the third coach to take control of La Seleccion this year. Sampaoli was meant to the be the man to reanimate the corpse like nature of the Albiceleste, with a revolutionary attacking style of play. But an unconvincing back line that lacks the pace to attack twinned with an offensive front line of Messi, Dybala and Icardi simply hasn’t worked out. Partly due to three strikers hardly knowing each other and a lack of natural chemistry.
Argentina go into tonight’s game without Aguero and Gago, both of whom have succumbed to injury.
Bottom line, Argentina controls its destiny and its players are more than capable of delivering a win that ensures at least a spot in the playoff round. But if that doesn’t happen, then the entire country will frenetically and constantly change channels in hopes that other teams will get the needed results. Needless to say from 20:30 tonight, the entire nation will be glued to TV screens across the country. The table is served, let’s see what happens.