Argentina is currently out of the Russia 2018 World Cup , with one match to go in the qualifiers. Let that sink in. The possibility of not making it to the most important international football tournament in the world for the first time since 1970 became very real yesterday, after La Selección tied 0-0 with peru and Chile beat Ecuador, leaving us in sixth place.
Yet, it’s not all lost. Thanks to Paraguay’s last-minute victory over Colombia, it’s still up to Argentina to avoid the catastrophe. Should it win in Ecuador, it would lock down at least the fight place in the qualifiers and access the playoff, where it would face New Zealand for a spot in the World Cup. Although if it ties, it also has chances of qualifying. It only needs for the planets to align and have the results of other games play in its favor.
This is all a mess that has Argentines feeling like Zach Galifianakis in “The Hangover”‘s poker scene, calculating all possible scenarios in which La Selección would qualify.
We’ll go over each one of them, but first we’ll briefly look at what happened yesterday.
From minute one, the Argentine team was far superior than its Peruvian counterpart. Led, as always, by Lionel Messi, la Albiceleste got close to the rival box time and time again, but both the Peruvian goalkeeper Pedro Gallese and the offensive players’ bad aim prevented the long-awaited goal scream.
In his three matches as coach, Jorge Sampaoli has tried different players to see who can help out the best in the world. All attempts have proved unfruitful. Messi continues to be, by a large, large margin, the best Argentine on the pitch and the country’s only beacon of hope.
Boca striker Darío Benedetto replaced Mauro Icardi as the team’s striker. But same as his predecessor, he couldn’t score. Or play a good game. Angel Di María and Ever Banega had yet another poor performance – they were both subbed – and even though Alejandro “Papu” Gómez did have a good match, he also missed a clear shot at goal. Messi is the only Argentine player to have scored in the qualifiers in almost a year, the last one being Di María against Colombia on November 15th, 2016.
Argentina’s clear dominance had an abrupt roughly 20 minutes into the second half when Fernando Gago, who had entered the pitch four minutes before, tore his anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL). This was a breaking point in the match and a moral blow for the team, which never managed to regain its focus.
The final whistle came and with it the same image of the last games: the players, with their hands on their hips, gathered in the midfield, non-enthusiastically thanked the roughly 50,000 people present at the stadium and headed to the locker rooms.
None of the players addressed the press after the match, following with their decision to not do so in November 2016, after a journalist reported that Ezequiel Lavezzi – no longer in the team – had smoked marijuana a couple days before a game. Coach Sampaoli did hold a press conference, and assured that if the team “continues playing with this conviction,” it “will qualify to the World Cup.”
“I’m extremely hopeful and not even thinking about how enraged I am because we didn’;t win. I’m hopeful about what’s coming,” Sampaoli assured. He went on to say that “there’s an enthusiastic mood at the locker room, as we learned that we will qualify if we win in Quito [which is technically not true].” His analysis wasn’t echoed by most journalists and supporters, who criticized him for his excessive optimism and lack of self-criticism before a critical situation.
La Selección went back to practice today morning, already thinking about Tuesday’s game. Even though it lost its last chance of qualifying after being defeated by Chile yesterday, Ecuador will be a more than complicated rival. In fact, it beat Argentina 2-0 at the Monumental stadium in the first match of the qualifiers. Until Tuesday, no one who cares about the match’s outcome will think about anything else, so let’s take a look at the different results that would grant Argentina a spot in Russia 2018.
If Argentina wins, it can qualify directly, and will at least assure it will play the playoff. If Peru and Colombia tie in Lima, Argentina will qualify directly. If it wins but Peru wins as well, Argentina will have to win by a larger margin than Peru to qualify directly. It would also book a straight ticket if it wins and Chile doesn’t do so in Brazil.
If Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Colombia win their respective matches, La Selección will end up in the fifth place, which means playoff against New Zealand. The same thing will happen if Argentina wins and Peru and Colombia don’t tie.
If Argentina ties, it could still qualify, but it would depend on other results. It would need for Colombia to beat Peru, for Paraguay not to beat Venezuela or for Chile to lose by two or more goals against Brazil.
If it loses, Argentina will only get to the playoff if Paraguay doesn’t beat Venezuela and Colombia beats Peru by a larger margin to the one Argentina would lose by, so Argentina would have a better goal difference than Peru – they have the same points – and end up above them in the table.
Brace for Tuesday.