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SPECIAL FEATURE : A LOOK AT ARGENTINA IN THE 2018 WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS

Argentina’s bumpy road in the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers
Argentina’s encountered many problems throughout their 2018 World Cup Qualifying campaign. Losing the opening match against Ecuador at El Monumental (the team’s first loss in an official match at the stadium since the infamous 0-5 against Colombia back in 1993). Having three different coaches (Gerardo MARTINO, Edgardo BAUZA and now Jorge SAMPAOLI) in charge of the team. Losing to Paraguay for the first time in World Cup Qualifying at home and a humiliating 3-0 loss to Brazil are just some of the topics of discussion. It’s been a long road and it’s time to look back at the roller coaster ride.

Opening loss to Ecuador
Gerardo MARTINO’s men were just coming off another devastating final loss, this time losing the 2015 Copa America final. The team morale was very low and the Albiceleste were without their captain Lionel MESSI who had sustained an injury and was out for the opening match. There were some new faces in the squad with the likes of Facundo RONCAGLIA, Angel CORREA and Emmanuel MAS starting for MARTINO with some familiar faces (the attack consisted of Javier PASTORE, Angel CORREA, Angel DI MARIA and Sergio AGUERO, with Carlos TEVEZ replacing the injured AGUERO in the match).

Despite not playing particularly well, Argentina had not lost at El Monumental in a World Cup Qualifier in over 20 years. In a weird way, it had brought some sort of false security. However, records are meant to be broken and Ecuador did just that to Argentina at El Monumental. A 2-0 win for the Ecuadorians meant that Tata’s past few months went from bad to worse.Javier Mascherano Ecuador

What followed were two consecutive draws, a 0-0 draw away to Paraguay and a 1-1 draw at home against a poor Brazil.

Four wins out of four
Argentina entered the 2016 Copa America in fantastic form. Just like back in 2011, a fantastic team display (except that this time without Lionel MESSI) away to Colombia seemed to have turned the team’s fortunes around. A lone Lucas BIGLIA goal was enough to see off Jose PEKERMAN’s men in a 0-1 win in the blistering heat of Barranquilla. In March, it was a repeat of the 2015 Copa America final but this time it was Tata MARTINO’s men who picked up the victory in Santiago, Chile. The win against Chile was followed by a win at home against Bolivia. It was three straight victories and off to the Copa America.

Bye bye Tata MARTINO, hello (not for long) Edgardo BAUZA
Gerardo MARTINO’s time as coach of the Argentina National Team came to an end in the summer of 2016. After problems with the AFA, MARTINO’s exit meant that Edgardo BAUZA would come in as coach. Certainly not Argentina’s first choice (possibly not even in the top 5), BAUZA was brought in to take care of a team which was in a hot mess.

Edgardo Bauza Lionel Messi

Psychologically, the team were dealt a massive blow after losing a third final in two years. Fatigue, Lionel MESSI announcing his retirement from the National Team mixed with the AFA reaching a new low on a daily basis meant that BAUZA’s work was cut out for him. A different playing style from what the team was accustomed to playing since August 2014, BAUZA was brought in to take over during the middle of the World Cup Qualifiers, despite all the problems plaguing the team (both on and off the pitch).

The fourth straight win with two draws, two defeats in 2016
The year 2016 went from worse to downright terrible. While MESSI’s retirement was short (missed zero matches for his country) and they managed to get a massive three points against Uruguay (thanks to a Lionel MESSI goal), the Albiceleste suffered back to back draws. The first was a 2-2 draw away to Venezuela (without Lionel MESSI as he was out due to injury) and the second was another 2-2 draw, this time away to Peru (also without MESSI).

Argentina’s results were about to take a turn for the worst. After two away matches, they were back at home and this time against Paraguay. A team they have never lost to at home. The result? A shocking 1-0 defeat. Sergio AGUERO missed a penalty kick for his country and the standings were beginning to be a serious cause for concern. The second defeat came at the hands of a newly rejuvenated Brazil team. A resounding 3-0 win for the Brazilian meant that the match at home against Colombia was a must win (Argentina managed a 3-0 victory through a Lionel MESSI inspired performance).

Lionel Messi Colombia goal

The year 2017 started off the same way 2016 ended, with a victory. Argentina managed a 1-0 win against Chile at El Monumental through a Lionel MESSI penalty kick. Following the match, MESSI received a four match ban which would see him miss the 2-0 loss to Bolivia in La Paz. MESSI’s ban was ultimately overturned.

A third manager as Jorge SAMPAOLI takes over
Less than a year after being appointed as coach of Argentina, Edgardo BAUZA was shown the door and in came the man of the hour. The coach that many had been clamoring for was now coach. Jorge SAMPAOLI was now in charge of Argentina. On the surface, it meant great things. In reality, it meant that the players had to adapt to a third different style in a year, with only two friendly matches to prepare for and with four World Cup Qualifying matches remaining meant that there were (are) no margins for error.

Jorge Sampaoli Argentina

Two points out of a possible six
All eyes were in Montevideo on August 31 as it was the battle of the River Plate between Uruguay and Argentina. Talisman for their countries but team mates in Spain, it was Lionel MESSI up against Luis SUAREZ. In truth, it wasn’t the prettiest of matches and the scoreline of 0-0 suggested just that. The point definitely helped the Uruguayans more than it helped Argentina. The second match of the round for Jorge SAMPAOLI was his first home match playing against Venezuela at El Monumental. Despite Mauro ICARDI leading the front line instead of the veteran Gonzalo HIGUAIN and the team being more fluid and attacking, Argentina were held to a 1-1 draw (with the Albiceleste’s goal being an own goal) against a Venezuelan side which grew in confidence as the match went on.

Judgement day awaits
Two matches remain and the South American 2018 World Cup Qualifying table is as tight as ever. Four points separate sixth place from second place in the table with only Brazil having secured a spot in Russia. Jorge SAMPAOLI has played all his cards now with his full squad being announced.

Mauro Icardi Argentina

Mauro Icardi Argentina

The first match will be played on Thursday, October 5 at the mystical La Bombonera stadium, home of the legendary Boca Juniors. Anything but a victory will cause shock waves not only around Argentina and South America but the entire footballing world. The team’s final South American World Cup Qualifying match will be played on Tuesday, October 10 against Ecuador with a place in the 2018 World Cup up for grabs.

 

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