The World Cup Russia 2018 has it’s fair share of problems and the tournament is still over 18 months away. The worries over racism, doping and even the country’s infrastructure will be a concern to both fans and participating nations alike but one big name are in danger of missing out on a place at the next World Cup already.
2014 finalists Argentina, beaten only by an injury time Mario Gotze goal are now being forced to contemplate the possibility that they will not be present at the world’s next show-piece event. It’s been a tumultuous time for the South American side since that 1-0 defeat in Rio de Janeiro and things show no sign of improving going by recent results.
Lionel Messi temporarily retired from international duty after losing out to Chile on penalties in the Copa America final a few months ago, Sergio Aguero hinted that he too might follow suit. We all knew the Barcelona front man would be back, but the fact that the five-time Ballon d’Or winner felt, even momentarily, that he could no longer represent his national side was a sign of just how much pressure this extremely talented group of individuals are under.
That situation has only deepened in recent months, with Argentina sitting sixth in the South American qualifying group after 11 games. A 3-0 defeat to Brazil side who are excelling under new boss Tite and sit top of the group is bad enough but when it means that Edgardo Bauza’s men have now picked up just two points from their last four games, the alarm bells are well and truly ringing.
What makes this situation even more perplexing is just how talented this squad is. Packed to the rafters with a myriad of star individuals, albeit extremely top heavy and supported by a defence that is showing it’s age, they should still comfortably be one of the best four teams in the continent who qualify automatically for next summer’s tournament. At the moment though, they’re trailing Copa America champions Chile – who occupy the only play-off spot – by a single point.
That situation doesn’t necessarily sound so bad in isolation, this team are more than capable of making up a place or two in normal circumstances but the most worrying thing about this campaign is that they have dropped points against some of the lesser teams and still have plenty of tricky games to come.
Way back in October 2015 they lost 2-0 at home to an Ecuador team who, until that point, had gone nine matches and six years without a victory away from the altitude of Quito in World Cup qualifiers and things have barely looked up since. Bauza’s inability to get the best out of an uber talented squad means they are just a couple more unfavourable results away from the unthinkable.
FIFA’s decision to overturn two of Bolivia’s results due to fielding an ineligible player, giving points to Chile and Peru in the process, didn’t help Argentina’s plight but this mess is almost entirely of their own making. With tough games to come against the likes of Colombia, Chile and Uruguay, the 2014 runners up have just seven games left to turn around their ailing fortunes and book their place at Russia next summer. The pressure is on.