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FIFA World Cup qualifier: Lionel Messi’s Argentina head to Ecuador under pressure

Lionel Messi’s Argentina need a win over Ecuador to stay in the hunt for a place at next year’s FIFA World Cup.

football Updated: Oct 09, 2017 12:46 IST
Reuters
Reuters
Reuters, Buenos Aires
Lionel Messi,FIFA World Cup qualifier,Argentina national football team
Lionel Messi will hold the key to Argentina’s chances in their FIFA World Cup qualifier against Ecuador. (Twitter )

Argentina flew to Ecuador on Sunday for their most important FIFA World Cup qualifier in years, shut off from the press but knowing that a win will keep them in the running for a coveted place at next year’s World Cup.

Lionel Messi’s team, who reached the final three years ago in Brazil, lie in sixth place in the 10-team South American group, out of the qualifying places for Russia.

(Read | Germany end FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign with thrashing win over Azerbaijan)

The top four qualify automatically and the fifth-placed side go into an intercontinental playoff against Oceania winners New Zealand.

Argentina have won only one World Cup qualifier high above sea level in the Ecuadorean capital but three points on Tuesday would guarantee them one of those top five spots, and probably one of the top four, depending on other results.

But with no wins in their last four qualifiers and no Argentine having scored from open play for almost a year, the mood is not optimistic, even against a team that are already out of contention.

(Read | FIFA World Cup qualifiers: France close in, Netherlands’ hopes all but over)

Neither coach Jorge Sampaoli nor his players have spoken to the press since the disappointing 0-0 draw with Peru on Thursday and there is an evident tension ahead of their game in Quito.

The squad trained against Argentina’s Under-20 side at their base outside Buenos Aires on Sunday morning before heading to the airport.

The players, who last year organised a boycott of the press, did not give interviews.

And Sampaoli, who became Argentina’s third coach of the campaign when he took over in June, gave no clue about who will lead the line in a game where goals are especially vital or how to bring the best out of Messi.

The former Chile and Sevilla coach has been criticised for chopping and changing strikers and formations but the alterations have brought him no joy.

Argentina have scored just 16 goals in 17 qualifiers, fewer than anyone else bar Bolivia, and only one - an own goal in the 1-1 draw with bottom side Venezuela - in the three qualifiers since Sampaoli took over.

Local media suggested Dario Benedetto will get a second chance up front. The Boca Juniors striker started for the first time against Peru.

First Published: Oct 09, 2017 11:10 IST