A World Cup without Messi? Argentina's qualifying bid is in danger after Peru stalemate

They werre held to a 0-0 draw in Buenos Aires last night.

Messi after last night's draw.
Messi after last night's draw.
Image: Victor R. Caivano

LIONEL MESSI AND Argentina’s hopes of reaching the 2018 World Cup were left hanging in the balance last night, as another stalemate has them in an uncomfortable position.

They were held to a 0-0 draw in Buenos Aires by Peru, leaving the two-time world champions outside the automatic qualification places as they head into the final round of fixtures next Tuesday.

It was another desperately disappointing display from Jorge Sanpaoli’s side, who once again struggled to turn a wealth of possession into goals.

Barcelona star Messi hit the post in the second half but could only watch in frustration after serving up a stream of chances for team-mates who failed to convert.

The result left Argentina in sixth place in the standings. The first four teams qualify automatically, with the fifth-placed team advancing to a playoff against New Zealand in November.

But with only two points separating third-placed Chile and seventh-placed Paraguay, the final standings could change dramatically depending on results on Tuesday.

“I am still confident that we will be at the World Cup,” Sampaoli told a news conference after ther match.

“Today was a very good game. We just missed a goal. I am very hopeful and excited about what is coming.

“The team never gave up, put in a huge effort and deserved another result.”

Sampaoli praised Messi for his performance, with the Barcelona star unfortunate to have scored just four goals in nine qualifiers this campaign.

“Messi played a great game, created chances and gave good passes,” he said. A win over Ecuador will be enough for Argentina to secure at least a place in a play-off.

The margin for error for Argentina, however, has narrowed after their latest setback, their third consecutive draw of a faltering qualification campaign.

Their final qualifier is a challenging away trip to Ecuador in the thin air of Quito. Argentina have a poor record in the Ecuadoran capital, losing two out of three of their last World Cup qualifiers there and drawing the other. The Argentines’ last World Cup qualifying win in Quito came in 2001.

However a victory on Tuesday would guarantee Messi’s side at least fifth place in the standings, with Peru and Colombia guaranteed to drop points against each other in their final game.

Veteran Argentina midfielder Fernando Gago also suffered personal heartache, sustaining a cruciate ligament injury during the draw.

Former Real Madrid man Gago – now playing for boyhood club Boca Juniors – ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament and lateral internal ligament in his right knee, Argentina confirmed post-match.

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Gago, who was back in the national team for the first time since 2015, was a 60th-minute substitute but the 31-year-old only lasted six minutes as his international return was cruelly cut short.

© – AFP, 2017

- Additional reporting by OmniSport

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