Lionel Messi, Argentina in danger of missing out on World Cup qualification
Lionel Messi and Argentina are in danger of missing out on the 2018 World Cup after a 0-0 draw against Peru in their penultimate qualifying match Thursday in the CONMEBOL region.
Argentina had multiple chances to score throughout the 90 minutes — with Messi hitting the post from point-blank range and curling a first-half shot just wide of the post.
The result leaves them in sixth place in the South American table, outside of the top four spots that guarantee automatic qualification and the fifth-place spot that forces a playoff against New Zealand for a berth in Russia.
Messi, who would likely be playing in his last World Cup should the team qualify, has yet to deliver a major trophy for Argentina, but his manager, Jorge Sampaoli, is still confident they will find a way.
“Our situation is not very comfortable,” Sampaoli said. “But it depends on us.”
Argentina have scored just one goal In their last three qualifying matches under new coach Sampaoli after he took over for Edgardo Bauza before the summer, drawing all three under the former Sevilla manager.
“I remain confident we’ll be in the World Cup,” said an upbeat Sampaoli after the match. “It would really be unfair if a group that put it all out there — like they did — does not advance.
“Throughout the game we had a marked advantage against them, but we could not break through.”
Argentina are two places and two points behind Colombia, who are fourth and hold the last direct qualifying spot. Sampaoli’s team takes on Ecuador in Quito on Tuesday in their final qualifier.
“We are in this situation,” Sampaoli told a news conference. “If we confront it with the conviction that we had against Peru, we will win at Ecuador.
“In the changing room, there was a feeling of enthusiasm when we found out that if we win in Quito, we will qualify. “I’m going to take advantage of that chance and so are the players.
“Our group of players competed to the standard required by me and that allows us to be optimistic heading into our next game.”
Sampaoli praised the commitment and overall play of Messi. The Argentina captain left the changing room with his head down as the Albiceleste players continued their media silence. The players, believing they were not being treated fairly by the local press, have not spoken to reporters since Nov. 15, 2016.
You can’t ask anything more from him,,” Sampaoli said. “Leo played the game with a lot of intensity, he applied pressure, had chances, he never stopped for a second to find the ball, he created goal-scoring opportunities in impossible angles and we saw a very intense Messi which is what we need.”
Argentina will not have Fernando Gago available with the Boca Juniors playmaker expected to be out for at least six months after sustaining a right ACL injury during Thursday’s game.
“It was a blow,” Sampaoli said.”It’s very painful because he is a extremely valuable player and he was looking forward to being with us.”
Argentina, runners-up to Germany three years ago in Brazil, plays their final match on Tuesday against Ecuador in the thin air of Quito in the Andes and can guarantee at least a spot in the playoff with a win.
However, Argentina have won just once in World Cup qualifying away to Ecuador since 1996 and would become the first country not to qualify for the World Cup after reaching the final since Czechoslovakia in 1962 and 1966.
ESPN FC’s Spain correspondent Adriana Garcia contributed to this report
Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.