Argentina hopes on line in crucial Peru clash
Argentina’s stumbling 2018 World Cup qualification campaign faces another awkward hurdle on Oct. 5 as the misfiring South American giants take on in-form Peru in Buenos Aires.
The 2014 World Cup finalists have lurched from one disappointment to the next since South America’s qualifiers kicked off two years ago, with the two-time champions invariably failing to add up to the sum of their talented parts.
Despite a formidable arsenal of attackers led by Lionel Messi, the Argentinians have scored just 16 goals in 16 games, the second lowest total behind already-eliminated Bolivia.
A lackluster 1-1 home draw with Venezuela in their last outing on September 5 left Argentina’s hopes of automatic qualification for next year’s finals in Russia hanging by the slenderest of threads.
With just the Oct. 5 game against Peru and next week’s challenging trip to Ecuador remaining, Argentina are in fifth place in the table, outside the top four automatic qualifying places.
While a fifth-place finish would likely still see them qualify for Russia - with what ought to be a straight forward playoff assignment against New Zealand awaiting - a crowded table means Argentina can’t take anything for granted.
If South American champions Chile - currently in sixth place, one point adrift of Argentina - win their home match against Ecuador, and fourth-placed Peru win or draw in Buenos Aires, Argentina will head into the final round of games next week outside both the automatic qualifying and playoff places.
In a bid to avoid that scenario, Argentina have sought to obtain every advantage possible against Peru, who have reignited their qualification campaign with consecutive wins over Uruguay, Bolivia and Ecuador.
The match has been moved to Boca Juniors’ intimidating La Bombonera ground, where steep stands surrounding three sides of the pitch help to create a bearpit-like atmosphere in the 49,000-capacity venue.
Peru last month requested to FIFA that the game be moved to another venue on safety grounds. A 2015 Copa Libertadores match at the ground was suspended when River Plate players were assaulted with a substance similar to tear gas.
Ironically, however, the choice of venue may be a good omen for Peru. The Peruvians secured a famous 2-2 draw at La Bombonera in 1969 which saw them qualify for the 1970 World Cup at the expense of Argentina. It was the last occasion Argentina failed to qualify for the World Cup.